“An ELSI Program for the BRAIN Initiative?”

Posted by Pete Shanks on August 29th, 2013 Reblog Biopolitical Times:

quotes listed:

“People who are developing the technologies are not thinking of ethics, they are engineers.” — Henry S. Richardson, Kennedy Institute of Ethics

“We need to find ways to engage with social media and educate the public … that we did not have when the genome ELSI program began. … It’s probably going to require a 20-year-old to figure out how to do it.” — Thomas Murray, Hastings Center

“Working scientists and clinicians need to engage with the public directly, and at this point, there is no incentive to do so.” — Anjan Chatterjee, University of Pennsylvania


“Even more worrying, as noted in a comment, is that the representative from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) “stated that some of the brain research at DARPA would be classified for security reasons.” Now there’s a loophole …

The ethical issues are becoming pressing. On Tuesday, August 27th, researchers at the University of Washington claimed to have achieved a “Vulcan mind meld” — electrical signals in one human’s brain caused another human’s hand to move. (Yes, of course there is video.) It’s a stunt that builds on previous work with rats and monkeys, it hasn’t been peer-reviewed, the goal is to assist paralyzed people, and the data transmitted are “only simple brain signals, not thoughts, and cannot be used on anyone unknowingly.” But it’s an early signal of what is coming.

The Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) program of the Human Genome Project, analyzed last week by Thomas Murray, who helped design it, is still controversial. Some biologists (usually off the record) see it as a waste of money and time; some ethicists see it as a convenient cover for researchers (“watchdog or lap dog?” [pdf]). But it did establish the concept of integrating such discussions into the research process. So far, the Presidential Commission is essentially discussing how to discuss the issues in relation to the BRAIN Initiative. A properly funded ELSI program seems like a good idea. “


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