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Biomedical Big Data and Future of Human Existence

Abstract

1.Introduction and Issue Raising

In 2001, when international attention on research of human embryonic cloning and genetic engineering reached its peak, German social philosopher, Jurgen Habermas published the 『Future of Human Nature』 (Die Zukunft der menschlichen Natur). In this book, Habermas discusses what risks genetic engineering and embryonic cloning may pose to the human nature as well as what constitutes as the human nature and the desirable direction for research on human embryonic cloning.

Nonetheless, despite the concerns raised by German thinker, Habermas, the research on human embryonic cloning had not seriously transformed the natural characteristics of humanity yet. The grave threats and dangers that many were worried about have not reached our everyday life. However, with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution represented by hyper-connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence, it may be imperative for us to be mindful of the concerns facing the future of human kind.

Yuval Harari’s provocative writings such as 『Sapiens』 or 『Homo Deus』 are clear exemplifications of the current situation we are encountering.  Against this backdrop, in this paper, I would like to present the public benefits that biomedical big data and AI may offer to us and at the same time, I will examine the potential challenges that recent scientific and technological developments pose upon the human existence and how it may transform the social structure as well as what philosophical and legal issues it may bring forward.

2. Biomedical Big Data and AI

As the modern civilization is transforming into a hyper-connected society, which provides the foundation for aggregating almost everything into big data, we are able to gain new profound insights and attain enhanced accuracy in forecasts which was unimaginable and unforeseen in the past. By utilizing mathematical algorithms to analyze the big data, we are able to discover new patterns that were unknown in the past and leveraging on this phenomena, it is possible to predict the future with a fairly high probability. For example, big data algorithms have been developed to predict when and where the influenza epidemic may break out by simply analyzing the Google search words.

The big data science can be applied literally to all areas of society where big data exists. The field of healthcare will be one of the most representative case in point. Once the biomedical big data is aggregated, we will be able to understand the reasons behind various diseases and discover new treatment methods or preventive measures by analyzing and scrutinizing the data. Undoubtedly, for this to be realized, personal medical information, considered as the most sensitive data, should be collected, aggregated in to big data.

If it is highly likely that biomedical big data becomes a reality, then artificial intelligence (AI) with the functionality to diagnose and treat patients like a real doctor may be introduced. In fact, as deep learning  is put into practical use, in the foreseeable future, we may witness the development of AI that has the capability to discover new treatment methods like that of human beings. With this, we may be able to find the treatment for various incurable leading to extension of the life span of human beings.

3. Transformation of the Social Structure

Biomedical big data and artificial intelligence will rapidly transform the social structure. The society will turn into a super-aged society with the dramatic extension of life span. The concept of old age will be redefined. At the same time, bipolarization of life will be intensified.  In order to receive the benefits of biomedical big data and AI, the cost will be pricey and it may be difficult to distribute the benefits in an equitable manner to all constituents of the society. The bipolarization of life will deepen the divide in the society

4. New Risks and Future of Human Existence

With the transformation in the social structure owing to biomedical big data and AI, new risks and dangers may threaten the human existence.

(1) Risk of infringement of Personal Medical Information

Firstly, we may increasingly confront potential arbitrary infringement cases regarding personal medical information, which is considered to be one of the most sensitive data. To build and realize biomedical big data, each personal medical record and data need to be collected, stored, analyzed and utilized. This may conflict with the Private Information Protection Act, which regulates the principle of opt-in. There will be hyped concerns and fears against building up big data with one’s sensitive medical information.

(2) New Fatalism: Pre-determination of Health Status of Human Beings

Secondly, a new trend of fatalism will prevail over the society owing to the high level of accuracy in predicting one’s health and how it will unfold in the future assisted by the mathematical algorithm based on the biomedical big data. A new scientific fatalism may take over the geomancy or zodiac and dominate the society.

(3) Severe inequality of life

Thirdly, the inequality of life will become even more severe. This is because receiving the benefits of biomedical big data will entail social position and economical cost.

(4) New Evolution and New Concept of Life

Fourthly, with intensified convergence between IT and BT, a new concept of life will appear which is completely different from the traditional thoughts. We will see introduction of ‘de-carbonization-centric’ life, shifting away from the conventional ‘carbon-centric’ concept of life. The convergence of machine and life will progress further so that AI may earn a new personality, hence the advent of ‘electronic person.’ This presents new challenges towards the existence of human being and presents a new opportunity for evolution.

5. Directions for Countermeasures

Finally, I would like to briefly suggest the direction we may take on countering these risks and threats. These are the key words to guide us.

First, we need to formulate a new concept of life. The meaning of ‘autopoiesis’ will become a core element in defining the new concept of life.

Second, we will need to redefine rights pertaining to personal information to counter the biomedical big data.

Third, in order to secure fairness and equality on life and healthcare, we will need to redesign the social structure and institutions.

 

Chun-Soo Yang, Dr. Jur.
– Professor, Yeungnam University Law School

 

  • Background
    Chun-Soo Yang studied law and earned both bachelor and master degree at Korea University. He then studied legal philosophy and criminal law at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In 2006, he earned doctor degree. He is now law professor at Yeungnam University Law School in Gyeongsan-si. He teaches legal philosophy, legal method, legal policy and the history of legal thoughts at Yeungnam University. He is now interested in systems theory, the cross-section of law and ICT, law and evolution etc.
  • Education
    Bachelor of Law: Korea University, 1997
    – Master of Law: Korea University, 2001
    – Dr. Jur.: Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2006
  • Selected Publications
    Subprime Crisis and Law (Korean Studies Information Co, Ltd, 2011)(published in Korean).
    – Legal Philosophy (Pakyongsa, 2012)(co-authored)(published in Korean).
    – Civil Law and Human Rights (Jipmundang, 2013)(published in Korean).
    – Big Data and Human Rights (Yeungnam University Press, 2016)(published in Korean).
    – Law and Evolution Theory (Bupmunsa, 2016)(co-authored)(published in Korean).
    – Legal Hermeneutics (Hankookmunhwasa, 2017)(published in Korean).