Category Archives: ethics

BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (part two of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience*, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

Before further discussing the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues ‘brain’ meetings mentioned in part one, I have some background information.

The US launched its self-explanatory BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative (originally called BAM; Brain Activity Map) in 2013. (You can find more about the history and details in this Wikipedia entry.)

From the beginning there has been discussion about how nanotechnology will be of fundamental use in the US BRAIN initiative and the European Union’s 10 year Human Brain Project (there’s more about that in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting). There’s also a 2013 book (Nanotechnology, the Brain, and the Future) from Springer, which, according to the table of contents, presents an exciting (to me) range of ideas about nanotechnology and brain research,

I. Introduction and key resources

1. Nanotechnology, the brain, and the future: Anticipatory governance via end-to-end real-time technology assessment by Jason Scott Robert, Ira Bennett, and Clark A. Miller
2. The complex cognitive systems manifesto by Richard P. W. Loosemore
3. Analysis of bibliometric data for research at the intersection of nanotechnology and neuroscience by Christina Nulle, Clark A. Miller, Harmeet Singh, and Alan Porter
4. Public attitudes toward nanotechnology-enabled human enhancement in the United States by Sean Hays, Michael Cobb, and Clark A. Miller
5. U.S. news coverage of neuroscience nanotechnology: How U.S. newspapers have covered neuroscience nanotechnology during the last decade by Doo-Hun Choi, Anthony Dudo, and Dietram Scheufele
6. Nanoethics and the brain by Valerye Milleson
7. Nanotechnology and religion: A dialogue by Tobie Milford

II. Brain repair

8. The age of neuroelectronics by Adam Keiper
9. Cochlear implants and Deaf culture by Derrick Anderson
10. Healing the blind: Attitudes of blind people toward technologies to cure blindness by Arielle Silverman
11. Ethical, legal and social aspects of brain-implants using nano-scale materials and techniques by Francois Berger et al.
12. Nanotechnology, the brain, and personal identity by Stephanie Naufel

III. Brain enhancement

13. Narratives of intelligence: the sociotechnical context of cognitive enhancement by Sean Hays
14. Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy by Henry T. Greeley et al.
15. The opposite of human enhancement: Nanotechnology and the blind chicken debate by Paul B. Thompson
16. Anticipatory governance of human enhancement: The National Citizens’ Technology Forum by Patrick Hamlett, Michael Cobb, and David Guston
a. Arizona site report
b. California site report
c. Colorado site reportd. Georgia site report
e. New Hampshire site report
f. Wisconsin site report

IV. Brain damage

17. A review of nanoparticle functionality and toxicity on the central nervous system by Yang et al.
18. Recommendations for a municipal health and safety policy for nanomaterials: A Report to the City of Cambridge City Manager by Sam Lipson
19. Museum of Science Nanotechnology Forum lets participants be the judge by Mark Griffin
20. Nanotechnology policy and citizen engagement in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Local reflexive governance by Shannon Conley

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s May 13, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I stumbled across both a future meeting notice and documentation of the  Feb. 2014 meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Note: Links have been removed),

Continuing from its last meeting (in February 2014), the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will continue working on the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative in its June 9-10 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  An agenda is still forthcoming, …

In other developments, Commission staff are apparently going to examine some efforts to engage bioethical issues through plays.  I’d be very excited to see some of this happen during a Commission meeting, but any little bit is interesting.  The authors of these plays, Karen H. Rothenburg and Lynn W. Bush, have published excerpts in their book The Drama of DNA: Narrative Genomics.  …

The Commission also has a YouTube channel …

Integrating a theatrical experience into the reams of public engagement exercises that technologies such as stem cell, GMO (genetically modified organisms), nanotechnology, etc. tend to spawn seems a delightful idea.

Interestingly, the meeting in June 2014 will coincide with the book’s release date. I dug further and found these snippets of information. The book is being published by Oxford University Press and is available in both paperback and e-book formats. The authors are not playwrights, as one might assume. From the Author Information page,

Lynn Bush, PhD, MS, MA is on the faculty of Pediatric Clinical Genetics at Columbia University Medical Center, a faculty associate at their Center for Bioethics, and serves as an ethicist on pediatric and genomic advisory committees for numerous academic medical centers and professional organizations. Dr. Bush has an interdisciplinary graduate background in clinical and developmental psychology, bioethics, genomics, public health, and neuroscience that informs her research, writing, and teaching on the ethical, psychological, and policy challenges of genomic medicine and clinical research with children, and prenatal-newborn screening and sequencing.

