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May 9, 2006
Before the Brain Bomb...Should We Build or Ban Neuroweapons?
Imagine it was 1935 and you were at a gathering that was exploring the geopolitical implications of developing the A-Bomb. Last week I was afforded the opportunity to spend several days with 30 others discussing and debating the implications of developing neuroweapons. The conference was sponsored by Sandia's Advanced Concepts Group and was hosted by ASU's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. There is too much to cover in a blog and a paper will be forthcoming later this summer that summarizes the discussions.
As part of the discussion we explored different policy scenarios along the following lines:
In the literature on technologies intended to promote the development of human capabilities in general, four broad perspectives emerge that will have differing implications for legislation, regulation, and allocation of public resources.
1. Laissez-faire on cognitive enhancements. In this view, the emphasis is on the freedom of the individual to seek and employ technologies that he or she judges would benefit his or her self or family. By and large, market mechanisms can manage the risks, and government should play little or no role.
2. Managed cognitive enhancements. Technologies for human capability enhancements promise great benefits to individuals and to society, but a supportive government role is needed to foster research and development increase the fairness of distribution, to assure the effectiveness of the technologies, and to manage the risks.
3. Techno-skepticism. The risks both to individual well-being and to a fair and just society outweigh the promised benefits of these technologies. Commercial values and interests in profit are likely to override broader social interests. Negative unintended consequences are likely, and enhancement technologies should not be made available until net benefits can be demonstrated. The government emphasis should be on regulation and fairness, not promotion.
4. Cultural conservatism. Technologies that may restore disabled people to normal function may be acceptable, but attempts at “transhuman” enhancement of undiseased people threatens to violate God-given or evolved human nature and to undermine the values that make us human. Government should carefully restrict when and how these technologies are used.
Where do you find yourself?
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