Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Hybrots are Coming!

Further to my post about Laminated Mouse Brains... progress on this front continue.

From the New Scientist:
A robot controlled by human brain cells could soon be trundling around a British lab, New Scientist has learned.
To make the system a better model of human disease, a culture of human neurons will be connected to the robot once the current work with rat cells is completed. This will be the first instance of human cells being used to control a robot.

One aim is to investigate any differences in the behaviour of robots controlled by rat and human neurons. "We'll be trying to find out if the learning aspects and memory appear to be similar," says Warwick.

Warwick and colleagues can proceed as soon as they are ready, as they won't need specific ethical approval to use a human neuron cell line. That's because the cultures are available to buy and "the ethical side of sourcing is done by the company from whom they are purchased", Whalley says.
I'm not convinced. Oh sure, at this point, there are no ethical issues, no question of consciousness. But to say that "Oh, it's the supplier's problem" concerns me deeply.

No it's not. It's not just the supplier's problem, it's what they're used for that's important too.

Progress will continue, you see. We need the ethical foundations laid now both to allow ethical experimentation to the absolute limit, but to absolutely prevent what will be a particularly hideous form of slavery. One that has until now remained within the realms of Science Fiction, in Saberhagen's Starsong.
Hell, a mass of fortified metal miles in diameter, received him and his racer through its main entrance. He got out of his ship and found himself able to breathe and walk and see where he was going; the physical environment in Hell was for the most part mild and pleasant, because prisoners did not as a rule survive very long, and the computer-brains of the berserker did not want to impose unnecessary stresses upon them.

The berserker devices having immediate control over the routine operations in Hell were themselves in large part organic, containing culture-brains grown for the purpose and some reeducated captured brains as well. These were all examples of the berserker's highest achievements in its attempts at reverse cybernation.
But at least the Berserkers didn't say "Oh, the source takes care of the ethical issues". It takes people to do that.

1 comment:

wreckage said...

Eventually we're going to be able to culture and grow anything, pretty much, and these ethical infants insist that it doesn't matter what they do with human brain tissue, because the only ethical question is how it is obtained, and that's none of their business?

We've got this idea that science shouldn't have to worry about morality, and it's really ingrained in our culture. It's already having pretty nasty consequences in my view, and it seems it's only going to get worse.

I'm a neophile and a fan of scientific advance, but we need to approach it with some sobriety and maturity of thought.