neuroethics

Cross Post: Brainpower: Use it or Lose it?

This is the first in a series of blogposts by the members of the Expanding Autonomy project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Written By: J Adam Carter, COGITO, University of Glasgow

E-mail: adam.carter@glasgow.ac.uk

 

What are things going to be like in 100 years? Here’s one possible future, described in Michael P. Lynch’s The Internet of Us. He invites us to imagine:

smartphones are miniaturized and hooked directly into a person’s brain. With a single mental command, those who have this technology – let’s call it neuromedia – can access information on any subject ….

That sounds pretty good. Just think how quickly you could gain information you need, and how easy and intellectually streamlined the process would be. But here is the rest of the story:

Now imagine that an environmental disaster strikes our invented society after several generations have enjoyed the fruits of neuromedia. The electronic communication grid that allows neuromedia to function is destroyed. Suddenly no one can access the shared cloud of information by thought alone. . . . [F]or the inhabitants of this society, losing neuromedia is an immensely unsettling experience; it’s like a normally sighted person going blind. They have lost a way of accessing information on which they’ve come to rely. Continue reading

Finding Meaning in the Age of Neurocentrism – and in a Transhuman Future

 

 

Written by Mette Leonard Høeg

 

Through the ordinary state of being, we’re already creators in the most profound way, creating our experience of reality and composing the world we perceive.

Rick Rubin, The Creative Act

 

Phenomenal consciousness is still a highly mysterious phenomenon – mainly subjectively accessible, and there is far from scientific consensus on the explanation of its sources. The neuroscientific understanding of the human mind is, however, deepening, and the possibilities of technologically and biomedically altering brain and mind states and for engineering awareness in technological systems are developing rapidly.  Continue reading

Perceptual Diversity and Philosophical Belief

Reading up on Derek Parfit’s theory of personal identity as part of my research on non-essential accounts of self in literature, philosophy and neuroscience, I was astounded to come across a New Yorker feature on the philosopher which describes his inability to visualise imagery as an anomaly:

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How Brain-to-Brain Interfaces Will Make Things Difficult for Us

Written by David Lyreskog

 

A growing number of technologies are currently being developed to improve and distribute thinking and decision-making. Rapid progress in brain-to-brain interfacing, and hybrid and artificial intelligence, promises to transform how we think about collective and collaborative cognitive tasks. With implementations ranging from research to entertainment, and from therapeutics to military applications, as these tools continue to improve, we need to anticipate and monitor their impacts – how they may affect our society, but also how they may reshape our fundamental understanding of agency, responsibility, and other concepts which ground our moral landscapes. Continue reading

Video Interview: Introducing Dr Emma Dore Horgan

An interview with OUC academic visitor and former Oxford Uehiro Centre DPhil student Dr Emma Dore Horgan on her research into the ethics of neuro-interventions for offenders.

Simulate Your True Self

Written by Muriel Leuenberger

A modified version of this post is forthcoming in Think edited by Stephen Law.

Spoiler warning: if you want to watch the movie Don’t Worry Darling, I advise you to not read this article beforehand (but definitely read it afterwards).

One of the most common reoccurring philosophical thought experiments in movies must be the simulation theory. The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Inception are only three of countless movies following the trope of “What if reality is a simulation?”. The most recent addition is Don’t Worry Darling by Olivia Wilde. In this movie, the main character Alice discovers that her idyllic 1950s-style housewife life in the company town of Victory, California, is a simulation. Some of the inhabitants of Victory (most men) are aware of this, such as her husband Jack who forced her into the simulation. Others (most women) share Alice’s unawareness. In the course of the movie, Alice’s memories of her real life return, and she manages to escape the simulation. This blog post is part of a series of articles in which Hazem Zohny, Mette Høeg, and I explore ethical issues connected to the simulation theory through the example of Don’t Worry Darling.

One question we may ask is whether living in a simulation, with a simulated and potentially altered body and mind, would entail giving up your true self or if you could come closer to it by freeing yourself from the constraints of reality. What does it mean to be true to yourself in a simulated world? Can you be real in a fake world with a fake body and fake memories? And would there be any value in trying to be authentic in a simulation?

