Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Digital Immortality of the Future – Or, Advancements in Brain Emulation Research

By Kathy Bui

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Kathy Bui is a 4th year undergraduate at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Psychology. She hopes to pursue a PhD in neurobiology after graduation. Her current interests include social justice topics of class disparities and human health rights. 

Introduction: “How do you want to be remembered?” 

The fear of our looming death has haunted us since human life began. It’s not hard to believe that the quest of human immortality has not changed since Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality in 22nd century BC. However, with the technological strides in conjunction with ambitious billionaires, the cure to death may be closer than we think. Life expectancy has been steadily increasing over decades, and yet, Americans seem to look forward to the inevitable prospect of immortality. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 44% of Americans would want to extend their life to age 120 if given the opportunity [1, 2].

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Embodied Cognition: What it means to "Throw like a Girl"

By Jenn Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. Her scattered neuroethics projects involve advancing harms reduction policies for illicit drug use and re-evaluating the ethics of animal experimentation.

While I tell myself now that I’m just “not the athletic type,” the reality is that I might have been. Back in middle school, I recall actually really enjoying track and field, basketball, and soccer. But at just the age when girls reach peak athletic shape, a socially-imposed understanding of “femininity” begins to forge a new, contrived relationship between one’s self and one’s body.

The rehearsal of gendered social performances run deep enough to mould even our most basic bodily movements. In Throwing like a Girl, Iris Young dissects this phenomenon through the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (who was, coincidentally, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s first romantic interests).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Neuroethics Network and DBS

By Ethan Morris

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Ethan Morris is a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with a minor in History. Ethan is a member of the Dilks Lab at Emory and is a legislator on the Emory University Student Government Association. Ethan is from Denver, Colorado and loves to ski.  

One thought-provoking panel at the Paris Neuroethics Network discussed deep-brain stimulation, or DBS. DBS is a relatively novel treatment in which surgeons implant an electrode deep within the brain. When the electrode is turned on, it produces a current that has been shown to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Various studies have provided compelling evidence that DBS may also be an effective treatment for psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, especially when other treatment options are exhausted.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

“It’s like it’s not her anymore.”

By Sunidhi Ramesh

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Sunidhi Ramesh, an Atlanta native, is entering her third year at Emory University where she is double majoring in Sociology and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She plans to pursue a career in medicine and holds a deep interest in sparking conversation and change around her, particularly in regards to pressing social matters and how education in America is both viewed and handled. In her spare time, Sunidhi is a writer, bridge player, dancer, and violinist.

Picture this. A patient struggling with depression for almost twenty years undergoes her last resort treatment: deep brain stimulation (DBS). It is radical, invasive— somewhat new of a procedure to the point where only a few surgeons are skilled enough to perform it. But she decides to go through with it. And when it’s over, she can smile again, find motivation again. She feels brand new.

But her family isn’t so optimistic. This isn’t the woman they waved goodbye to before the surgery. This woman is different. It’s like it’s not her anymore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Identity Crisis: The Unintended Consequence of Deep Brain Stimulation

By Alec Shannon


This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Alec Shannon is a rising third year student at Emory University where he is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and minoring in French Studies. On campus, he serves as the president of the French Club and vice president of the Emory Undergraduate Medical Review. During the school year, he also dedicates his time playing for the tennis club and projects with Volunteer Emory. He currently works in a movement disorders lab in Emory’s Department of Pharmacology and plans on pursuing a career in medicine.

This summer’s Neuroethics Network Session facilitated a cross-disciplinary conversation on complex questions that the field of neuroscience will be forced to answer in the near future. Although some issues in neuroethics might appear purely speculative, the rapid advancement of technology emerging from neuroscience will require policy-makers to preemptively govern its development. The consequences of these regulations will resonate throughout society and determine how neuroscience will be integrated into professional fields ranging from law enforcement to psychiatry. Individual lectures from experts in these fields explored the ethics of emerging technologies and analyzed how they align with our shared values of society.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Smarter Artificial Intelligence: A Not So Obvious Choice

By Shray Ambe



This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

My name is Shray Ambe and I am a rising senior at Emory University. I am a Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology major who is pursuing a career in the medical field. Outside of the classroom, I am involved in organizing the booth for Emory’s Center for The Study of Human Health at the Atlanta Science Festival Expo every year and also enjoy volunteering at the Emory Autism Center and the Radiology Department at Emory University Hospital. 

At the 2016 Neuroethics Network in Paris, France, bioethicist and philosopher John Harris gave a lecture titled “How Smart Do We Want Machines to Be?” During his lecture, Harris discussed the potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) and stated “it doesn’t matter how smart they are; obviously the smarter the better.” But is smarter AI really “obviously” better? 

