Computational neuroscientist Anders Sanberg is a senior research fellow at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute where he explores the ethics of future human enhancement through AI, genetic engineering, and brain implants. IEEE Spectrum's Eliza Strickland interviewed Sanberg about the ethics of augmenting your wetware with neurotech:
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Spectrum: Do you worry that neurotech brain enhancements will only be available to the wealthy, and will increase the disparities between the haves and have-nots?
Sandberg: I’m not too worried about it. If the enhancement it is in the form of a device or pill, those things typically come down in price exponentially. We don’t have to worry so much about them being too expensive for the mass market. It’s more of a concern if there is a lot of service required—if you have to go to a special place and get your brain massaged, or you have to take a few weeks off work for training, the prices for those services won’t come down because they’re based on salaries.
The real question is, how much benefit do you get from being enhanced? You have to consider positional benefits versus absolute benefits. For example, being tall is positionally good for men, tall men tend to get ahead in work and have better life outcomes. But if everyone becomes taller, no one is taller. You only get the benefit if you’re taller than everyone else. Many people who are against enhancement use this argument: Enhancement leads to this crazy race and we’re all worse off.
Spectrum: So even if a cognition-enhancing device became available, you don’t think everyone should get one?
UC Berkeley researchers are developing "Neural Dust," tiny wireless sensors for implanting in the brain, muscles, and intestines that could someday be used to control prosthetics or a "electroceuticals" to treat epilepsy or fire up the immune system. So far, they've tested a 3 millimeter long version of the device in rats.
“I think the long-term prospects for neural dust are not only within nerves and the brain, but much broader,“ says researcher Michel Maharbiz. “Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep. But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data."
Maharbiz, neuroengineer Jose Carmena, and their colleagues published their latest results on "Wireless Recording in the Peripheral Nervous System with Ultrasonic Neural Dust" in the journal Neuron.
From UC Berkeley:
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While the experiments so far have involved the peripheral nervous system and muscles, the neural dust motes could work equally well in the central nervous system and brain to control prosthetics, the researchers say. Today’s implantable electrodes degrade within 1 to 2 years, and all connect to wires that pass through holes in the skull. Wireless sensors – dozens to a hundred – could be sealed in, avoiding infection and unwanted movement of the electrodes.
“The original goal of the neural dust project was to imagine the next generation of brain-machine interfaces, and to make it a viable clinical technology,” said neuroscience graduate student Ryan Neely.
Last year, Mohammed Abad, 43, whose penis was destroyed when he was hit by a car as a child, received an 8-inch implant involving two tubes that inflate his reconstructed flesh phallus when he pumps it up via a button in his scrotum. The implant was the culmination of years of reconstructive surgery. These kinds of implants are commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction. Abad has now announced that he will soon lose his virginity to a sex worker named Charlotte Rose, 35.
“I have waited long enough for this — it’ll be a great start to the new year," Abad said. "My penis is working perfectly now so I just want to do it. I’m really excited. I can’t wait for it to finally happen.”
Rose will travel from London to see Abad in Edinburgh.
"I am so honoured that he chose me to take his virginity," she said. "We plan to have a dinner date so we can get to know each other and then two hours of private time. I’m not charging him.”
(The British Journal)
More: "Man's 'Bionic Penis' Is Not So Rare After All" (LiveScience) Read the rest
Neil Harbisson is totally color blind, so he "hears colors" via an antenna implanted in his skull that translates light frequencies into audible vibrations. Read the rest