Monday, April 12, 2010

Technology - Good or Bad?

As great as modern advancements in medicine and technology seem to us over our lifetimes, (curing diseases, healing injuries, etc.) it seems that the great majority of them could prove to be detrimental to our species' survival in the long run. Antibiotics are creating more resistant pathogenic bacteria. Appendectomy's allow us to keep a feature in our digestive tract that has more potential harm than good. Is there any examples of modern technology that could benefit our species in the long run, whether already developed or in development? Are we creating a weaker human race, diminishing the chances of survival for the generations to come? What are other threats to the future survival to the human race?


  1. I feel that this is a thoroughly pessimistic view on humankind. Technology is a double edged sword. For every good breakthrough of technology, there is an evil counterpart. Take the nuclear reaction. Nuclear reactions are a source of clean and long lasting energy, that in the future can solve many of our energy problems. But, the nuclear reaction is also the source of the atomic bomb. Antibiotics are the same. They were created to help, not hurt, people. The resistant pathogens were an unintended consequence. There are many examples of good scientific breakthroughs everyday. On April 4th, Science News ran a story about how alpha cells in diabetic mice turned into insulin producing beta cells. Think of the implications if this translates to humans!!! Scientists wouldn't need to use stem cells to create a permanent treatment for diabetics. They would simply use the diabetic's own pancreatic cells. All the diabetic would require is repression of the immune response that originally destroyed the insulin producing cells. This is a less invasive and much less controversial method of treatment than using stem cells. Also, scientific advances have lead to a better existence for humankind. According to, smallpox, one of the most deadly diseases known to man, has been eradicated. This is due to successful implementation of the smallpox vaccine. The last reported case was in 1977. Another devastating disease that isn't even a threat anymore is polio. Jonas Salk is considered a modern day saint for his invention of the polio vaccine. According to, polio has been eradicated from the western hemisphere because of a very successful immunization campaign and is on its way to being totally eradicated in the world. Now, a once crippling disease is gone, thanks to science. As for other threats to the human race, there are too many to count. We could be wiped out by an asteroid or a super disease. Yellowstone has a supervolcano underneath it that could erupt at any time. I feel that if we focus too much on the bad things happening around us, we won't be able to enjoy our time on this Earth and we should always try to see the positive in every scientific breakthrough.

  2. Let's think about it this way. Without technology, you wouldn't be able to even ask this question.
    The human brain, having between 15 and 200 billion neurons is capable of holding a vast capacity of information. This being so, it's probable to conclude that technology gives humans the ability to use our brains at a much higher rate than ever before( But with this great advancement comes a price. Stress, which has been reported to be a major factor in most illnesses, has increased alongside technology. In short, as technology increases, so will the demand for people to "work" at a greater pace.
    Which technology could benefit our species in the long run? Certainly the internet, as adressed in the first sentence. There are too many examples to name them all. Most technology allows the new generation to be a "fast paced" society. So to adress the question of creating a weaker race, i'd say that we're in fact doing the opposite, and creating a stronger, more intelligent race.
    I'm a little confused on what you mean by an "appendectomy allowing us to keep a feature in our digestive tract that has more potential harm than good". If i'm not mistaken, doesn't an appendectomy remove the appendix? Anyways our diet has become so much different than before that the appendix is becoming useless in most people and some aren't even born with it anymore. This is also seen in molar teeth. The major problems with medicine is in light of what you said, about "resistant pathogenic bacteria". The constant arms race can only go so far, but as long as technology keeps expanding at the same rate as bacteria is, then all is well.
    Also, technology has severly overpopulated the Earth, which resulted in a drastic cut in the Earth's resources. People are suffering because there are food shortages, not enough water, and no where to find work. So to say if we are diminishing the chances of survival for future generations, i'd say yes - depending upon whom gives birth to you.

  3. Overall modern technology may create a weaker organism in the human being. However, through modern technology the human race can survive and reproduce in ways that it may not have been able to without modern treatment. One example of a beneficial modern technological advancement to the species in the long run is the antibiotics (aminoglycosides streptomycin, gentamicin, fluoroquinolone ciprofloxacin) that treat bubonic plague ( With the antibiotic treatments the mortality rate is about 1 – 15% as compared to 40-60% mortality rate in untreated cases. The bubonic plague is a grave disease that throughout the history of the plague it has been responsible for 137,000,000 deaths, and no that is not a typo! ( Without technological advancements the bubonic plague may have never been conquered. The result could have been catastrophic to the human species as it could have reduced the numbers until it became an endangered species.

