Ethics of Cybernetics

geographertonguesAI and Robotics

Nov 30, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)


Ethics of Cybernetics


What it is, and how it will impact our


Defined as: “The study of the interaction
between man, machine, and animals”

1: Norbert Wiener

How is it being used?

Latest biomedical research is using
Cybernetics to create “superhumans”
which will transform the way we practice
medicine, transmit thoughts, and
communicate with one another

Kevin Warwick

Who is this guy?

A cybernetic pioneer at the
Reading University in the UK.

Kevin Warwick:

What’s so important about him?

Research entails creating software to read
the signals from a nervous system and to
record and condition that data for


If Kevin’s research is successful, we will
begin to approach the reality of

What are superhumans?

Superhumans = men and women who have
machines implanted internally to help them
surpass the physical boundaries of normal
human function including thought process,
emotional and physical capabilities.

Kevin’s research:

What it consists of:

Currently: reconstruct and study traditional
electrical impulses

Eventually: understand how to manipulate
sense impulses

In the future: create new senses through
impulse manipulation

Kevin’s Research:

What he’s doing in the UK:

His next experiment involves him placing a
small glass case containing a power supply,
a mini
printed circuit board to receive and
transmit signals in his left arm’s nerve fibers

These chips will receive signals from the
collar and send them to a computer

Experiment Example:

When Kevin moves a finger:

Electronic signals travel from his brain to
activate the muscles and tendons that
operate his hand.

The collar picks up the signal en route

Nerve impulses will still reach the finger but
he will tap into them as though he was
listening on a phone line

Why is this significant?

More routes for more senses could be

Alternative pathways for blind or deaf
people to “see” or “hear” with ultrasonic

Example: A blind person could use this
technology to navigate around objects with
ultrasonic radar, much the way bats do

Ever worked before?


But then again, nobody’s ever tapped
into their nerve fibers before.

What has been done?

Emory University:

Implanted a transmitting device into the brain
of a stroke patient

Linked motor neurons to silicon

Afterwards, patient was able to move a
cursor on a computer screen just by thinking
about it.

What has been done?

Caltech’s Steve Potter:

Has a living layer of rat neurons growing
over a microelectrode array. Neural activity is
sent to an SGI workstation which renders the
data. (Acts as the body)

Trying to organize data to make sense of it.

By end of year recognize speech.

Brain can command artificial limbs

It’s only a matter of time

The reality of “smart” machines to aid
humans in various functions is imminent.


Requisite programs must be set up. Like
keyboards are today.

Basic programming shouldn’t be too hard

Implant owner will have to learn how to
operate his new little friend.

Ethical Issues?

Many issues arise:

Is it ethical to create a “superhuman” where
machines are in charge of key human
functions such as thought control and

Is it ethical to allow some humans, probably
the wealthy ones, to communicate through
cybernetics and not others?

Ethical Issues:

How safe must the implants be for them
to be distributed?

Senses and impulses could be
transmitted in a harmful way

What kind of security should accompany the

An entirely new “private” realm


Ethical Issues:

New senses

Can these senses be patented?

What if they’re addictive

who regulates?

Is It All Bad?

Warm fuzzy outcomes:


Lou Gehrig’s disease

could possibly
be cured once we understand how to
retransmit nerve impulses.

We can create a new way, although artificial,
to make people feel happy

The Future….

If developed, most likely will be used.

We can only wait and see...

Thank You.


Michael Lewis


Wired Magazine, February 2000

Cybernetic Intelligence
Research Group

Wired online:

Biomedical Research at Emory


Program in Ethics in Science and

Department of Cybernetics at Reading