02 February 2008

New iPlant forum and ethical concerns

Ah, you gotta love Google's spam filter. I think the way they do it is they compare new entries (and emails..) to past data and if something is posted too repeately across their servers it doesn't get accepted. Anyway, it's allowed me to finally set up an iPlant forum (the phpBB one was nothing but spam). I woke up at 5 and for some reason setting up this group seemed more attractive than going back to sleep. It's been good too, Google Groups is more than just forums, time's 08:41 now and I'm still at it. Created a 'group page' listing the various ethical concerns regarding the iPlant that I can think off and I'm hoping they'll be discussed one by one in the actual discussion section of the forum/group.
Here's what I wrote:

Assuming an ideal DBS iPlant with no medical risk, no significant damage to brain tissue and highly selective electrical regulation of the dopamine and serotonin nuclei: what are the ethical complexities surrounding a human being using that iPlant to modify the functioning of his or her brain?

The following issues come to mind. Please feel very free to add to this or bring up specific issues in the forum:

Bioconservativism
New biomedical procedures can make many people feel really uncomfortable. How many people, which people, why exactly and is this just a phenomena to be ignored or inhibited untill it goes away like it did for IVF and organ transplants?

Inequality
If successful, iPlants would make users extremely productive and could create a division in society between those who can get one and those who can't.

Unpredictability
The Jurassic Park argument

Zombies
The argument that iPlant users would become drones and loose their free will, their ability to self-motivate and/or their integrity

Risk of misuse
Risk of users abusing the rewarding brain stimulation (RBS) function or being controlled by someone else abusing their RBS function. This verges on a medical or practical issue, at least in terms of prevention, but it also poses the question of how much control users should be given. In the iPlant presented so far RBS can only be activated by the user performing some difficult behavior like pulling a stroke on a rowing machine or entering the correct answer on a computer tutorial, but perhaps there is room for more freedom.
(Thanks to Sean Henderson for a recent discusison of some of these issues)
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