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Guest Post: Could Laboratory Created Brains in the Future have Moral Status?

Written by Dominic McGuire, DPhil Student, Queen’s College Oxford

Jonathan Pugh’s interesting Practical Ethics blog of October 14th, 2022, http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2022/10/brain-cells-slime-mold-and-sentience-semantics/, prompted several additional thoughts. Pugh’s blog considered some of the implications from recent media reports about laboratory grown brains, also called minibrains, which can play the video game of Pong. Pong is a simple representation of the game of table tennis.

In his blog, Pugh concludes that the Pong playing minibrains are not sentient. This is because in his view they do not possess phenomenal consciousness and thus are unable to experience pain or pleasure. To some the property of phenomenal consciousness is an essential requirement for moral status. This is because they claim that only entities that are phenomenally conscious have the kinds of interests that warrant strong forms of moral protection.   Continue reading

Cross Post: Tech firms are making computer chips with human cells – is it ethical?

Written by Julian Savulescu, Chris Gyngell, Tsutomu Sawai
Cross-posted with The Conversation

Shutterstock

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Christopher Gyngell, The University of Melbourne, and Tsutomu Sawai, Hiroshima University

The year is 2030 and we are at the world’s largest tech conference, CES in Las Vegas. A crowd is gathered to watch a big tech company unveil its new smartphone. The CEO comes to the stage and announces the Nyooro, containing the most powerful processor ever seen in a phone. The Nyooro can perform an astonishing quintillion operations per second, which is a thousand times faster than smartphone models in 2020. It is also ten times more energy-efficient with a battery that lasts for ten days.

A journalist asks: “What technological advance allowed such huge performance gains?” The chief executive replies: “We created a new biological chip using lab-grown human neurons. These biological chips are better than silicon chips because they can change their internal structure, adapting to a user’s usage pattern and leading to huge gains in efficiency.”

Another journalist asks: “Aren’t there ethical concerns about computers that use human brain matter?”

Although the name and scenario are fictional, this is a question we have to confront now. In December 2021, Melbourne-based Cortical Labs grew groups of neurons (brain cells) that were incorporated into a computer chip. The resulting hybrid chip works because both brains and neurons share a common language: electricity.

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Returning To Personhood: On The Ethical Significance Of Paradoxical Lucidity In Late-Stage Dementia

By David M Lyreskog

About Dementia

Dementia is a class of medical conditions which typically impair our cognitive abilities and significantly alter our emotional and personal lives. The absolute majority of dementia cases – approximately 70% – are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes include cardiovascular conditions, Lewy body disease, and Parkinson’s disease. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 1 million people are currently living with dementia, and that care costs amount to approximately £38 billion a year. Globally, it is estimated that over 55 million people live with dementia in some form, with an expected 10 million increase per year, and the cost of care exceeds £1 trillion. As such, dementia is widely regarded as one of the main medical challenges of our time, along with cancer, and infectious diseases. As a response to this, large amounts of money have been put towards finding solutions over decades. The UK government alone spends over £75 million per year on the search for improved diagnostics, effective treatments, and cures. Yet, dementia remains a terrible enigma, and continues to elude our grasp.

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Nonconsensual Neurointerventions and Expressed Disrespect: a Dilemma

Written by Gabriel De Marco and Tom Douglas

This essay is based on a co-authored paper recently published in Criminal Law and Philosophy

Neurointerventions—interventions that modify brain states—are sometimes imposed on criminal offenders for the purposes of diminishing the risk that they will re-offend or, more generally, of facilitating their rehabilitation. A commonly discussed example is the use of hormonal agents to reduce the sex drive of certain sexual offenders. Some suggest that in the future, we will have a wider range of such interventions at our disposal, possibly including, for instance, treatments to reduce aggression or impulsivity, or treatment to enhance capacities for empathy or sympathy.

In a recent paper, we consider an objection to the imposition of such neurointerventions without the offender’s prior agreement. Some object to these ‘nonconsensual neurointerventions’ (or ‘NNs’) by claiming that they express disrespect for the offender. This, according to the objection, gives us reason not to implement them. On a strong version of the objection, NNs are invariably wrong because they always express disrespect. Continue reading

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