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Anticipating ethical implications of DARPA’s neurotechnology push


The Pentagon’s Push to Pro­gram Sol­diers’ Brains (The Atlantic):

…darpa offi­cials refer to the poten­tial con­se­quences of neu­rotech­nol­o­gy by invok­ing the acronym elsi, a term of art devised for the Human Genome Project. It stands for “eth­i­cal, legal, social impli­ca­tions.” The man who led the dis­cus­sion on ethics among the research teams was Steven Hyman, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and neu­roethi­cist at MIT and Harvard’s Broad Insti­tute. Hyman is also a for­mer head of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health. When I spoke with him about his work on darpa pro­grams, he not­ed that one issue need­ing atten­tion is “cross talk.” A man-machine inter­face that does not just “read” someone’s brain but also “writes into” someone’s brain would almost cer­tain­ly cre­ate “cross talk between those cir­cuits which we are tar­get­ing and the cir­cuits which are engaged in what we might call social and moral emo­tions,” he said. It is impos­si­ble to pre­dict the effects of such cross talk on “the con­duct of war” (the exam­ple he gave), much less, of course, on ordi­nary life.

Weber and a darpa spokesper­son relat­ed some of the ques­tions the researchers asked in their ethics dis­cus­sion: Who will decide how this tech­nol­o­gy gets used? Would a supe­ri­or be able to force sub­or­di­nates to use it? Will genet­ic tests be able to deter­mine how respon­sive some­one would be to tar­get­ed neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty train­ing? Would such tests be vol­un­tary or manda­to­ry? Could the results of such tests lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion in school admis­sions or employ­ment? What if the tech­nol­o­gy affects moral or emo­tion­al cognition—our abil­i­ty to tell right from wrong or to con­trol our own behav­ior?”

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