    Another more recent example of this is the Swine flu pandemic during 2009. Already responsible for over 14,000 deaths, the infectious flu is said to be defeated as a vaccine for it was created immediately ( I got a swine flu vaccine and haven’t gotten it yet! (Knock on wood) Without such advanced technological innovations the human species may not have been able to beat the pandemic which may have resulted in a failure of the species as a whole. Therefore, although the actual human organism may be weaker, the species as a whole is stronger as we can use such technological advancements to our advantage in order to conquer threats such as the bubonic plague or swine flu.

    In my opinion one of the most dangerous potential future threats to the survival of the human race will be induced by human beings. The excess use of antibiotics creates bacteria that are immune to the antibiotics; therefore, the antibiotic becomes useless ( Bacteria populations can double as quickly as every 9.8 minutes ( Such rapid rates of reproduction allow the bacteria to adapt through natural selection and follow the path of evolution much quicker than human beings could ever possibly do. Therefore, bacteria are always one step ahead of human beings. It is a scary thought to me that one day a bacterium will become immune to an antibiotic and the antibiotic won’t be able to kill it anymore. If the scientists of the world cannot create an antibiotic quick enough, then this “super-bacterium” will be able to wipe out the entire human race (perhaps minus a few exceptions) as there will be no cure for it.

  4. A procedure called bacteriophage therapy can be the next big advancement for medicine. According to the Campbell 8th edition book, bacteriophages are “viruses that infect bacteria”. Normally you see them attaching to bacterium with their tail fibers, injecting their DNA into the cell, degrading the host cell’s DNA, and with the new phage DNA in command telling the host cell to produce phage proteins and parts. Eventually whole new phages form inside the host cell, which eventually swell the host cell before bursting out. This whole cycle is called the lytic cycle. Bacteriophage therapy can be the replacement for antibiotics as they target only a few strands of DNA. This specificity is important as than the bacteriophages wouldn’t kill our own cells. According to Wikipedia, normally antibiotics could potentially kill both harmful bacteria as well as useful bacteria such as the bacteria used for food digestion. With bacteriophages we wouldn’t have that problem. As well, with antibiotics we always have the worry about superbugs at they evolve in order to defend themselves against this type of medicine. With bacteriophages there is always the chance that bacteria might evolve, but it wouldn’t be as tough to work with as phages come in an unlimited supply. A big question is why we aren’t using it today if it proves so successful. Unfortunately, in order to administer bacteriophage therapy the physician needs to be specially trained and the phages must stay refrigerated. Another disadvantage is the human immune system might fight against these phages and excrete them instead of allowing them to do their job.

    To answer your next question people are becoming very dependent on medicine. One of natural selections abilities is to weed out characteristics that would normally make a person unable to survive and reproduce. For example, appendicitis is a caused by the inflammation of the appendix, which can prove deadly if not removed. This organ isn’t used in the human body anymore and because of appendicitis it can cause more harm than help. If we didn’t intervene with modern medicine and, as barbaric as it sounds, let the person die, then maybe after many many generations the appendix would cease to exist as it wouldn’t help us survive and reproduce. Because we continually intervene though our bodies still have that weakness.

    Going back to antibiotics, this type of medicine might not make us weaker, but simply make all the bacteria that we’d normally face even stronger. This can happen because the bacteria can prevent an antibiotic from getting to its target by changing the permeability of its membranes, changing the antibiotics target by no longer allowing the antibiotic to recognize it and identify it as the enemy, and last destroying the antibiotic by sometimes creating enzymes to use against it (How Stuff Works). An example of a bacterium that has become very resistant to drugs is Staphylococcus aureus. As Coyne addresses, “the drug [penicillin] could wipe out every strand of Staph in the world… seventy years later, more than 95 percent of staph strains are resistant to penicillin” (131). Drugs have now been developed like methicillin in order to fight Staph as well, only to be proven useless after Staph mutated. We are at an arms race with Superbugs that can be a threat to the human race, but if we find new therapies like bacteriophage therapy, we may be able to avoid ever facing that scary issue.

