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> Meeting Neuroethical Challenges in Cognitive Enhancement
post Apr 28, 2004, 04:51 PM
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Chair's Summary

Chair: Judy Illes
Direct-to-Consumer Marketing

Is taking a stimulant before a test any different from gulping down a cup of coffee? Can pills boost intelligence? Will neuroenhancers—pills or neurotechnologies that boost cognitive function—medicalize behavior not previously considered pathologic? Does this shift the definition of "normal"?

How safe are cognitive enhancers taken over time? How do we ethically distribute them? Should they be covered by insurance? Can courts order criminals to take mood-altering drugs? Should we ask presidents and prime ministers making decisions that might alter the world to take neuroenhancers? Might the price we pay for a neuro-enhanced society be a less poetic one?

Meeting neuroethical challenges

Advances in neuroscience accelerate the potential for cognitive enhancement to become as ordinary and everyday as a cup of coffee. This may benefit society enormously—by accelerating learning, for example. But it also raises moral and ethical concerns, such as who has access to the benefits of the technology.

Who will have access to the benefits of technology?
At a workshop held at the Academy on June 16-17, 2003, co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Mushett Family Foundation, leading figures in the fields of neuroscience, bioethics, health policy, and education pondered these concerns, synthesized current knowledge about cognitive enhancement, and explored the accompanying moral, social, and policy implications. The thinking they generated is being developed into guidelines that will be published in a scientific journal and made available on this website.

The workshop focused on the range of cognitive ability within the mainstream, as defined by executive function (the higher cognitive abilities that enable planning and problem solving), memory, attention, and learning—although many of the ensuing guidelines will apply to individuals functioning both well above and below normal. The workshop also touched on neuroenhancement of noncognitive domains, such as mood and motor function. All forms of enhancing interventions were open to consideration, both those that enrich our ability to revel in life or to manipulate life.

Sessions devoted to the basic science of what can be done in cognitive enhancement cross-pollinated with sessions on ethical and policy considerations about what should be done. Advancing previous groundbreaking discussions that mapped the broad terrain of neuroethics, the workshop homed in on a set of criteria for evaluating cognitive enhancement technologies in research and practice.

Determining that the field of neuroenhancement ethics requires a unique identity, conference participants also arrived at a set of considerations that can help establish that field. The criteria and considerations will serve as the foundation for the forthcoming guidelines.

Toward a set of criteria for research and practice

Workshop participants agreed that criteria for evaluating cognitive enhancement technology should address the following subjects, which span the spectrum of medical research, practice, and broader social concerns:

Social concerns
Establishing a new field

To effectively introduce and implement evaluative criteria, the workshop participants concluded, it is necessary for scholars concerned with neuroethical issues of enhancement to create their own identity within the field of neuroethics, determine their responsibilities, and engage a broader community.

Formalizing guidelines

Unprecedented moral issues surround the impact that neurotechnology may have on the very definition of human nature.
Unprecedented moral issues surround the impact that neurotechnology may have on the very definition of human nature—on our capacity to reason efficiently and solve problems, and to have emotions, self-concept, and unique cognitive styles. The pillars of our neurocognitive future rest on the appropriate development, uses, and limits of advanced cognitive enhancement.

They will be shaped by the extent to which neurotechnology is broadly adopted or narrowly restricted to expand memory, heighten attention, and otherwise push the envelope of intellectual capacity. They will also be shaped by new ways that cognitive normalcy and intelligence are defined.

How we envision this future must be the focus of continuing conversations. It is not enough for scientists and thought leaders to say we met, talked with one another despite sometimes differing vocabularies and opposing points of view, and wrung our hands—but that the status quo shall prevail. By formulating evaluative criteria for research and practice in cognitive enhancement, and outlining their implementation, participants in this workshop provided a platform for action. Their work is also a model for future endeavors on topics of neuroethical concern. The fruits of their conversations will be forthcoming in published guidelines.

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post Apr 28, 2004, 04:57 PM
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