Professor discusses human rights, technology

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Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

George Annas, public health professor at Boston University, said during a lecture in Townes Hall on Monday that human rights could be in danger as technology advances.

Annas has extensive experience working within the field of human rights and is the author or editor of 19 books on bioethics.

Before beginning his lecture, which was part of the Rapoport Center’s Colloquium series, Annas began by showing a picture of a storm cloud over the future.

“The point here is that no one can predict the future, but we have to deal with it,” Annas said. “But, as lawyers, we want to discover ways to mitigate it.”

Annas said the biggest human rights threat could be from human violence arising over combining humans with machines.    

“Realistically, it is not in humans to harm other humans,” Annas said. “When we decide to dehumanize them, we treat them like animals. [When that occurs], who knows what we are capable of.” 

Annas listed Google’s Calico company, which seeks to figure out a way to prevent cancer by tracking humans’ molecular levels, as a current example of humans being combined with technology.      

Annas said not all fears surrounding technological advancement come to fruition. He said, when Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1996, some people were concerned that it would lead to human cloning, which generally has not happened.

Following the lecture, law professor John Robertson provided a response to Annas’ lecture and said he disagrees with him on Annas’ argument that technology could lead to extinction. 

“The idea of extinction as a threat — I don’t see as one,” Robertson said. “The point of cloning is hard to show it is harmful for one to come into existence.”       

Robertson discussed genetic choices by using an example of two deaf parents who wanted a child. He reasoned that, if they were able to choose if their child would be deaf or hearing, and they opted for a deaf embryo, that choice would be justified.     

Karen Engle, law professor and director of the colloquium series, said she was happy with the diversity of the presenters. 

“What we wanted this series to be about was on human rights, and, through that, a lot has been put on inequality,” Engle said. “It has been a good mix of physicians, lawyers and others associated with this. It has been good to recognize the different fields on campus and in the community through this.”