    Campbell Biology Book
    Why Evolution is True

  5. Eric brings up a good issue and technology that can benefit humans, and that is stem cells. These cells can turn into almost any cells, and can be very useful. Though creationists argue about stem cell research because they state that the once the egg and sperm meet, the cell is a human. Though others view it as a child once it is fiscally born. So we have this debate going on whether this should be allowed to happen or not. So we can see that these will help humans in the long run, but when it comes to those humans that are suppose to be born, then it is really bad because you are killing a human that has a chance to live, but we are using him/her for our own benefit. We are altering natural selection, and changing its course. We are eliminating those bad adaptations, and replacing them with good ones that helps us in the long run. Though those bad adaptations are suppose to occur because as I mentioned in a previous blog, people are meant to die off. Our earth can't sustain such an amount of people.
    We are actually making a stronger human race, while eliminating the the bad adaptations. By figuring out what makes humans stronger, we will be able to keep more humans alive. Though as I said this goes against natural selection. By building stronger humans, we will be able to keep more humans alive, but more problems might arise such as a new virus that could wipe out a major portion of them, and then they would have to solve the problems with energy, etc. So saving people now might sound amazing and great to us, but in the future it might prove disastrous. Don't get me wrong I want people to live, but it goes against natural selection.
    As I mentioned before the major issue that will threaten the human race would be a virus or bacterial infection that will wipe out a drastic portion of the human population. So we have to be careful what we do with out medical treatments and what not. We have to be careful what we do.


    Eric's comment

  6. I agree with Eric's comment in that although technology may seem to be making 'counterevolutionary' progress, in some ways it is actually speeding up the evolutionary process; unfortunately, this is not always a good thing. Although as Eric mentioned some diseases like smallpox are all but eradicated, many other potentially harmful strains of disease causing pathogens are developing into larger and larger threats as fruitless efforts to eradicate them simply changed their environmental pressures and caused the survivors to proliferate into a resistant strain. In the case of the bacterium e. coli, for example, effectiveness fell from 95 percent of species to 60 percent in the mere span of 7 years between 1999 and 2006 (
    In a way, we are in a sort of an evolutionary arms race with these harmful pathogens as we attempt to find new ways to eradicate them and, through natural selection of various mutations, they become resistant to it. By speeding up this process with the use of antibiotics, for example, our survival becomes more and more dependent on the scientific community's speed in formulating a response to new, resistant strains.
    In addition to our offensive efforts to stamp out any threat to our short term survivability, another thing to consider is our defenses. In this day and age, we are increasingly distancing ourselves from the naturally occurring pathogens on fruits and vegetables in favor of pesticide sprayed produce we now purchase in the supermarkets. As we distance ourselves, however, our immune systems don't have a chance to build up an immunity to such potential hazards through our acquired immune response; travelor's diahrea, for example, arises when first world individuals travel to the second or third world, or even impoverished areas of their own nations. Locals in these areas don't recieve the same side effects simply because they have built up a sufficient resistance to these pathogens. Granted, one may make the argument that the lack of an immunity is simply following a change in environmental pressures; in an industrialized environment, there is no need to have such defenses. However in a time when the WHO is warning against travelers from visiting Central America, South America, Africa, South Asia, and even their own woodlands (wilderness diahrea) (, it is important to note that this is still a pertinent hazard to our health. ('s_diarrhea)
    In a way, our technology is insulating us in a small, clean bubble not indicative of the rest of the environment around us. As Jerry Coyne notes on page 233, we may have "learned to improve our lives immesurably over those of our ancestors, who were plagued with disease, discomfort, and a constant search for food", but this safe niche in which such pressures no longer bother us only extends to this small, artificial area we have built and is only doubling the efforts of deadly diseases attempting to get in. As we become more and more dependent on scientists creating vaccines to stimulate our immune systems in time for the next outbreak, our chances of survivability are becoming more and more a roll of the dice. As Mr. Erdmann noted, the flu vaccines we recieve each year is a cocktail of those vaccines against strains that scientists think will most likely appear. We have already seen the disasterous effects of what happens when the flu season's worst does not fall under that coverage.

