December 4, 2010

Martha Farah: "Cyborgs, Superminds, and Silliness: What are Real Ethical Challenges for Neural Prosthetics?" [CFI conference on biomedical enhancements]

Martha Farah is now presenting her paper, "Cyborgs, Superminds, and Silliness: What are Real Ethical Challenges for Neural Prosthetics?"

It's time for industries to look at non-pharmacological solutions to neural enhancement. "Gadgetry" as opposed to molecules.

Neural prostheses

Neural prostheses for various purposes.

Brain stimulation via deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, etc. -- gets certain desired results that can be used for enhancement. Many of these procedures are therapeutic, for things like weight loss and mood control, but they can also be used for enhancements. For example, desired levels of concentration and stimulation.

Brain chips via cochlear implants, retinal prosthesis, motor system interfaces for robotic control, and (eventually) cognitive prostheses ('chippocampus' - the artificial hippocampus).

Ethical challenges

Long term: Transhumanism -- World Transhumanist Association / h+ crowd vs. Fukuyama "most dangerous idea" crowd; hard to anticipate the benefits or problems of these technologies before they're here. It's hard to predict the ways in which people will use them. Some predicted applications may look silly by today's standards, but may not seem so in the future.

Medium term: i.e. when the technologies are routinely used - access to therapeutic BCI and DBS; yuck factor and acceptance of BCI and DBS for less-than-dire conditions; control of inputs and outputs (patient autonomy, involuntary treatment, hackers), choice of applications to develop (e.g. games vs. orphan diseases); enhancement; risk:benefit, fairness, freedom/coercion, etc.

Short term: highly interconnected issues of funding, conflict of interest, IP law, regulation (of clinical trials and practice)

How can we proceed?

We are going to by necessity deal with these short to long term ethical issues in chronological order. We will establish platforms of greater perspective as we move from challenge to challenge. We will see what works and doesn't work.

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