“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man say little about his intelligence, but speak volumes about his laziness.” This quote, widely attributed to Mark Kennedy, does indeed speak volumes about the questions which we are confronted with today: has scientific discovery advanced, while the human race languishes, and even regresses? With increasingly brave forays into the fields of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, genetic engineering, as well as broader and long-ranging explorations of the universe, we are breaking frontiers barely dreamt about just a generation ago. However, every new discovery not only brings along with it questions of application, access and distribution, it also highlights the extent to which we are unprepared for dealing with the moral and ethical questions associated with these developments, and the extent to which humans have regressed in terms of skillset. The possible exploitation of various technologies to mankind’s detriment may not necessarily mean science is a barrier to society’s progress as the reality is that the advent of science and technology has in fact allowed us to better understand the world and its complex systems, solved social and economic issues and even improved the quality of life, which are all synonymous with prosperity for all. It would be erroneous and unjustifiable, therefore, to generalise and claim that as science advances, man regresses. 


            Critics of science often argue that while technological advancements have provided us with endless possibilities and allowed us to meet our basic needs, the relatively newer and unregulated fields of science have indubitably opened avenues for it to be exploited. Without adequately evaluating the possible ramifications of mismanaging certain technologies, it would be unwise to introduce new discoveries to the public. Lamentably, in many of these scenarios, the drive to make ground-breaking discoveries takes precedence over ethics and morality. In the eyes of some, this necessarily means the decline of human society because man has failed to hold onto the quintessential qualities which make one human. There is no better testament to this than the controversial adoption of genetic engineering for cosmetic purposes. CRISPR technology, though still in its nascent stage, has the potential to excise undesirable genes and insert favourable ones into gametes and embryos, allowing couples to select traits they wish their child to have. This could make the concept of designer babies into a frightening reality. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes a dystopian world where infants are grown in vats and sorted according to their intelligence levels. Even back in 1937, when the novel was first published, the fear of dehumanization and infringing upon the sanctity of human life was already gaining traction among readers. Apart from going against the natural cycle of life that dehumanizes humans and reduces them to mere objects, genetic engineering also gives rise to a host of other social problems such as new definitions of normalcy and discrimination towards those who only possess average qualities, due to the emergence of a superior group with advantageous traits. In a world which strives towards equality and peace, this represents a step backward for mankind.


Moreover, the competitive and cut-throat nature of scientific research has unfortunately bred a scientific community that is devoid of integrity and any sort of honour. The high profile suicide of Dr Yoshiki Sasai, a disgruntled stem-cell biologist at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, after allegedly fabricating data for clinical trials published in international journals, is just the tip of the iceberg. Institutes place immense pressure on scientists to produce transformative research, at the expense of their well-being and integrity. Many scientists have fabricated research published in academic journals, with even peer-reviewed scientific journals to verify the results of such experiments. This may have far-reaching consequences in the future as fabrications not only cast doubt on the credibility of medical research but leave scientists vulnerable to making critical mistakes. Given that the scientific revolution underpins humanity’s progress, this may be detrimental to mankind, and may even retard any significant improvement to society. 


            Apart from the possible exploitation of scientific technology, the development of communications technology has facilitated the free flow of information and goods over the Internet, particularly the Dark Web. Technology has democratised research processes, created cheaper production tools and made information freely available to those interested in seeking them. That, however, means that there would be instances where private data can be tapped on and harnessed for nefarious purposes. While we celebrate ground-breaking discoveries in the fields of surveillance and space technology, we should be cognizant that problems have also surfaced in its wake.  Pertinent issues such as privacy and security should not be swept under the rug as the scale and scope of such technology are substantially widened. A case in point would be the use of satellite data in the planning of terrorist activities. Prior to the launch of Google Earth, which employs satellite imagery, detractors had already warned of the dangers that digital maps could pose, such as aiding terrorist operations. In 2007, British bases in Basra were attacked by terrorist who had used aerial footage from Google Earth to identify target locations. Moreover, with the advent of the Internet of Things, consumers will inadvertently leave behind data trails, which could be fodder for opportunists with fraudulent intent. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, had been harvesting data from Facebook profiles without seeking the consent of users and used the data for political advertising. The understanding that big tech firms have been harvesting data from the ordinary man, and that information necessarily begets power and influence, underpinned the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union. The General Data Protection Regulation was introduced to ensure that citizens are aware of and are able to control the process by which their data is harvested and used by technology companies. Undeniably, the rise of scientific technologies has witnessed an increased flouting of both social norms and law, capitalizing on the hydra-like nature of the internet, with scant regard for the pernicious consequences, such as the loss of privacy and security. This is a clear sign of regression as it infringes on people’s rights to protect their personal life, making them vulnerable in the process. 


