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Engineering Ethics: Consciousness and Neuroethics

William A. (Trey) Brant, Ph.D. & William A. (Bill) Brant, JD, PE

Engineering ethics must keep pace with the explosive acceleration in the mind sciences in order to prevent society from developing into elite technified hybrid people machines and “have nots” at the lower rungs of society. The importance of ethics can not be overstated as technology outpaces our ethics and laws.

Please, we invite you to open the course first page that illustrates the course content pictorially.

Our brains intermediate absolutely anything we feel emotionally and tactilely, think, sense and do. Brains function as our ultimate interfaces and as “neuromedia” to each environment consciously experienced in the universe by us. Humankind is increasingly confronted with the task of understanding brains and minds at various levels of analysis in order for scientists to engineer their functions.

Our ethical challenge involves directing scientific research and development for each type of rehabilitation of disorders, cognitive improvement, creation of instruments for observation or replacing lost functions of the brain. Computer technology and engineering increased rapidly from the 1930s with brain technology and engineering using that technology, but leaving engineering ethics in their wake.

This explosive development within the neurosciences during the late 20th and 21st century requires the need for new subdivisions of ethics within the field of “applied biomedical ethics.” These new subdivisions of applied ethics are called “neuroethics” and “ethics of consciousness.” As with the neurosciences, neuroethics brings forth a combination of interdisplinary studies, such as biomechanical engineering, biology, medicine, law, philosophy, cognitive psychology, computer science and engineering. Like no other ethics, this form of engineering ethics affects everyone---us.

“Engineering Ethics: Consciousness and Neuroethics” (EECN) provides a brief analysis of three important ethical principles and theories with visual aids. EECN applies rational ethical principles to actual problems we now face in the US and must handle within our globalizing world in the near future. From the analysis and illustration of “global information revolutions” to the personal effects of computer chips surgically implanted within the brains of patients, we delve into the intimately personal problems that deal directly with consciousness. We peer into who we are and how that may change soon with new technologies.

EECN tackles the problems concerning lie detection via fMRIs with current technologies. Advances in neuroscience and engineering will transform our criminal justice system. The day is at hand when this technology will affect you and me, us. Likewise, the development and research of neurotechnologies and engineering by the military, serve multiple uses and play important roles in competition and war. What are the legal consequences and ethical considerations associated with this engineering technology? We provide up-to-date facts concerning significant technologies related to: artificial intelligence, rehabilitation and enhancement of various types of human performance via the neurosciences, including stimulants for soldiers or students to stay awake, robots controlled by thought and electrodes attached to the skull, and microchips implanted within the inner ear that communicate via radio waves.

The second chapter is about consciousness; half the chapter consists of illustrations about consciousness and the mind. Neuroscience experiments related to the “freedom of the will” or our “voluntary” aspects of behavior are set out. Problems concerning understanding the mind and the development of consciousness are illustrated.

We conclude that neuroscience and consciousness studies are still in their infancy and have unbounded growth potential. Lastly, “Neuroethics, Legal Systems and Ethics of Consciousness” provides an overview of duty, virtue, consequentialist ethics and neuroethics. Neuroethics is applied to law and war as well as issues concerning the rehabilitation and enhancement of consciousness and especially cognitive skills, which is compared to the use of steroids in sports.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of course materials.

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NY PE & PLS: You must choose courses that are technical in nature or related to matters of laws and ethics contributing to the health and welfare of the public. NY Board does not accept courses related to office management, risk management, leadership, marketing, accounting, financial planning, real estate, and basic CAD. Specific course topics that are on the borderline and are not acceptable by the NY Board have been noted under the course description on our website.