The Call for an accountable commitment to meet the challenges of technoscience
Humankind has reached a level of technological development that inspires both hope and concern. Especially in the fields of genetic engineering, extension of human life, robots, autonomous systems, algorithms and digital models of life. While technology accelerates, our ability to adapt to and control it declines. There is little time for dialogue between disciplines and between science and society, and we run the danger of advancing blindfold.
The technosciences mark our entry into a new geological period, the Anthropocene, and a new relationship between human beings and our biophysical environment. These developments do not take account of the mid- and long-term effects of integrating these technologies or the attendant new vulnerabilities and inequalities; nor do they provide the principles or procedures for properly managing these world-altering capacities. After an age of great progress, the risks of extinction due to that very progress are now tangible.
This is not to call for an unlikely moratorium on developing technosciences; nor to continue blindly on our headlong course, given all the risks. Now that human beings have such powers and we are aware of our acts, we cannot deny our responsibility for our shared destiny, a responsibility that extends to the biosphere as a whole and future generations.
We the signatories of this Appeal call for human beings to set aside the time and resources to consider and assess our objectives and creations. We reject the myth that every technological innovation is necessarily desirable and beyond criticism and that there is no alternative. Every innovation must have its social and environmental effects assessed. With this Appeal we assert the urgent need for the comprehensive involvement of citizens in addressing the developments of technoscience. This must include a sharing of knowledge, values and methods with full transparency of options and policies.
We hereby declare our commitment to act. Our actions will be effectively guided by the following principles:
Human beings have an asymmetrical responsibility towards living things and future generations. This is not some generous feeling of altruism but rather an acute awareness of the bonds that eternally tie us to all the living creatures, whether human, animal or plant, with which we share the biosphere.
Collective interests are not a mere maximisation of individual interests, which may lead to serious risks in the development and use of technosciences. It is only with more democracy and regulation at both international and local level, respecting social and cultural diversity and basic rights, that each of us can live out our solidarity within human societies and act responsibly for our common future.
Our responsibility is essentially collective. We human beings can use our reason to understand our position and role in the living world, identify our genuinely desirable objectives and act accordingly, rather than blindly applying our knowledge and power only to destroy ourselves.
Our appeal is that each person by their actions and commitment should uphold the ethical values of accountability and solidarity. The individual values of freedom, security and respect for privacy have brought about much progress, but we believe that they should not come before those collective values that put the future of the biosphere, our common interest and the long term in first place. Any development that is not sustainably beneficial for all, especially the most vulnerable, would mean accepting the temporary superiority of a few and fly in the face of our humanistic values and principles. We cannot continue simply producing endless innovations for a market that selects them according to their potential for growth or profit. Rather we must turn the priorities of technoscience towards preserving the future of the biosphere and humankind. These ethical priorities are continually evolving as technosciences develop. Rather than struggling to catch up afterwards, we must seek to design and assess these technological developments in the light of our basic values as our options expand.
We are convinced that this requires us all, in our least choices and actions, to extend around us a wider understanding of our social responsibility to meet the challenges of technoscience. This work of education and information is crucial because it is up against considerable resources of persuasion, indeed indoctrination, in favour of the values of consumption, individualism and fashion. What is needed is effective citizen education to enable each person to use their critical thought in the exercise of democratic choice. Educated, well-informed citizens must be able to have agency over the deployment of technoscience, so as to ensure that innovation is adopted in a thought-out manner and to influence its use.
We call for the proper governance of technoscience at national, European and international level, combining citizen participation, sound ethics and concern for sustainable development. We assert the urgent need for international institutions, especially the European Union, to press for changes in the law applying to those technological developments and changes that will potentially affect the entire human species and the planet itself. The regulations we argue for to meet the challenges of the technosciences are not based on narrow protectionism but on the comprehensive approach of human responsibility required for the virtuous and harmonious development of the technosciences for the benefit of all. This ethical approach must inform action that places the protection of living things above the market value of innovation.
We assert that the action to be taken, which we are committed to execute and publicise on a large scale, must be both local and global: i) local action by individuals, in our behaviour, lifestyle, choices and commitments in our lives at work, in non-profits, in our neighbourhoods and families; and ii) global action towards the necessary international changes recommended in this Appeal. There is little chance of coping with the risks of massive global changes involving worldwide technologies by isolated, purely local action.
We recognise that this Appeal repeats and extends many other international declarations, evidence of a growing awareness of the concerns described here, a fact that bolsters our optimism about the effective convergence of the forces of good will to meet the challenges of technoscience in the service of humanity.
Toulouse, 7 April 2018.