Currently viewing the category: "Ethics & Neurotechnology"

Great strides are occurring in neuroscience and neurotechnologies, and the public must begin its global debate to pro-actively prepare and plan how we will deal with the potentially-horrifying scientific advances.

This is a bit of an exaggerated summary of the warning proposed by neurobiologist, James Olds, who is the director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, in his recent op-ed article in The Washington Times.

There is certainly a decent pace on the advancement of neurotechnology, particular in areas that are focused on healing the body due to neurological disorders and neuro-trauma. There is also a large, continuing effort from neurbiologists, physicists, and philosophers for deepening our understanding of brain function and figuring out just how the mind “thinks.” If neuroscience ever experiences a great leap forward in fundamental knowledge of the brain, much like physics experienced critical leaps with GalileoNewton, and Einstein and Companyand more Company, our society will likely be heavily affected… and it would not be clear what sort of positive or negative effects might occur just from this new, basic understanding.

And, with a complete fundamental physics, so to speak, of brain function will also come a major bound in advancements of directly integrated digital components with the brain and other neurotechnological devices. It is these sorts of potential developments that the public and policy makers would want to have some sort of firm grasp on–both in the scientific understanding as well as the ethical implications–before any unforeseen neurotechnology providing a broad negative impact on society becomes out of hand or out of control.

This new, basic understanding, however, has not yet arrived, and it is not sitting on the horizon.

Without doubt, it is certainly important that more people are aware of the ongoing developments in neuroscience and neurotechnology, so that that we may keep our ethical beliefs in check with the technological applications. However, it is also important that the neuroscience is not limited at this time, in a similar way stem cell research has been recently stifled. (Although, there is certainly an argument for this comparison that the current administration’s distaste for stem cell programs drove the wonderful successes of non-embryonic stem cell discoveries.) Because, the fact of the matter is that this deep neurological understand is still far off… the brain system is a complex system, and this nascent field must produce new, general fundamentals before it will be capable of modeling and predicting complete brain behavior.

Unless, of course, we are blessed with a “Neuro-Einstein,” we still have a lot of work to do.

“OLDS: Preparing for a neuroscience revolution” :: The Washington Times :: August 24, 2008 :: [ READ ]

James Olds Kransnow Blog [ VIEW ]

The President’s Council on Bioethics: Neuroethics [ VISIT]

“Decade of the Mind” :: Philosophy, Ethics and Humanity in Medicine vol 3 no. 7, February 20, 2008 by Manfred Spitzer :: [ READ ]


Today, the National Research Council released a 202-page report covering the current developments in research related to cognitive neuroscience, and provides extensive recommendations to the United States intelligence community on what issues and technologies should be closely monitored. The progress in this broad field is rapid, and the NRC clearly states that our intelligence efforts are at a disadvantage with a low number of qualified agents involved in analyzing developments and providing recommendations to decision makers.

The report was commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency to identify neurotechnologies that will develop within the next twenty years, with a particular focus on potential military applications and their implications.

Detailed analysis of current and future technologies for the detection of deception,neuropsychopharmacologyfunctional neuroimagingcomputational biology, anddistributed human-machine systems are covered in the extensive report. In addition, the ethical and cultural ramifications of these neurotechnologies are reviewed by the reporting team.

Although the report focuses on specific, yet mostly still speculative, technological advancements, it’s primary goal is to provide a guideline to help the intelligence community improve itself so that it may more effectively detect, monitor, and evaluate the developments at home and (more importantly) abroad. It seems to say–rather blatantly–that neurotechnology will be a critical player in the future of our world, and very possibly the future of our world-wide military environment, and that our intelligence agencies are currently poorly equipped from an academic level to nimbly deal with these technologies as they present themselves from other nations or even from terrorist organizations.

In other words, it is time to take neurotechnology very seriously and bring our intelligence community up to par–and hopefully surpass the level–with this developing field.

By covering the broad range of current estimates as to what forms of neurotechnologies might find their way into military operations, the report also appears to provide an overview of where this research could lead our society. Many of the applications are certainly not wholly appealing, and would certainly lead to a future world that might be even more scary to live in–in a much more subtle way–than that of the previous world of “duck-and-cover“.

In particular, a recent article written by Tom Burghardt for Global , was a bit of a “freak-out” over DARPA‘s “mysterious” efforts of military applications of neuroscience, referred to as “operational neuroscience.” Neuron News optioned not to feature the article here as the author “preferred” to use too many “quotes” to emphasize “scary” words and “phrases.” The “article” also created quite a “flood” of blogging in the “anti-government” and “everyone-is-out-to-get-us” community, that we felt we should keep out of the fray at the time. (We also feel that we should relax on the “quotes”!)

There are serious implications of neurotechnologies, and many of them could result in situations very undesirable for the continued long-term success of our species. However, it is important that we approach the developments not as political scare-mongers, but as educated citizen scientists who may appreciate the potentials of the technologies, and understand them well enough that we might also appropriately evaluate their ethical implications.

“Uncle Sam Wants Your Brain” :: Wired :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Report: spies need to stay on top of neuroscience research” :: ars technia :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Brain will be battlefield of future, warns US intelligence report” :: The Guardian, UK :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies” :: [ READ THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ] from The National Academies Press