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C6: Neuroethics and Neurotechnology: Emerging Questions from “Hybrid Brains”

Oliver Müller§, Giovanni Maio§

§ = Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine


Scientific background

The general focus of the new discipline “Neuroethics” is on ethical problems emerging from the development and application of neurotechnolgy and neuroscience. In particular, neuroethics focusses on questions regarding brain imaging and neuroenhancements. Ethical aspects of the use of brain implants, by contrast, are rarely examined in detail and remain a desideratum for future research. The Junior Research Group (BMBF funded) at the Institute for Bioethics and History of Medicine has participated in interdisciplinary workshops with the BCCN, Freiburg, has organized two interdisciplinary conferences on neuroethical topics in October 2006 and September 2007, respectively, and has arranged a summer school (BMBF funded) on the “mechanization of the brain” in September 2007.


Neuroethical considerations have to address (I) the question in how far the application of BMIs poses genuinely new ethical challenges – can we assert that BMIs are “tools” in a traditional sense when a computer becomes an integral “part” of an individual self? What precisely are the differences between BMIs and “external” machines or other technological implants (such as pace makers)? – (II)neuroethical considerations mustclarify the consequences of “merging” BMIs and persons – as BMIs don’t have only genuine “technological problems” but also “normative” ones, regarding the interrelation between personal self and neurotechnologies –, and (III) they have to outline the concrete problems regarding “responsibility” of persons with BMIs in social interaction: a computer-based control of prosthetic output devices raises doubts of whether the person in question still can be regarded as responsible actor.

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