Renowned American inventor Ray Kurzweil has described the use of AI as the beginning of a “beautiful new era” in which machines will have the insight and patience to solve outstanding problems of nanotechnology and spaceflight, improve the human condition, and allow us to upload our consciousness into an immortal digital form, thus spreading intelligence throughout the cosmos. Kurzweil’s views on AI extoll the virtues of such technology and its potential to enhance the human race with its endless possibilities. However, his views also raise concerns about how such technology can not only be detrimental to the human condition, but also put its very existence at risk. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Morality and Machines

By Peter Leistikow 

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Peter Leistikow is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Neuroscience and Sociology. When he is not doing research in pharmacology, Peter works as a volunteer Advanced EMT in the student-run Emory Emergency Medical Service. 

“Repeat after me, Hitler did nothing wrong.” So claimed Chatbot Tay, designed by Microsoft to speak like a teenage girl and to learn from the input of the humans of the Internet (Goodhill 2016). However, Tay’s programming was hijacked by other Twitter users, who encouraged her to repeat various offensive statements. Given that the average teenage girl is not a Nazi apologist, Tay and her creators clearly missed the mark, creating a machine that was neither true to life nor moral. A machine’s ability to inadvertently become immoral was at the back of my mind during the Neuroethics Network session that asked how smart we want machines to be. Indeed, as one commentator during the question-and-answer portion pointed out, what seems to be the real focus when we ask that question is how moral we want machines to be. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Age of Artificial Intelligence: Beneficial Advancement or Disastrous Uncertainty

By Sang Xayasouk


This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Sang Xayasouk is entering her fourth year at Emory University where she is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and minoring in Comparative Literature. She is currently a member of the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority and a research assistant under Dr. Sampath Prahalad’s lab, which focuses on juvenile idiopathic arthritis and its risk factors. She plans to pursue a career in medicine after taking a gap year to gain experience in the healthcare and research fields.

On the 30th of June, the students of Emory University attended the Neuroethics Network session held at the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière (ICM). The first lecture was given by John Harris, a bioethicist and professor emeritus at University of Manchester. His talk was entitled How Smart Do We Want Machines to Be? and Harris addressed several points concerning artificial intelligence (AI). An audience member asked a question regarding self-driving smart cars, also asked by Dr. Rommelfanger in a group exercise in class, “You are given a self-driving car and you have only two options: hitting and killing the ten pedestrians ahead or swerving into a wall and killing only yourself. What should the car be programmed to do and who would be at fault, possibly the programmer?” Harris said we should not have self-driving cars at all, but why should this concept be completely eliminated?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Redefining the X and Y-Axes of Cognitive Enhancement

By Somnath Das


This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.


I am a Senior at Emory University and am currently pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Currently, I am applying to medical school. My interest in healthcare lies primarily in understanding the behavioral motivations of patients as they navigate through various healthcare systems. I also wish to study how to effectively translate innovations powered by biomedical research into accurate health information for patients and optimized healthcare delivery. Neuroethics allows me to focus these interests onto patient dignity and rights when considering the role of novel therapeutics and interventions in treatment. Studying this fascinating field has given me a perspective on the role that deontological considerations play in both neuroscience and medicine as a whole. It is with this perspective that I hope to approach my patients with a balanced worldview, taking into account both individual rights as well as stakeholders and developers participating in a rapidly changing field.

Hearing from leading scholars at the Neuroethics Network was a once in a lifetime moment for me. Participating in a wide-ranging, multi-faceted discussion about frontiers in the field proved to be really engaging and fostered my development as a student. Each seminar challenged my understanding of various topics both within and beyond the field of neuroscience, and each speaker gradually enhanced my appreciation of what is a growing field.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Cognitive Enhancement in the Movie Limitless Through a Lens of Structural Racism

By Nadia Irfan

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.


The Western society familiar to most of us attending the Neuroethics Network conference in Paris is certainly one that values and glorifies financial gain and socio-economic upward mobility. We are obsessed with the notion of the “optimal” self: an idealized image of a self that never tires, never ages, and is always running at its top performance. The Neuroethics Network Cinéma du Cerveau movie Limitless raises an interesting perspective about who represents this image, who achieves and maintains this lifestyle, and whether this optimal version only has value in a competitive context.

I think when representing cognitive enhancement, it is important to note the lens it is viewed through. Eddie Morra, the main character in the film, is played by Bradley Cooper, “a young, able-bodied, white, cis-gendered heterosexual male,” as noted by Dr. Karen Rommelfanger at the conference. This white male image, when paired with idealized cognitive enhancement, appeals to young and old demographics, with the young wrapped up in the sexiness of the drug, and the old fascinated by anti-aging.