In an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Bionic Brains and Beyond”, Daniel Wilson discusses his forthcoming novel “amped” in which he portrays the social issues which arise when super enhanced individuals start to emerge. Wilson points out that neural implants are starting to become prevalent, for example those suffering from paralysis have been able to move objects via the use of neural implants which communicate with a robotic arm. Wilson correctly argues that it will be people with disabilities rather than the rich who will lead the charge into the unknown, “The technology can give us brains and brawn. All we have to do is let the devices under our skin. So who will reap the benefits? At first glance, this appears
to be just another advantage waiting for the wealthy. Maybe, but the early adopters will be those with disabilities. Not because they have money but because
they have a lot to gain and are willing to face the risks inherent in new medical technology. Alleviating chronic seizures or debilitating tremors isn’t
some kind of greedy leg up for a person with a serious disability—it may mean the difference between life and death”.
As someone who is registered blind Wilson’s article made me pause for thought. Would I choose at some point in the future to have an implant to improve my level of vision? At present I can see outlines of objects which assists me with navigating around my environment. If someone were to offer me the opportunity to undergo surgery to enhance my level of sight I would want to be 100 per cent sure that I would not risk losing the useful vision which I possess. I lost my vision as an infant and have no recollection of being fully sighted. Consequently the prospect of a procedure enabling me to see would excite my curiosity but I wouldn’t be banging on the hospital’s doors shouting for immediate admission.
Wilson raises thorny ethical issues. Should employees be obliged to reveal to their employer’s that they have had an implant? Could the proliferation of elective surgery lead to the emergence of a class of super enhanced individuals and if so how should society respond?
Wilson postulates a class of children were all but one of the pupils have undergone surgery to make them smarter. The parents of the only pupil who has not undergone enhancement are then faced with the decision as to whether to allow their child to go under the knife to enhance their capacities.
The issues addressed by Wilson will require addressing by all of us. We can’t simply sweep them under the carpet. I forsee another political hot potato emerging.
For the article please visit http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303640104577436601227923924.html