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Future Problem Solver Presentations on Neurotechnology
Jan 9, 2008  

On January 9th I helped the Connecticut Future Problem Solvers organize a morning seminar for more than 200 students, grades 5-12, and their teachers on neurotechnology.

The seminar was held at the Elementary School in Marlborough Connecticut. The other two speakers at the seminar were Wendell Wallach and Julius Landwirth, both of Yale University’s Center for Bioethics.

My slides:  “Cognitive Liberty in an Age of Neurotechnology”

Growing knowledge in the neurosciences, enhanced by exponential advances in pharmacology and other neurotechnologies (technologies that monitor and manipulate the brain) are rapidly moving brain research and
clinical applications beyond the scope of purely medical use. These emerging neurotechnologies offer expanded intelligence, memory and senses, giving us greater ability to understand and control our own minds. But they also expand the avenues for possible coercion and invasion of mental privacy. What is the state of cognitive liberty today? What steps do we need to take to protect cognitive liberty, mental privacy and freedom
of choice in light of these neurotechnologies?

Julius Landwirth’s slides: “Why/Why not develop drugs that can blunt memories?  The case of PTSD”

Neuroscientists have developed considerable new knowledge about memory.  They are now conducting research on drugs that can be used therapeutically to blunt traumatic memories.  This will be very beneficial to the many people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  However, the use of drugs to modify memory raises many ethical, legal and social issues.  This presentation will describe the controversy surrounding pharmacological memory modification using PTSD as a case study.

Julius Landwirth, MD,JD Julius Landwirth is the Associate Director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and the Donaghue Initiative in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Ethics.. Before coming to Yale, he had worked in the fields of clinical medicine, hospital administration and bioethics for over 35 years.  Dr. Landwirth began his professional career in 1963 as a practicing pediatrician in Orange, CT. His interest in teaching and research led him to serve as the first full-time Director of Pediatrics at Bridgeport Hospital and a faculty appointment as Clinical Assoc Professor of Pediatrics at Yale. After a decade during which he developed a Yale-affiliated pediatric training program and the first seminar series in medical ethics, he moved on to become Director of Pediatrics at Hartford Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at University of Connecticut Health Center. There he founded the hospital’s first ethics committee which he chaired for 14 years. During that time he also served as Medical Director of Newington Children’s Hospital,( the forerunner of the current Connecticut Children’s Medical Center).  He also served as consultant in health care ethics for the Connecticut Medical Society. To complement his work in bioethics, he enrolled in the evening division of the University of Connecticut Law School, where he was granted his JD in 1987.  After retiring from his hospital positions in 1996, he pursued his interest in international health and ethics by joining the Connecticut-based Albert Schweitzer Institute as its Director of Health Care Programs. In a 6-year collaboration with the Open Society Institute he organized educational programs in 15 countries throughout central and eastern Europe and central Asia, including Mongolia.  During that time he also founded and directed the Resource Center for Health Care Ethics at the Connecticut Hospital Association.  In addition to his work at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics he has also been appointed to the Connecticut Stem Cell Advisory Committee , serves as Chair of its subcommittee on legal and ethical issues and is a member of the State committee on Ethical, Legal and Ethical Issues in Genomics.  His major interests are research ethics generally, stem cell research ethics and international research ethics and public health ethics.

Wendell Wallach’s slides for “Neurotechnologies:  Embrace, Reject, or Regulate?” are coming soon

Pressures are building to embrace, reject, or regulate technologies that alter the mind/body in order to enhance faculties.  How will we individually and collectively navigate the opportunities and perils offered by drugs that alter mood, memory, and mental faculties, or neuroprosthetics that enhance cognition?  With so many different value systems competing in the marketplace of ideas, what values will guide the choices and actions each of us makes?  Which of the new forms of technological enhancements will we personally choose to adopt?  Are we in the midst of eradicating the human species as we have known it.? When is tinkering with the human mind or body inappropriate, destructive, or immoral? Is there a bottom line? Is there something essential about being human that is sacred, that we must preserve? The technological possibilities play only a small role in the struggle to answer such questions.  What we each believe about human nature, the meaning and purpose (or lack thereof) of human life – as well as the value we place on critical thinking, religious beliefs, spiritual intuitions, scientific theories, and emotions – impact the very manner in which we approach these issues.

Wendell Wallach is a lecturer and consultant at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Before coming to Yale, Wendell was a founder and the President of two computer consulting companies, Farpoint Solutions and Omnia Consulting Inc. Among the clients served by Mr. Wallach’s companies were PepsiCo International, United Aircraft, and the State of Connecticut. At Yale University, Wendell chairs the working research group on Technology and Ethics, leads a seminar for bioethics interns, and functions as a senior coordinator for other working groups and projects. He has lectured worldwide, published many articles, and is presently writing two books. Machine Morality: From Aristotle to Asimov and Beyond, which Wendell is co-authoring, will be available this summer. It explores the prospects for designing computer systems capable of making moral decisions. Cybersoul: Self-Understanding in the Information Age explores the ways in which cognitive science and new technologies are altering our understanding of human decision-making and ethics. Wendell is recognized as one of the leaders in the emerging field of Machine Ethics, and designed the first course anywhere on this subject, which he has taught twice at Yale.

For more information about the international Future Problem Solving program for kids.

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