Karen H. Rothenberg, JD, MPA serves as Senior Advisor on Genomics and Society to the Director, National Human Genome Research Institute and Visiting Scholar, Department of Bioethics, Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health. She is the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law, Founding Director, Law & Health Care Program and former Dean at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Visiting Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Professor Rothenberg has served as Chair of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission, President of the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics, and has been on many NIH expert committees, including the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.

It is possible to get a table of contents for the book but I notice not a single playwright is mentioned in any of the promotional material for the book. While I like the idea in principle, it seems a bit odd and suggests that these are purpose-written plays. I have not had good experiences with purpose-written plays which tend to be didactic and dull, especially when they’re not devised by a professional storyteller.

You can find out more about the upcoming ‘bioethics’ June 9 – 10, 2014 meeting here.  As for the Feb. 10 – 11, 2014 meeting, the Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post featured Barbara Herr Harthorn’s (director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California at Santa Barbara) participation only.

It turns out, there are some Canadian tidbits. From the Meeting Sixteen: Feb. 10-11, 2014 webcasts page, (each presenter is featured in their own webcast of approximately 11 mins.)

Timothy Caulfield, LL.M., F.R.S.C., F.C.A.H.S.

Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy
Professor in the Faculty of Law
and the School of Public Health
University of Alberta

Eric Racine, Ph.D.

Director, Neuroethics Research Unit
Associate Research Professor
Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal
Associate Research Professor,
Department of Medicine
Université de Montréal
Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery,
McGill University

It was a surprise to see a couple of Canucks listed as presenters and I’m grateful that the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is so generous with information. in addition to the webcasts, there is the Federal Register Notice of the meeting, an agenda, transcripts, and presentation materials. By the way, Caulfield discussed hype and Racine discussed public understanding of science with regard to neuroscience both fitting into the overall theme of communication. I’ll have to look more thoroughly but it seems to me there’s no mention of pop culture as a means of communicating about science and technology.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series:

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part three: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (May 20, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

* ‘neursocience’ corrected to ‘neuroscience’ on May 20, 2014.

Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five)

This post kicks off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience*, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

Barbara Herr Harthorn, head of UCSB’s [University of California at Santa Barbara) Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS), one of two such centers in the US (the other is at Arizona State University) was featured in a May 12, 2014 article by Lyz Hoffman for the [Santa Barbara] Independent.com,

… Barbara Harthorn has spent the past eight-plus years leading a team of researchers in studying people’s perceptions of the small-scale science with big-scale implications. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, CNS enjoys national and worldwide recognition for the social science lens it holds up to physical and life sciences.

Earlier this year, Harthorn attended a meeting hosted by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The commission’s chief focus was on the intersection of ethics and brain research, but Harthorn was invited to share her thoughts on the relationship between ethics and nanotechnology.

(You can find Harthorn’s February 2014 presentation to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues here on their webcasts page.)

I have excerpted part of the Q&A (questions and answers) from Hoffman’s May 12, 2014 article but encourage you to read the piece in its entirety as it provides both a brief beginners’ introduction to nanotechnology and an insight into some of the more complex social impact issues presented by nano and other emerging technologies vis à vis neuroscience and human enhancement,

So there are some environmental concerns with nanomaterials. What are the ethical concerns? What came across at the Presidential Commission meeting? They’re talking about treatment of Alzheimer’s and neurological brain disorders, where the issue of loss of self is a fairly integral part of the disease. There are complicated issues about patients’ decision-making. Nanomaterials could be used to grow new tissues and potentially new organs in the future.

What could that mean for us? Human enhancement is very interesting. It provokes really fascinating discussions. In our view, the discussions are not much at all about the technologies but very much about the social implications. People feel enthusiastic initially, but when reflecting, the issues of equitable access and justice immediately rise to the surface. We [at CNS] are talking about imagined futures and trying to get at the moral and ethical sort of citizen ideas about the risks and benefits of such technologies. Before they are in the marketplace, [the goal is to] understand and find a way to integrate the public’s ideas in the development process.

Here again is a link to the article.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series:

Part two: BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (May 19, 2014)

Part three: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (May 20, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

* ‘neursocience’ corrected to ‘neuroscience’ on May 20, 2014.

