Moral status of Neuroprosthetsis

It is agreed in all quarters that technology of brain computer interface (BCI) is all set to improve human consciousness . Besides offering therapy for several medical conditions that we face today, It is thought that it will enhance performance. The advancement of BCI is said to make humans more productive and efficient as well as more understanding, expressive and empathetic. There are three approaches to BCI. There is the invasive approach, partially invasive approach and non-invasive approach. Invasive approach physically implants electrodes in the grey matter of the brain through a neurosurgery making it possible to measure local fields potentials. Partially invasive approach reaches the cortex but not the grey matter. It uses electrocorticography (ECoG) and decodes the signals of the brain. Non-invasive technology uses electroencephalography (EEG) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). These systems are placed outside the skull on the scalp and records brain activities inside the skull and surface of the brain membrane. Invasive and partially invasive methods are expensive and are prone to damage tissue and are difficult to operate but with passing time they will become refined. These approaches work through neuroprosthesis.

The human brain-computer interface has opened the road to neuroprosthesis . It promises to open direct communication pathways between brain and external devices to restore and augment sensory and motor and reward neural functions. Neuroprosthetics pose challenge to electrical, biomedical and neural engineers because they are in direct contact with human brain. Therefore, the system design has to aid seamless intertwining of biological systems of neuron with electronics , mechanics and materials. The neuroprosthesis consists in sensing neuronal activity, transmitting this information out of the brain, decoding its information content with signal analysis, and providing feedback through control. The design has another additional challenge because it has to closely replicate physiological functions of the brain through bio-mimicry. Although neuroprothesis appear to be futuristic, there are several therapeutic clinical practices which operate within the limits of feasibility. Several experiment on rats, monkeys and humans have shown that carefully engineered systems acquire neural activity, translate it through signal processing algorithms and deliver the appropriate prosthetic or computer commands that direct the brain control can be achieved without physical movement. The benefit of this are truly incredible when it comes to assisting people with disabilities.

The convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) is a promised land and is already taking us from therapy to enhancement. This convergence is producing human enhancement technologies (HET). Cognitive enhancement is an improvement of the cognitive capabilities of human mind-brain(-body). This amplification of the core cognitive capacities is made possible through neuroprosthesis. It is also assisted by developments in neuropharmaceuticals ( smart drugs), deep brain simulations and genetic engineering etc. These technologies promise to take humanity to its transhuman future where humans can live as electronic beings in a computer. We begin with PNEP chips , programable neural electron pathway devices, to heal damaged connections of the brain to the point of complete replacement of human brain with artificial brain. Hence, we have the challenge to understand the relation of prostheticity and human consciousness. One thing is clear that the neuroprothetics are able to share in the physiological life of the brain functions. To arrive to its moral status, we will have to ask to what degree does neuroprosthetics participate in human consciousness? Consciousness cannot be limited to the brain functions alone. In fact the entire human being is conscious at different levels. Several neuroscientists think of consciousness in terms of its coherence with cognitive processes. Maybe experience can be a touch stone to understand consciousness. Some neuroscientists like David Chalmers takes this path and catalogues conscious experience ranging from visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and tase (gustatory) and view them from the point of view of subjective metal states. Moving in the direction of viewing consciousness through the window of experience does indicate that neuroprosthesis that bring about a brain-computer interface do partially participate in the life of the brain and hence we may assert that they are partially conscious. This is why we may have to accept that neuroposthetsis do participate in the moral life of the person in whose brain they are planted and therefore have limited moral status.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao