“What is the place for humans in the development of neuroscience? »

What is called “neuroscience” is the body of scientific research on the brain that aims to better understand how it works. On a strictly objective level, what we know today has nothing to do with what we knew a few decades ago.

This new knowledge inspires new technologies, “neurotechnologies” and artificial intelligence, in particular, to compensate for certain shortcomings of the human body. If these are great promises, the vast majority of which are still uncertain, then the question arises as to what will be the place of man in the midst of this progress.

What does it mean to be human

This is not about an ethic of waiting, but about emphasizing the following: whether the goal is to “repair” the body or to improve it, the question of what it means to be human is raised with seriousness. Take, for example, brain-machine interfaces (BMCs), which can provide compensatory solutions for loss of brain or motor function.

Thus, a person deprived of speech due to “locked-in syndrome” (a person becomes aware of their body that can no longer physically move) can use this type of neurotechnology to externalize what they are. head.

Blurred difference

But these achievements inspire others in entertainment, cybersecurity, education, administration, e-commerce. They suggest the emergence of new non-living and non-human entities, endowed with complexity and a certain form of inner experience (for example, due to the simulation of emotions). This is not without erasing the hitherto accepted distinction between humans and machines, and it is worth noting that the European Parliament has already fueled speculation about the possibility of a new human legal status dedicated to this type of entity and which it is called “electronic human” (1).

If this option is not currently accepted, one might wonder what form the recognition of certain rights and obligations might take for these wholly artificial beings endowed with a form of intelligence, or for individuals whose brain function would be to use “intelligent” artificial intelligence. a device completely built into their body (specifically their brain) to make up for the shortcoming (human-machine hybridization).

artificial neurons

The area of ​​computer science is perhaps the area where this philosophical and anthropological question is the most difficult. Some ongoing research consists of artificially modeling key characteristics of biological neural networks (“neuromorphic computing”), such as cerebral plasticity, that is, our brain’s ability to develop new neuronal connections throughout our lives. With this ability, artificial neurons could synchronize with biological ones to form only one population of neurons. The interest is to allow them to communicate in real time and to make it easier to control robotic devices such as a voice synthesizer in the context of functional speech loss.

In parallel, other people are planning to use this type of neurotechnology to merge human intelligence with artificial intelligence. If Elon Musk’s Neuralink project also contains therapeutic goals, it is usually part of this logic of increasing human abilities with neuromorphic brain implants.

More memory, more processing power, more sense of well-being, even the ability to transfer one’s own consciousness into a machine to taste immortality, the goals of this fusion desired by Musk are not missing. However, this is not counting the many remaining technological obstacles, such as the biocompatibility of the artifact in the brain over a long period of time. Suffice it to say that a gap remains between the reality of these applications and the desires of futuristic minds.

What about spiritual progress?

Whether it be therapeutic innovations, compensations, amplification of existing human abilities or the addition of new ones, what becomes of the person in all this? Will advances in the sciences of the brain also be accompanied by advances in the field of the mind, in particular allowing people to live a better world together, with respect for their environment – and what about their artifacts?

It is not a question of adopting a catastrophic stance or the idolatry of technological progress. It is rather a matter of reaching out to representatives of the brain sciences, representatives of the humanities (philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, psychologists, etc.), politicians and civil society for a joint discussion; together to resist the inner self in order to collectively build what we consider the “common good” in the light of neuroscience, without being reduced to it.

If all these achievements condemned in the short, medium and long term to think about materialistic progress, never again thinking about the progress of thought, then this would make progress in neuroscience absolute and reduce man to a mere foothold. Worse than an insignificant and replaceable reality.

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