LEGO serious play and Arizona State University’s nanotechnology* ethics and society project*

Arizona State University (ASU) is receiving a $200,000 grant for undergraduates to ‘play seriously’ according to an April 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

ASU undergraduates have the opportunity to enroll in a challenging course this fall, designed to re-introduce the act of play as a problem-solving technique. The course is offered as part of the larger project, Cross-disciplinary Education in Social and Ethical Aspects of Nanotechnology, which received nearly $200,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Nano Undergraduate Education program.

An April 6, 2014 ASU news release, which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

The project is the brainchild of Camilla Nørgaard Jensen, a doctoral scholar in the ASU Herberger Institute’s design, environment and the arts doctoral program. Participants will use an approach called LEGO Serious Play to solve what Jensen calls “nano-conundrums” – ethical dilemmas arising in the field of nanotechnology.

“LEGO Serious Play is an engaging vehicle that helps to create a level playing field, fostering shared conversation and exchange of multiple perspectives,” said Jensen, a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator. “This creates an environment for reflection and critical deliberation of complex decisions and their future impacts.”

LEGO Serious Play methods are often used by businesses to strategize and encourage creative thinking. In ASU’s project, students will use LEGO bricks to build metaphorical models, share and discuss their creations, and then adapt and respond to feedback received by other students. The expectation is that this activity will help students learn to think and communicate “outside the box” – literally and figuratively – about their work and its long-term societal effects.

This project was piloted, from the news release (Note: A link has been removed),

Fifteen engineering students enrolled in the Grand Challenge Scholar Program participated in a Feb. 24 [20??] pilot workshop to test project strategies. Comments from students included, “I experienced my ideas coming to life as I built the model,” and “I gained a perspective as to how ideas cannot take place entirely in the head.” These anecdotal outcomes confirmed the team’s assumptions that play and physical activity can enhance the formation and communication of ideas.

This is a cross-disciplinary effort (from the news release),

“Technology is a creative and collaborative process,” said Seager [Thomas Seager, an associate professor and Lincoln Fellow of Ethics and Sustainability in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment], who is principal investigator for the grant. “I want a classroom that will unlock technology creativity, in which students from every discipline can be creative. For me, overcoming obstacles to communication is just the first step.”

Seager’s work teaching ethical reasoning skills to science and engineering graduate students will help inform the project. Selin’s [Cynthia Selin, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society] research on the social implications of new technologies, and Hannah’s [Mark Hannah, an assistant professor in the rhetoric and composition program in the ASU Department of English] expertise in professional and technical communication will facilitate the dialogue-based approach to understanding the communication responsibilities of transdisciplinary teams working in nanotechnology. A steering committee of 12 senior advisers is helping to guide the project’s progress.

“Being a new scientific field that involves very complex trade-offs and risk when it comes to implementation, the subject of ethics in nanoscience is best addressed in a transdisciplinary setting. When problems are too complex to be solved by one discipline alone, the approach needs to go beyond the disciplinary silos,” said Jensen.

“As we train the next generation of students to understand the opportunities and responsibilities involved in creating and using emerging technologies that have the potential to benefit society, we need to advance our capacity to teach diverse stakeholders how to communicate effectively,” said Jensen.

I last wrote about play and nanotechnology in an Aug. 2, 2013 posting about training teachers how to introduce nanotechnology to middle schoolers. As for ASU, they’ve had a rich week with regard to funding, in an April 8, 2014 posting, i described a $5M grant for a multi-university project, the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials Network headquartered at ASU.

* Added ‘o’ to the nantechnology so it now reads correctly as nanotechnology and added a space between the words ‘society’ and ‘project’ in the head for this post.

Surprise: telepresent Ed Snowden at TED 2014′s Session 2: Retrospect

The first session (Retrospect) this morning held a few surprises, i.e, unexpected speakers, Brian Greene and Ed Snowden (whistleblower re: extensive and [illegal or nonlegal?] surveillance by the US National Security Agency [NSA]). I’m not sure how Snowden fits into the session theme of Retrospect but I think that’s less the point than the sheer breathtaking surprise and his topic’s importance to current public discourse around much of the globe.

Snowden is mostly focused on PRISM (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

PRISM is a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program launched in 2007 by the National Security Agency (NSA), with participation from an unknown date by the British equivalent agency, GCHQ.[1][2][3] PRISM is a government code name for a data-collection effort known officially by the SIGAD US-984XN.[4][5] The Prism program collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms.[6] The NSA can use these Prism requests to target communications that were encrypted when they traveled across the Internet backbone, to focus on stored data that telecommunication filtering systems discarded earlier,[7][8] and to get data that is easier to handle, among other things.[9]

He also described Boundless Informant in response to a question from the session co-moderator, Chris Anderson (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Boundless Informant or BOUNDLESSINFORMANT is a big data analysis and data visualization tool used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). It gives NSA managers summaries of the NSA’s world wide data collection activities by counting metadata.[1] The existence of this tool was disclosed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden, who worked at the NSA for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.[2]

Anderson asks Snowden, “Why should we care [about increased surveillance]? After all we’re not doing anything wrong.” Snowden response notes that we have a right to privacy and that our actions can be misinterpreted or used against us at any time, present or future.

