Graduate Student Tim Brown brings neuroethics to Future Con

Tim Brown on a panel at Future Con
Tim Brown on a panel at Future Con

What do Geordie LaForge’s visor, Luke Skywalker’s prosthetic hand, identification and memory implants in The Expanse, and cybernetically enhanced humans in Robocop and Ghost in the Shell have in common? They are all examples put forth by philosophy graduate student Tim Brown and his co-panelists at Future Con 2017 as popular culture examples of “humans using technology to overcome, adapt, and enhance the body – for ends good and… not so.”

Tim recently represented the UW’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) and the National Science Foundation at the debut of “Future Con” — a three-day event within Awesome Con, Washington D.C.’s comic-con that “embraces all aspects of geekdom and pop culture.” Future Con highlighted the intersection of science, technology and science fiction and featured pioneering names in space travel, artificial intelligence, nanomachines, climate science, and medical research as well as pop culture science fiction stars —including John Mather (NASA’s Nobel Laureate and head of the James Webb Space Telescope) and Seth Shostak (Senior Astronomer at SETI: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Future Con highlights included talks on Parallel and Multi Universe Theory in Sci-Fi, Mars: Past, Present, & Future, Harry Potter and the Genetics of Wizarding, Antarctic Dinosaurs, and Space Lasers.

Tim shared a panel—The Human-Technology Frontier: To Enhancement and Beyond?with fellow UW graduate student Katherine Pratt (Engineering) and Professor Suveen Mathaudhu (University of California, Mechanical Engineering). In their panel, using the fictional examples technological body-enhancements as a starting point, they asked “but what is actually possible? How do scientists see us integrating technology ever closer into our lives and bodies? And will these technologies cause us to become more or less than human?” In response to these questions, they discussed cutting edge research in engineering, computer science, materials, biology, and the social and ethical implications of our increasingly technologically advanced lives.

Tim had this to share about his Future Con experience:

I thoroughly enjoyed our human-tech interaction panel. Both Katherine and I talked about the possibility that neurotech will change how we think about humanity itself—and with it the notions of disability and enhancement. Our audience was extremely curious. They shared their own experiences with disability and asked amazing questions like, “Will this technology eliminate disability?” “Will this technology help people with spinal cord injuries [have sex again]?” and “What steps are being taken to include people of all races and genders in studies?” Several folks sought us out afterward at the “Ask A Scientist” area of the NSF’s exhibitor booth. I spoke with two women with fibromyalgia who were interested in the neuroscience of sensation, a program coordinator at MENSA who wanted to think more about what it means to be “normal functioning,” and an undergraduate interested in the CSNE’s REU program. It was an awesome experience.

We eagerly await the answers to these questions as our folks at the CSNE and others around the world continue to learn more about these areas.