Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Is memory enhancement right around the corner?

By Ryan Purcell

“Everyone has had the experience of struggling to remember long lists of items or complicated directions to get somewhere,” Dr. Justin Sanchez of DARPA said in a recent press release. “Today we are discovering how implantable neurotechnologies can facilitate the brain’s performance of these functions.” The US Department of Defense is interested in how the brain forms memories because hundreds of thousands of soldiers – or “warfighters” as they are now called – have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and some have severe memory problems. Beyond the military, TBI is a major public health concern that affects millions of Americans as patients and caregivers and is incredibly expensive. A breakthrough treatment is needed and for that, ambitious research is required.

But does this research agenda end at treating disease, or could these findings also be applied to memory enhancement goals?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Meet Tomorrow’s World: A Meeting on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies

By Marcello Ienca

Marcello Ienca, M.Sc., M.A., is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Switzerland. His current projects include the assessment of intelligent assistive technologies for people with dementia and other neurocognitive disabilities, the regulation of pervasive neurotechnology, and the neurosecurity of human-machine interfaces. He is the chair of the Student/Postdoc Committee of the International Neuroethics Society and the current coordinator of the Swiss Network for Neuroscience, Ethics and Law.

Technology is rapidly reshaping the world we live in. In the past few decades, mankind has not significantly changed biologically, but human societies have undergone continuous and unprecedented developments through technological innovation. Today, most human activities—from messaging to geolocation, from financial transactions to medical therapies— are computer-mediated. In the next decades, the quantity and variety of activities mediated by digital technology is bound to increase exponentially. In parallel, with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and microcomputing, the friction between man and machine is set to vanish and the boundaries at the human-machine interface are bound to blur. In an attempt to anticipate our technological futures as well as their impact on our societies and our systems of values, the International Neuroethics Society (jointly with the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center, the Science Collaboratory of the University of California, San Diego, and the National Science Foundation) sponsored a public event on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies as part of the 2016 annual INS meeting in San Diego, California. The event was organized by INS President Judy Illes, INS Executive Director Karen Graham, Dr. Rachel Wurzman of the INS Public Session Program Committee and Prof. Andrea Chiba, Dr. Roger Bingham and Prof. Deborah Forster of UCSD. A panel of international experts in various areas of science and ethics gathered in San Diego on November 9 to discuss various critical issues emerging at the human-machine interface with possible disruptive implications for ethics and society. The first perspective was provided by Dr. William D. Casebeer, career intelligence analyst and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. His short talk proposed an interesting analogy between pervasive technology and the art of storytelling to show how technology could be actually used, in the near future, to raise empathy, deliver personalized experiences and facilitate human interaction.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

“Inflammation might be causing depression”: Stigma of mental illness, reductionism, and (mis-)representations of science

by Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of Flickr
Is depression a Kind of Allergic Reaction?” Provocative headlines like these appear throughout popular media. Besides misrepresenting scientific findings, such journalistic coverage impacts perceptions of mental illness, as well as expectations of those seeking treatment. In last month’s Neuroethics in the News talk, Dr. Jennifer Felger, from Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shared her experiences and insights on the translation (and mistranslation) of research by journalists. In relating the story of her own interactions with the media, Felger emphasized the complex and varying transactional relationships between journalists and scientists. The impact of such coverage carries notable neuroethical dimensions, potentially affecting the capacity for agency and/or aspects of a sense of self for a person experiencing mental illness.