The first Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies (CBET) event of the academic year was a fascinating overview of the world of cyber-neuroethics by Prof Calum MacKellar, whose book on this topic is due out in 2017.
After defining his territory, Prof MacKellar embarked on a whirlwind tour of cyborgs, carer robots for the elderly and those with dementia, mind cyberspace, deep brain stimulation therapy and other forms of neuronal –computer interfaces including the possibilities of military use.
He then considered various types of mind modification including memory enhancements and artificial consciousness.
Wide use was made of illustrations from popular culture including Dr Who, E M Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops’, the novel “The Feed” and films including ‘The Giver’ and ‘Transcendence’.
The lecture concluded with a summary of the conclusions on ethical aspects of these topics reached by the Scottish Council of Human Bioethics, of which Dr MacKellar is the research director.
The event was timely as it occurred in the same week the Alan Turing Centre commented on the latest Government initiatives on advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence.
The talk was especially helpful in distinguishing between those issues such as uploading human consciousness into a machine, which are likely to remain science fiction for the foreseeable future and those like deep brain stimulation which are already well established and in regular clinical use or soon to be so."
Dr Trevor Stammers