What makes us more human

What makes us human

London - A UK ethics group, the Nuffield Bioethics Council, launched a debate on the ethical dilemma of neurotechnology last week. The technologies that tap into the brain could give people supernatural powers and increased brain abilities. In future armed conflicts, entire armies could only control the weapons used with their thoughts ... In view of these relatively foreseeable scenarios, the Ethics Council sees the risk that the boundaries between man and machine will become blurred.

With the advances in biology and medicine, new technologies are emerging, the use and possibilities of which are awaiting discussion. The council cites brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and neurostimulating technologies such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as examples. In BCIs, a person's brain activity is analyzed by computers and converted into control signals. In the case of neurostimulation, brain regions are stimulated or inhibited after a neurosurgical intervention (deep brain stimulation) or non-invasively (in the case of TMS with the help of strong magnetic fields).

Hope and fears

On the one hand, these possibilities give hope that incurable diseases will one day be cured and the quality of life of people with, for example, locked-in syndrome will be significantly increased; on the other hand, fears and ethical questions are raised with the possibilities and the question of the safety of such technologies. "If BCIs are used to control military aircraft or weapons from a distance, who takes ultimate responsibility for these actions?", Study director Thomas Baldwin (University of York, Great Britain) is quoted by the Reuters news agency.

Fundamental questions should be asked: What makes us human? What Makes Us Individual? And how and why do we think and behave the way we do? The Ethics Council will accept answers and contributions to this debate until April 23rd. A report with recommendations is to be published in 2013. (red)