In a world of proliferating professions, S. Matthew Liao has a singular title: neuroethicist. Dr. Liao, 40, the director of the bioethics program at New York University, deploys the tools of philosophy, history, psychology, religion and ethics to understand the impact of neuroscientific breakthroughs. Define neuroethics. It’s a kind of subspecialty of bioethics. Until very recently, the human mind was a black box. But here we are in the 21st century, and now we have all these new technologies with opportunities to look inside that black box — a little. With functional magnetic imaging, f.M.R.I., you can get pictures of what the brain is doing during cognition. You see which parts light up during brain activity. Scientists are trying to match those lights with specific behaviors. At the same time this is moving forward, there are all kinds of drugs being developed and tested to modify behavior and the mind. So the question is: Are these new technologies ethical? A neuroethicist can look at the downstream implications of these new possibilities. We help map the conflicting arguments, which will, hopefully, lead to more informed decisions. What we want is for citizens and policy makers to be thinking in advance about how new technologies will affect them. As a society, we don’t do enough of that. Give us an example of a technology that entered our lives without forethought. The Internet. It has made us more connected to the world’s knowledge. But it’s also reduced our actual human contacts with one another.
Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’
Tags: Cyborg, Ethics, Human Enhancement, Philosophy, Robotics
New technologies reveal ambiguities and hidden assumptions in international humanitarian law.
Science fiction, or actual U.S. military project? Half a world away from the battlefield, a soldier controls his avatar-robot that does the actual fighting on the ground. Another one wears a sticky fabric that enables her to climb a wall like a gecko or spider would. Returning from a traumatic mission, a pilot takes a memory-erasing drug to help ward off post-traumatic stress disorder. Mimicking the physiology of dolphins and sled-dogs, a sailor is able to work his post all week without sleep and only a few meals.
All of these scenarios are real military projects currently in various stages of research. This is the frontlines of the Human Enhancement Revolution — we now know enough about biology, neuroscience, computing, robotics, and materials to hack the human body, reshaping it in our own image. And defense-related applications are a major driver of science and technology research.
But, as I reported earlier, we also face serious ethical, legal, social, and operational issues in enhancing warfighters. Here, I want to drill down on what the laws of war say about military human enhancements, as we find that other technologies such as robotics and cyberweapons run into serious problems in this area as well.
Should enhancement technologies — which typically do not directly interact with anyone other than the human subject — be nevertheless subject to a weapons legal-review? That is, is there a sense in which enhancements could be considered as “weapons” and therefore under the authority of certain laws?
In international humanitarian law (IHL), also known as the laws of war, the primary instruments relevant to human enhancements include: Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), Geneva Conventions (1949 and Additional Protocols I, II, and III), Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (1972), Chemical Weapons Convention (1993), and other law. Below, I discuss these agreements and what their implications may be for human enhancement.
If autonomous robots are clearly regulatable weapons, then consider the spectrum of cyborgs — part-human, part-machine — that exists between robots and unenhanced humans. Replacing one body part, say a human knee, with a robotic part starts us on the cybernetic path. And as other body parts are replaced, the organism becomes less human and more robotic. Finally, after (hypothetically) replacing every body part, including the brain, the organism is entirely robotic with no trace of the original human. If we want to say that robots are weapons but humans are not, then we would be challenged to identify the point on that spectrum at which the human becomes a robot or a weapon.
I am, as I say, addicted, and I keep a sharp eye out for trends. Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a striking increase in articles whose common theme is where things happen in the brain. It appears that recent technological developments in ‘neural imaging’ have made it possible to measure the amount of activity that’s going on in a given brain region while a subject is engaged in some experimental task. And, though perhaps not mandatory, it’s natural enough to infer from a reliable correlation between a mental process and a locus of neural activity that the latter is the site of the former. If there’s a place in the brain where you find a whole lot of neurons going off when and only when whoever owns the brain is thinking about teapots, it’s at least plausible, all else being equal, that you’ve found where in that brain its thinking about teapots happens. Likewise, if certain neurons fire at certain frequencies just when a guy is conscious, one might infer that that’s where his consciousness hangs out. All the more so if the correlation holds across subjects.
It is not just the entirety of my past that exists within me; it is the entirety of the past itself. My own past, my sensations, desires, memories, joys, do not arise outside the historical context in which I live. They arise within a legacy that is planted in me by history, a legacy that I might perhaps change but cannot escape. To live is to navigate the world immersed in a historically given context that is not of one’s own making. Thus my own past is a participant in, and at the same time a perspective on, the past itself. That past exists within me, and appears at each moment I am engaged with the world.
Todd May, “Deleuze: An Introduction”
A view of human nature in opposition to the rest of nature inflames hatred, as we expect ourselves and one another to exhibit powers of infinite self-control, acting in radical contradiction to our circumstances. At the same time, Spinoza warns against a nonhuman stance, since a standard of nonhuman nature undermines our power in other ways… .Spinoza’s naturalism aims to engender enabling self-love in humanity by eroding those models of man that animate hatred, albeit indirectly, by suggesting that we are, at one extreme, defective Gods or, at the other, corrupt animals who need to be restored to our natural condition.
Hasana Sharp, ‘Spinoza & the Politics of Renaturalization’ (via aidsnegligee)
Idealists have it easy. Their reality is uniformly populated by appearances or phenomena, structured by linguistic representations or social conventions, so they can feel safe to engage in metaphysical speculation knowing that the contents of their world have been settled in advance. Realists, on the other hand, are committed to assert the autonomy of reality from the human mind, but then must struggle to define what inhabits that reality.
Manuel de Landa (via absurdom)
Since I’m on a philosophy-post-binge right now, I thought it was fit to mention that although I tend to talk about Harman/OOO on here, I really think one of the most brilliant (and useful!) philosophers around right now is DeLanda. Everything he writes is just so…novel, in ways I can’t quite grasp.
I know he gets accused of misreading Deleuze, but what’s most important is what he’s able to do with his (possibly mis)reading of Deleuze. And I think that if you take that on its own, DeLanda’s work really stands out as a real front-line for a new type of philosophy (or even a new way of doing/thinking philosophy).