Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics



SPECIAL SECTION: TECHNOLOGY AND THE BODY: LINKING LIFE AND TECHNOLOGY

Becoming Borg to Become Immortal: Regulating Brain Implant Technologies


ELLEN M.  McGEE  a1 and GERALD Q.  MAGUIRE  JR. a2
a1 Long Island Center for Ethics, Long Island University, New York
a2 Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

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mcgee em   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
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Revolutions in semiconductor device miniaturization, bioelectronics, and applied neural control technologies are enabling scientists to create machine-assisted minds, science fiction's “cyborgs.” In a paper published in 1999, we sought to draw attention to the advances in prosthetic devices, to the myriad of artificial implants, and to the early developments of this technology in cochlear and retinal implants. Our concern, then and now, was to draw attention to the ethical issues arising from these innovations. Since that time, breakthroughs have occurred at a breathtaking pace. Scientists, researchers, and engineers using differing methodologies are pursuing the possibilities of direct interfaces between brains and machines. Technological innovations as such are neither good nor evil; it is the uses devised for them that create moral implications. As there can be ethical problems inherent in the proper human uses of technologies and because brain chips are a very likely future technology, it is prudent to formulate policies and regulations that will mitigate their ill effects before the technologies are widespread. Unlike genetic technologies, which have received widespread scrutiny within the scientific community, national governments, and international forums, brain–machine interfaces have received little social or ethical scrutiny. However, the potential of this technology to change and significantly affect humans is potentially far greater than that of genetic enhancements, because genetic enhancements are inherently limited by biology and the single location of an individual, whereas hybrids of human and machine are not so restricted. Today, intense interest is focused on the development of drugs to enhance memory; yet, these drugs merely promise an improvement of normal memory, not the encyclopedic recall of a computer-enhanced mind combined with the ability to share information at a distance. The potential of brain chips for transforming humanity are astounding. This paper describes advances in hybrid brain–machine interfaces, offers some likely hypotheses concerning future developments, reflects on the implications of combining cloning and transplanted brain chips, and suggests some potential methods of regulating these technologies. a



Footnotes

a We are grateful to Prof. Michah D. Hester for helpful comments on this article.



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