neuroethics

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

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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

Seminar Recordings: The Neuroscience of a Life Well-Lived

Audio and Video recordings of Professor Morten L. Kringlebach (Aarhus University, Denmark; University of Oxford) online St Cross Seminar (21 January 2021) are now available.

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Seminar Recordings: Towards a Plasticity of the Mind – New-ish Ethical Conundrums in Dementia Care, Treatment, and Research

Audio and video recordings of David Lyreskog’s online St Cross Seminar (25 February 2021) are now available.

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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: If Doctors Could Administer a Treatment That Would Move a Patient From a Vegetative State to a Minimally Conscious One, Should They Do So?

This essay was the runner up in the graduate category of the 6th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Matthew Minehan.

INTRODUCTION
Sally is a healthy young woman who suffers catastrophic brain trauma. Over many months, her doctors subject her to functional Magnetic Resonance Imagining (fMRI) scans and other assessments that leave them in no doubt that she is in a vegetative state. While she shows sleeping and waking activity patterns, her body is operating on ‘automatic’ and she has no consciousness. She is “incognizant, incapacitated and insensate” (Fenwick 1998, p.86).

Sally’s doctors are aware of a new treatment that, if administered, would move her from the vegetative state to a minimally conscious one. This new state would involve fractured consciousness, a lack of awareness of her condition, an inability to direct her own life and an incapacity for complex thought. Because Sally has no known next of kin and issued no advance directive, the decision on her treatment is left to her medical team.

Should the doctors in this hypothetical scenario administer the treatment to Sally? Continue reading

Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships

Announcement: Brian Earp and Julian Savulescu’s new book ‘Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships‘, published by (Stanford University Press) is now available.

Is there a pill for love? What about an “anti-love drug”, to help us get over an ex? This book argues that certain psychoactive substances, including MDMA—the active ingredient in Ecstasy—may help ordinary couples work through relationship difficulties and strengthen their connection. Others may help sever an emotional connection during a breakup. These substances already exist, and they have transformative implications for how we think about love. This book builds a case for conducting research into “love drugs” and “anti-love drugs” and explores their ethical implications for individuals and society. Scandalously, Western medicine tends to ignore the interpersonal effects of drug-based interventions. Why are we still in the dark about the effects of these drugs on romantic partnerships? And how can we overhaul scientific research norms to take relationships more fully into account?

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Video Interview: Jesper Ryberg on Neurointerventions, Crime and Punishment

Should neurotechnologies that affect emotional regulation, empathy and moral judgment, be used to prevent offenders from reoffending? Is it morally acceptable to offer more lenient sentences to offenders in return for participation in neuroscientific treatment programs? Or would this amount too coercion? Is it possible to administer neurointerventions as a type of punishment? Is it permissible for physicians to administer neurointerventions to offenders? Is there a risk that the dark history of compulsory brain interventions in offenders will repeat itself? In this interview Dr Katrien Devolder (Oxford), Professor Jesper Ryberg (Roskilde) argues that there are no good in-principle objections to using neurointerventions to prevent crime, BUT (!) that given the way criminal justice systems currently function, we should not currently use these interventions…

Making Ourselves Better

Written by Stephen Rainey

Human beings are sometimes seen as uniquely capable of enacting life plans and controlling our environment. Take technology, for instance; with it we make the world around us yield to our desires in various ways. Communication technologies, and global transport, for example, have the effect of practically shrinking a vast world, making hitherto impossible coordination possible among a global population. This contributes to a view of human-as-maker, or ‘homo faber‘. But taking such a view can risk minimising human interests that ought not to be ignored.

Homo faber is a future-oriented, adaptable, rational animal, whose efforts are aligned with her interests when she creates technology that enables a stable counteraction of natural circumstance. Whereas animals are typically seen to have well adapted responses to their environment, honed through generations of adaptation, human beings appear to have instead a general and adaptable skill that can emancipate them from material, external circumstances. We are bad at running away from danger, for instance, but good at building barriers to obviate the need to run. The protections this general, adaptable skill offer are inherently future-facing: humans seem to seek not to react to, but to control the environment.

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Neurointerventions, Disrespectful Messages, and the Right to be Listened to

Written by Gabriel De Marco

Neurointerventions can be roughly described as treatments or procedures that act directly on the physical properties of the brain in order to affect the subject’s psychological characteristics. The ethics of using neurointerventions can be quite complicated, and much of the discussion has revolved around the use of neurointerventions to improve the moral character of the subjects. Within this debate, there is a sub-debate concerning the use of enhancement techniques on criminal offenders. For instance, some jurisdictions make use of chemical castration, intended to reduce the subjects’ level of testosterone in order to reduce the likelihood of further sexual offenses. One particularly thorny question regards the use of neurointerventions on offenders without their consent. Here, I focus on just one version of one objection to the use of non-consensual neurocorrectives (NNs).

According to one style of objection, NNs are always impermissible because they express a disrespectful message. To be clear, the style objection I consider does not appeal to the potential consequences of expressing this message; rather, it relies on the claim that there is something intrinsic to the expression of such a message that gives us a reason (or reasons) for not performing an action that would express this message. For the use of non-consensual neurocorrectives, this reason (or set of reasons) is strong enough to make NNs impermissible. The particular version of this objection that I focus on claims that the disrespectful message is that the offender does not have a right to be listened to.

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