Anderson mentions Dick Cheney and Snowden notes that Cheney has in the past made some overblown comments about Assange which he (Cheney) now dismisses in the face of what he now considers to be Snowden’s greater trespass.

Snowden is now commenting on the NSA’s attempt to undermine internet security by misleading their partners. He again makes a plea for privacy. He also notes that US security has largely been defensive, i.e., protection against other countries’ attempts to get US secrets. These latest programmes change US security from a defensive strategy to an offensive strategy (football metaphor). These changes have been made without public scrutiny.

Anderson asks Snowden about his personal safety.  His response (more or less), “I go to sleep every morning thinking about what I can do to help the American people. … I’m happy to do what I can.”

Anderson asks the audience members whether they think Snowden’s was a reckless act or an heroic act. Some hands go up for reckless, more hands go up for heroic, and many hands remain still.

Snowden, “We need to keep the internet safe for us and if we don’t act we will lose our freedom.”

Anderson asks Tim Berners-Lee to come up to the stage and the discussion turns to his (Berners-Lee) proposal for a Magna Carta for the internet.

Tim Berners-Lee biography from his Wikipedia entry,

Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS (born 8 June 1955), also known as “TimBL”, is a British computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989,[4] and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid November.[5][6][7][8][9]

Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the Web’s continued development. He is also the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, and is a senior researcher and holder of the Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).[10] He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI),[11] and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.[12][13]

The Magna Carta (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter),[1] also called Magna Carta Libertatum or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, is an Angevin charter originally issued in Latin in June 1215. It was sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede, on the bank of the River Thames near Windsor, England at June 15, 1215.[2]

Magna Carta was the first document forced onto a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights.

The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.

When asked by Anderson if he would return to the US if given amnesty, Snowden says yes as long as he can continue his work. He’s not willing to trade his work of bringing these issues to the public forefront in order to go home again.

Ethical nano in Second Life

Isn’t Second Life dead? Apparently not.

While you won’t be able to attend the live event online, there will be free access to the nano and ethics discussion held on July 20, 2012, from 1 pm to 4 pm EDT at the Terasem Island Conference Center in Second Life. The question and speakers were (from the July 20, 2012 event posting on the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence website,

What should be the ethical constraints on nanotechnology?

Speakers include:

  • Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D. — “Geoethical Rules for Nanotechnological Advances”
  • Peter Wicks — “Nanotechnology and the Environment: Enemies or Allies?”
  • Alex Wissner-Gross, Ph.D. — “Physically Programmable Surfaces”

The workshop is an exchange of scholarly views on uses of lifesaving nanotechnologies, including the impacts on people, accessibility, monitoring compliance with ethical norms.

I think if you check out the Terasem Island Conference Center in Second Life (SLURL), you will be able to access the archived discussion.

Nano events

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has a couple of events coming up later this month. The first one is this coming Thurs., Jan. 8, 2009 ‘Synthetic Biology: Is Ethics A Showstopper? from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm EST. The event features two speakers, Arthur Caplan, an ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania, and Andrew Maynard, the chief science advisor for PEN. They request an RSVP, if you are attending in person. Go here for more details and/or to RSVP. Or you can view the webcast live or later. Their other event is on Weds.,  Jan. 14, 2009 and is called ‘Nanotech and Your Daily Vitamins’. The time for this event is 9:30 am – 10:30 am EST. The featured speakers, William B. Schultz and Lisa Barclay, are the authors of a report for PEN about the FDA and how it can address issues surrounding dietary supplements that use nanomaterials. For more details about the event and/or to RSVP, go here. There is also the webcast option. There is a link to the report from the event page but you have to log in to view it (as of Jan.6.09).

Nanotech BC is cancelling its Jan. 15, 2009 breakfast speaker event. Meanwhile, Nanotech BC organizers are preparing for the second Cascadia Symposium on April 20 – 21, 2009 at the Bayshore. They’ve gone for a larger venue (250 people) than last year’s. No other details are available yet.