Tuesday, March 29, 2016

AlphaGo and Google DeepMind: (Un)Settling the Score between Human and Artificial Intelligence

By Katie L. Strong, PhD 

In a quiet room in a London office building, artificial intelligence history was made last October as reigning European Champion Fan Hui played Go, a strategy-based game he had played countless times before. This particular match was different from the others though – not only was Fan Hui losing, but he was losing against a machine.

The machine was a novel artificial intelligence system named AlphaGo developed by Google DeepMind. DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 for an alleged $617 million (their largest European acquisition to date), is a company focused on developing machines that are capable of learning new tasks for themselves. DeepMind is more interested in artificial “general” intelligence, or AI machines that are adaptive to the task at hand and can accomplish new goals with little or no preprogramming. DeepMind programs essentially have a kind of short-term working memory that allows them to manipulate and adapt information to make decisions. This is in contrast to AI that may be very adept at a specific job, but cannot translate these skills to a different task without human intervention. For the researchers at DeepMind, the perfect platform to test these types of sophisticated AI: computer and board games. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When it comes to issues of identity and authenticity in DBS, let patients have a voice

By Ryan Purcell

Reconstruction of DBS electrode placement, image courtesy
of Wikipedia
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an extraordinarily popular topic in neuroethics. In fact, you could fill a book with all of the articles written on the subject just in AJOB Neuroscience alone (and the editors have considered doing this!). A special issue on the topic in AJOBN can be found here. Among the most widely discussed neuroethical issues in the DBS arena are concerns over the effects on patient identity and authenticity. But perhaps one perspective that has not been fully represented in the academic literature is that of the patients for whom this is actually their last hope to find a way out of a profound, debilitating and often years-long episode of depression. At February’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News journal club, Dr. Helen Mayberg spoke passionately about the approach that led her team to attempt DBS for major depressive disorder (MDD), the ensuing media response, and how that has affected her ongoing work to improve the technique, better understand the etiology of MDD, and allow patients to get back to their lives.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Naming the devil: The mental health double bind


By Jennifer Laura Lee

Jenn Laura Lee recently received her undergraduate in neuroscience from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and hopes to pursue a PhD in neurobiology this fall. Her current interests include the advancement of women in STEM and the ethics of animal experimentation.

The “Bell Let’s Talk” initiative swept through Canada on January 27, hoping to end the stigma associated with mental illness, one text and one share at a time. Michael Landsberg shares his thoughts in a short video on the Facebook page. “The stigma exists because fundamentally there’s a feeling in this country still that depression is more of a weakness than a sickness,” he explains. “People use the word depression all the time to describe a bad time in their life, a down time. But that’s very different than the illness itself.” Perhaps such a bold statement merits closer examination.

Philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists find themselves rallying behind two starkly contrasting paradigms of mental health, lobbying for conflicting changes in policy and attitude. On one end of the spectrum lies the medical model of psychiatry - the notion that the classification of mental illness can and ought to be truly objective, scientific, and devoid of value judgements. At the other extreme, a Foucault-esque theory posits that most psychiatric classifications are nothing more than a reflection of the values of those who do the classifying; classification is inherently normative and necessarily serves the interests of those in power. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The ethical duty to know: Facilitated communication for autism as a tragic case example

By Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D.


Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University. He received his A.B. from Cornell University in 1982 and his Ph.D. in Psychology (Clinical) from the University of Minnesota in 1990. His interests include the etiology and assessment of personality disorders, conceptual issues in psychiatric classification, scientific thinking and evidence-based practice in psychology, and most recently, the implications of neuroscience for the broader field of psychology. Along with Sally Satel, he is co-author of Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (2013, Basic Books).

I’m a clinical psychologist by training, although I no longer conduct psychotherapy. In the course of my graduate work at the University of Minnesota during the 1980s, I – like virtually all therapists in training – learned all about the ethical mandates of clinical practice. By now, all mental health professionals can practically recite them by heart: don’t sleep with your clients, avoid dual relationships, don’t show up drunk to work, don’t violate client confidentiality, always report child abuse and elder abuse to appropriate authorities, and so on. To be sure, all of these ethical requirements are exceedingly important.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sitting Here in My Safe European Home: How Neuroscientific Research Can Help Shape EU Policy During the Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Joseph Wszalek, J.D. and Sara Heyn

Joseph Wszalek, J.D., is a fourth-year PhD student in the Neuroscience Training Program/Neuroscience and Public Policy Program at the University of Wisconsin. His research work focuses on the interaction between social cognition, language, and traumatic brain injury, with an emphasis on legal contexts. He holds a law degree cum laude and Order of the Coif from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he was a US Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow through the Center for European Studies and a member of the Wisconsin International Law Journal’s senior editorial board. 

Sara Heyn is currently a graduate student pursuing a J.D. along with a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include psychopathy, decision-making processes, and the use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom. 

Ethical guidelines are a fundamental aspect of the legal profession. The modern attorney serves three simultaneous ethical roles: he is an advocate for his clients, he is an officer of the legal system, and he is a public citizen with special responsibility for the rule of law (ABA Model Rules, 2014). These ethical obligations do not merely prohibit unacceptable conduct: they impose positive duties on licensed attorneys to actively promote and improve the administration of justice in all three capacities. In stark contrast to the legal profession, however, the ethical obligations of the scientific profession are considerably less well-defined. So-called research ethics are concerned more with establishing responsible research practices and less with encouraging active social duties. Put another way, while the modern scientist has an undeniable ethical obligation in his role as a member of the scientific community, it’s unclear whether or not this obligation extends to his role as a general citizen, and it’s unclear whether or not he, like his lawyer counterpart, has a “special responsibility” to actively improve society.