May 14 - 15, 2014
Ethics of technological transformations of human experience
- Haggard Patrick, University College London, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
- Baertschi Bernard, Institute of Biomedical Ethics, Maitre d'Enseignement et de Recherche
Technological progress has always altered human experience in unexpected ways. However, technological pressure on the experience of being human is now more intense, and more transformative, for two distinct reasons. First, modern bioengineering is increasingly intervening DIRECTLY into the human organism to construct first-person experience and control of behaviour, through manipulating their neurobiological bases. Deep-brain stimulation, neurobiofeedback, and virtual-reality neuroprosthetics offer potent examples of technological augmentation of basic human experiences. Modern societies seem surprisingly open to such direct technological interventions on the brain, and the brain-environment relation. These interventions appear to be moving from prescribed medical interventions to consumer products. The societal implications of large numbers of technologically-enhanced humans remain unclear. Such solutions promise to improve individuals’ quality of life, but may also transform life in general, by decoupling a person’s experience from their biological body and its immediate environment. Second, robotic technologies will progressively re-engineer our experiential landscape, including removing certain behaviours entirely from the human repertoire. Drone warfare is one current “hot topic” in this area. War is an undeniably unpleasant experience, but suppressing such experiences by tele-combat could have surprising and even more unpleasant side-effects – such as increased number of wars, and perhaps an increased willingness of politicians to go to war. In both cases, technological innovations seem able to transform the content of human experience, in ways that generate both hope for progress, but also ethical concern. Technologies may alter some basic experiences that are constitutive for human life and society, yet the ethical management of human experience is in its infancy. This workshop will ask about the centrality of human experiences in ethics-technology debates. In particular, we will investigate the following questions: • Are particular experiences sufficiently important that they should not be substituted, replaced or re-engineered with new technology? Why might this be so? • What experiences are constitutive of the human condition, and should these be protected? • Can a society regulate technologies that manipulate the experiences of its members? • Does technological enhancement of human experience threaten the autonomy of individuals, or the authenticity of their lives? • Who should control technological interventions that alter human experience, and how? The potential outcome of the workshop will be a nucleus of individuals capable of outlining highlight principles regarding the interface between new technology and basic human experience. This might form the basis of an open debate conducted in collaboration with the Neuroethics Society.