Accepted Paper:

Implantable Brain Technologies and The Creation of Cyborgs   


Beth Strickland (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Paper short abstract:

The use of implantable technologies raises ethical concerns about penetrating bodily boundaries of what defines a person as human versus cyborg. This paper examines the ethical use of implantable brain devices and what it suggests for the creation of cyborgs.

Paper long abstract:

The use of implantable technologies within humans sparks debates about the ethical use of such technologies since they penetrate the traditional skin-and-skull boundaries of what constitutes "the body". These boundaries work to designate a person as human versus cyborg when using technology, but what happens to our conceptualization of "human" when technologies are implanted inside the body? The ethical debate about the use of these technologies posits on one end of the spectrum the acceptance of certain implantable devices, those used for therapeutic purposes, and at the other end the unacceptable use of devices to enhance normal physical capabilities. Individuals who use implantable devices for therapeutic purposes are viewed as still human even though their physical bodies have been merged with technological devices. However, those who use technology as a way to upgrade their body get labeled as cyborgs. Why does this distinction exist and why does it matter? In this paper I will first define the traditional physical boundaries of what defines a human. Next I will examine how these boundaries get crossed by the medical use of two implantable brain technologies: deep brain stimulation and brain computer interfaces. These technologies are then examined using the therapy versus enhancement framework to consider how these technologies represent the full physiological fusion between human and machine; yet, also demonstrate social aversion to labeling people as cyborgs. This paper concludes with a discussion about what this labeling aversion suggests for the discourse of implant ethics and the future of human embodiment.

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What does it mean to be Human in the 21st Century?