Illustrative image for Hastings President Addresses National Conference on the Wise Use of Emerging Technologies

Hastings Center News

Hastings President Addresses National Conference on the Wise Use of Emerging Technologies

Hastings Center president Mildred Solomon  delivered a keynote address at the Future of Medicine conference, a national health care conference celebrating the convergence of technology, bioethics, population health, and preventive medicine. The event, presented by Centura Health in Denver on May 11 and 12, was attended by hundreds of clinicians, tech entrepreneurs, bioethicists, academics, and trans-disciplinary health care innovators and leaders.

Solomon’s talk focused on emerging biotechnologies and anticipated some of their social, ethical, and policy implications.

“We live in an age of transformative scientific powers, capable of changing the very nature of the human species and radically remaking the planet itself,” she began. “Advances in information technologies and artificial intelligence are combining with advances in the biological sciences, including genetics, reproductive technologies, neuroscience, and synthetic biology, as well as advances in the physical sciences, to create breathtaking synergies. The World Economic Forum has called this period in history, the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

While these new powers hold great promise for curing and preventing disease, improving agricultural output, and enhancing quality of life, they also raise many questions – including questions about governance. “We don’t even have agreed-upon structures for how to go about developing those answers,” she said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the planet is facing a crisis in the governance of emerging technologies.”

Solomon recommended that governance of emerging technologies be based on public-private collaborations, including business, government, science, academia, and nongovernmental civic organizations, and that there should be robust public engagement. She outlined four critical questions that need to be answered, no matter the technology sector:

  1. Should the technology be developed in the first place?
  2. If a technology is going to proceed, to what ends (purposes) should it be deployed?
  3. If the technology is to go forward, how should it proceed?
  4. Once norms have been set, how will the field be monitored to ensure adherence?

The answers to these questions, she said, “must rely on facts, but also on values – like a commitment to ensuring that all people, regardless of ability to pay, will reap the benefits of these new tools, so that the gap between haves and have-nots does not grow worse.” In answering those questions, she continued, “we will need deliberate, thoughtful conversations about values that are often hard to reconcile. This effort will engender strong differences of opinion, but that is exactly why we must begin.”