Clinical Trial Society

“One implication is that 25, 50, 250 years from now, we become a kind of clinical-trial society in which empirically driven decisions are constantly popping up. But by clinical-trial society, I mean all sorts of questions, because the information net becomes so rich — and the capacity to understand or deconvolute that information, because of computational power and because of A.I.-dependent algorithms, becomes so rich — that we begin to subject aspects of human behavior, human selves, that were previously considered outside the realm of assessment to a kind of deeper clinical assessment.”

—Siddhartha Mukherjee in roundtable discussion with Regina Barzilay, George Church, Jennifer Egan, and Catherine Mohr in “From Gene Editing to A.I., How Will Technology Transform Humanity?New York Times Magazine. November 16, 2018.

This discussion strikes me as terribly naïve and would have benefited from the perspective of someone like James C. Scott. Legibility on the scale imagined here may benefit the average person, but it will primary serve the interests of capital. It will be an instrument of social control and a catalyst of inequality, as Egan points out.

Another issue? What kind of human beings will be created when we start becoming a manufactured product? And what of those born outside this process? Will people whose DNA hasn’t been scrubbed to acceptable norms be second-class citizens? Who decides what those norms will be?

Technological utopianism is just as bad as any other fundamentalism. Science and knowledge will always be serving someone’s agenda, and while the benefits may trickle down, it shows a series lack of historical perspective to imagine it will primarily benefit those on the receiving end.

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