            Yet, despite claims that science and its developments should be curtailed as they pose a risk to the human race, proponents of science would agree that restrictions and guidelines have been placed upon these advancements to ensure the safe use and development of scientific technologies. The fact that societies around the world have chosen regulation over blunt instruments like partial or complete bans implicitly suggest that humanity has benefitted from scientific developments. Science has always helped to expand the combined human pool of knowledge, allowing man to gain insights into the secrets of nature, and enabling him to manipulate this for the greater good of mankind. Science has been instrumental in debunking claims: for instance, the belief that interference with a dead body was an offence to the gods held us back from understanding the human anatomy until the 13thcentury. Andreas Vasalies was able to provide detailed drawings of the human anatomy in the 16thcentury, which ultimately proved invaluable to the development of the branch of medicine now known as surgery. The development of the microscope by Anton Van Leeuwenhonk debunked superstitions that diseases rampant in India, China and Europe were caused by ‘miasma’, a passing vapor filled with particles from decomposed matter. These examples evinced the claim that scientific advancements have clarified decades of misconceptions which were hindering the progress of human civilisations.


            At the same time, social and economic ills that had once blighted mankind’s pursuit of progress have now been surmounted by technology. While people in developed economies tend to have access to shelter and education, the same cannot be said of their counterparts living in developing countries. The emergence of technology like genetically modified crops and information technology have revolutionized the way people can escape the straitjacket of poverty and improve their lives. The concept of Green Revolution has taken the world by storm as it was able to increase and enhance the quality of food, establishing food security in many impoverished societies. These series of research, development and technology transfer initiatives were regarded as a panacea to the Malthusian conundrum that the world was facing where the world population was projected to outgrow the food supply, possibly leading to mass starvation. The Green Revolution, which involved high yielding varieties (HYVs) and genetically modified crops, resulted in an exponential increase in global cereal production by 280% and in global consumption per capita by 25% between 1961 and 2004. Besides addressing hunger, the Green Revolution addressed other aspects of food security, such as nutritional inadequacy, with genetically modified crops. Golden Rice, touted to be a genetic marvel, was efficient in meeting the dietary requirements of those afflicted with Vitamin A deficiency. In societies where widespread famine has struck and there seemed to be no hope for improvement, the Green Revolution was an enormous breakthrough for poverty reduction efforts and indeed shines as a success story. Amidst mounting worldwide social and economic tensions, the history of scientific advancement only serves to reaffirm the idea that science is the panacea to a wide host of social problems.


            In addition to fulfilling mankind’s basic and physical needs, technologies have revitalized the medical arena and have improved the quality of life. In recent times, many tools and procedures have been invented with the objective of prolonging human life. Devices such as the artificial pacemaker have been invented to prolong the life of individuals suffering from once debilitating health conditions like Bradycardia. More recently, the National Heart Centre Singapore has proposed that scans of patients’ hearts could be turned into 3D models. This has long-standing benefits as it helps cardiac surgeons make better surgery plans, especially for non-invasive procedures, and can also be used as a training tool for young doctors. Most importantly, the arrival of such technology would make animal testing obsolete; finally, human health need not be predicated on the suffering of animals, which is a step forward for mankind.People may also pin their hopes on pharmacogenomic research and the concept of personalized medicine, which is administered with the understanding that individuals may have different responses to drugs due to different genes. Medco Health Solutions, one of America’s largest pharmacy benefit managers until it was acquired by Express Solutions in 2011, was leading the way in making the provision of personal genomics services to the masses a reality. It had already achieved successes with personalized treatment of Warfarin, a widely used blood thinner to prevent clots, and Tamoxifen for breast cancer. Essentially, matching the right drugs to the patients has obvious clinical benefits, but also makes good economic sense. By reducing the occurrence of misdiagnosis, long hospitalization periods and the need for follow-up treatment, personalized healthcare can generate significant cost savings. All of these will ultimately allow patients to direct their own care to some extent, empowering them with a greater sense of freedom and self-reliance, truly heralding a breakthrough in medical science. Advances in personalised medicine would also allow for the treatment of rare disorders and allow the industry to track the development of diseases. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the National Healthcare System is collaborating with academia and industry to analyse the genetic material of persons with rare disorders through the 100,000 Genomes Project. It is hoped that such information will shed light on and save lives from disorders which were previously unknown. Contrary to popular belief that scientific discovery would cause humanity to regress, the history of medical science is a testament to the fact that scientific advancements can bolster the development of the human race. 


            In summary, science has apparently revolutionised the way we live today, by mechanisation, automation and by altering the way we think. While there are instances, though few and far between, where scientific technologies seem to threaten our very humanity, it must be recognized that those do not necessarily mean science only pulls society backwards. The numerous checks and balances in place today serve to assure us that we can trust science to influence us positively as it always has, as we continue to revel in its wonders.