Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Military Is Funding Ethicists to Keep Its Brain Enhancement Experiments in Check

Sara Scoles
Originally posted 1 April 21

Here is an excerpt:

The Department of Defense has already invested in a number of projects to which the Minerva research has relevance. The Army Research Laboratory, for example, has funded researchers who captured and transmitted a participant’s thoughts about a character’s movement in a video game, using magnetic stimulation to beam those neural instructions to another person’s brain and cause movement. And it has supported research using deep learning algorithms and EEG readings to predict a person’s “drowsy and alert” states.

Evans points to one project funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): Scientists tested a BCI that allowed a woman with quadriplegia to drive a wheelchair with her mind. Then, “they disconnected the BCI from the wheelchair and connected to a flight simulator,” Evans says, and she brainfully flew a digital F-35. “DARPA has expressed pride that their work can benefit civilians,” says Moreno. “That helps with Congress and with the public so it isn’t just about ‘supersoldiers,’” says Moreno.

Still, this was a civilian participant, in a Defense-funded study, with “fairly explicitly military consequences,” says Evans. And the big question is whether the experiment’s purpose justifies the risks. “There’s no obvious therapeutic reason for learning to fly a fighter jet with a BCI,” he says. “Presumably warfighters have a job that involves, among other things, fighter jets, so there might be a strategic reason to do this experiment. Civilians rarely do.”

It’s worth noting that warfighters are, says Moreno, required to take on more risks than the civilians they are protecting, and in experiments, military members may similarly be asked to shoulder more risk than a regular-person participant.

DARPA has also worked on implants that monitor mood and boost the brain back to “normal” if something looks off, created prosthetic limbs animated by thought, and made devices that improve memory. While those programs had therapeutic aims, the applications and follow-on capabilities extend into the enhancement realm — altering mood, building superstrong bionic arms, generating above par memory.