  7. There are many examples of modern technology that could benefit our species. To start with, workout machines and other technology that help us stay fit, like treadmills and stationary bikes. As we ourselves use them, we are more healthy and develop healthier organs. If one generation matures while using these to stay fit, they are more likely to encourage their offspring to do the same. After many generations we would pass down these fit traits, benefitting the human race.
    Yes, much of our technology could prove to be harmful to our species in the long run (like antibiotics creating more resistant pathogenic bacteria), yet our technology is also improving, staying even with the bacteria. Even though we may not be evolving at a very fast rate (in the terms of an evolutionary timeline) our technology is evolving at an exponential rate. The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress if it were maintained at today's rate of progress.
    There are many threats to the future survival of the human race. One is the evolution of a competitor species that out-competes humans for land or food. Another possibility is the evolution of humans to another species and the extinction of homo sapiens themselves. The environment could eventually cause the extinction of humans, like if the ozone layer was destroyed, or catastrophic climate change. Lastly, if there was a nuclear war, that could for sure wipe out the entire human race, along with many other species as well. These are all threats to humans, but many of them are threats to every other living species as well. Every species has threats of extinction, and millions have become extinct because of them.


  8. Generally, our advances in technology lead to weaknesses in our species that don’t get removed by natural selection. Once upon a time, people with poor eyesight, bad teeth, or other genetic afflictions were removed from the gene pool as they couldn’t hunt, couldn’t find a mate, or died before reproducing. However, we now have simple ways of dealing with these afflictions; glasses, braces, and some genetic afflictions can be treated through gene therapy or other means, such as supplying insulin to a diabetic. However, assuming that, in the long run, the human species doesn’t lose its ability to advance technologically, there’s no reason to expect that it is a detriment to our species to help fix these issues. It is true, however, that appendectomies decrease the species’s survival in the long run, due to the fact that appendicitis will continue to happen unexpectedly, causing deaths, and if we were to leave them alone, perhaps appendices would eventually go away. Perhaps one example of modern technology that may benefit our species in the long run is the development of probiotics. The organisms that are introduced when a person undergoes a probiotic treatment are designed to help maintain homeostasis in the human that ordinarily does not happen, perhaps due to a deficiency of a vitamin or enzyme. They are natural creatures employed using human technology, so it is our advancements that make it possible to use them. In helping to absorb previously unabsorbable chemicals, they help the human maintain fitness and an adequate supply of all sorts of necessary nutrients In addition, these “good” bacteria continue to train the immune system to keep it healthy and strong. Thus, it increases the fitness of an individual organism, and increases that organism’s chance at surviving and reproducing. The genes that provided for a good host for these good bacteria will propagate themselves, leading to the betterment of the human as a species.

  9. Even with technological advancements like the ability to control probiotics, we are indeed creating a weaker human species by allowing the survival of people that couldn’t survive without intervention. We are diminishing the chance of the survival of the human race due to the fact that we are overusing antibiotics. This means that the bacterial traits that protect them from the antibiotics are being selected, and our current defenses will no longer protect us in the future. However, utilizing viruses, which have an even higher rate of mutation than bacteria, we may be able to combat the antibiotic-resistant bacteria naturally, provided that the viruses do not eventually hijack our own body cells for their reproductive needs. In addition to the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the human race also has to deal with some more issues, such as the threat of a destructive meteor, nuclear warfare, or, controversially, possible climate change. Humans are the only species on the planet that possess the technology and knowledge to deflect a meteor, so in that case, we can save our species, as well as most other species on earth. Conversely, we are the only species on the planet that possesses the technology to drop atomic bombs. The bombs can destroy ecosystems and spread radiation, causing mutations and killing off most life on earth. Climate change may or may not be occurring, and it is unknown what rate it is occurring, if it indeed is. If it is progressing at a slow rate, then many pecies, including humans, should be able to adapt, although humans will likely become more dependent upon technology. If it is progressing more quickly, then more species will be in danger, not having time for the genetic mutations to build up that may help them adapt to a changed climate. Again, if this were to occur, humans would certainly be mostly dependent on technology. All in all, technology is both our saviour and our downfall, able to weaken us and strengthen us, destroyer and protector