How will findings shape society?

A special Presidential Commission has been set up to discuss how brain findings will shape our future society.
17 November 2014

Interview with 

Professor Stephan Hauser, Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Professor Walter Koroshetz, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


A special Presidential Commission has been set up to discuss how brain findings will Kings Cross Station crowd controlshape our future society. 

Hannah - Henry Markram, and also joining the discussion are two people who are involved in a special commission advising Barrack Obama how neuroscience findings may influence society to pre-empt some of the ethical issues that's raised by the results. Now.

Stephen - I'm Stephen Hauser, I'm a member of the presidential commission for the study of bio-ethical issues. So, there are whole host of issues that the commission and society at large needs to undertake and tackle. These include such areas as brain privacy, particularly as our imaging tools become more sophisticated, cognitive enhancement, things like personality, sociability, violent impulses, etcetera.

Hannah - So you're describing things like, for example, taking chemicals in order to alter how smart we are, our IQ, or even taking chemicals or some kind of brain electrical stimulation that may alter how moral we are, and also imaging techniques that could tell whether we are, for example, lying or telling the truth.

Stephen - Yes, although I would make the point that the current time all of these technologies have on incremental value. What we need to have is a two-fold mission. First, to communicate  clearly the true value of the therapies we now have available. And second, anticipate and prepare for those that will perhaps be transformational but that are not yet currently available.

Hannah - And it was mentioned during the meeting today that there's a case of a patient who had an electrical stimulation to his nucleus accumbens, kind of pleasure-reward area of the brain and he had control of how much that area was being electrically stimulated. And so, he kind of lied about how much he was stimulating it in order to give himself lots and lots, and lots of  pleasure. So this brings into issue, kind of who has control over the application of some of these findings. Would it be that general doctor or would it be the patient themselves?

Walter - Hi, I'm Walter Koroshetz, I'm the acting director for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I think that's a really important question. In the worst case scenario, which I think you were hitting on is that the device becomes an addictive stimulation to brain. So, cocaine, narcotics, they are addictive because they affect certain brain structures and those same type of problems one can get into with stimulation is one would with drugs. So one issue with brain stimulation is that there may actually be effects that were unanticipated and so a  contract between the patient and the physician I think is very important to put down the parameters about who is gonna be controlling. What is the purpose of the device? But there is precedent there when we give people opiates for pain, there is a contract about what are the risks of extended use. And I think those same kind of conversation would have to go on with regard to brain stimulation as well.

Hannah - And there was also mention of the possibility in the future of having bio markers. So, biological markers for how intelligent someone may become when they grow up and whether they may be a good match for marrying another person almost like a personality bio marker test. Is this really feasible for the future, and if so, what can we do to consider the ethics of this information now?

Walter - There are different types of people but so far that is kind of a gestalt that we have but the basis of that gestalt is related to our brain circuitry. So as we are able to interrogate brain circuitry, we are going to be much more predictive about what makes us different from another person, how we cluster and what that information should be used I think is uncharted territory and discussions need to be started now. I would however say as many of technologies we are talking about are new, there are precedents. So IQ tests, for instance, have been validated in millions of people to develop this intelligent quotient which associated with certain behaviors and successes and we have come to some kind of a way of using those in education and in life and so I think that's the early (18:56.7) is going to be just have to be expanded as we get into these new tools.

Hannah - Stephen.

Stephen - Yes. I think another very interesting area is where the boundaries are between maintaining function, alleviating disease and enhancing function. The boundaries are not always crystal clear. A circuit that is responsible for pleasure can also be a critical clue to understanding the circuitry of craving, addiction, and multiple other adversive behaviors.


Add a comment