While neuroscience generally attracts considerable public interest, this is particularly true of the rapidly expanding discourse on the merger of human corporeality with technology. In this discourse, neurotechnology (NT) often features as the harbinger of a future in which the body is transformed in a process of ever-increasing ‘technologization’. It is expected that such technologization will happen in at least three ways: (1) technological modifications of the body in which surgical interventions (implants, prostheses) allow technology to replace or augment bodily functions, (2) the use of technologies that modify the body without such interventions (non-invasive neurostimulation technologies), and (3) brain-machine interface technology capable of coupling humans and artefacts.
NT has taken centre stage in many visions of a technologized future body, for example in transhumanism. These visions, as well as a number of current practices within and beyond the medical realm, raise not only hopes and grand expectations but also fears and a disquieting sense of unease. Philosophical, social-scientific, legal and other non-natural scientific research on neuroscience is well-developed, neuroethics being a prime example. This also includes research specifically conducted into certain NTs, as well as research on the topic of ‘human enhancement’.
From a different angle, ‘cyborg’ notions and similar concepts are increasingly used in various cultural studies (e.g. media, ‘posthumanist’ or science fiction studies) to analyse (arguably fundamental) changes in the relationships between humans and technology and in particular to explore the merger of corporeality with technology. Given that the field of disability studies can help include the perspectives of early adopters and rejecters of the technologies in question and provide adequate theoretical and empirical approaches, works in this area are of particular importance.
However, there is a dearth of studies that take an encompassing approach and of any broadly interdisciplinary exchange on the topic of human-technology mergers. The aim in the FUTUREBODY project is to make a major contribution to remedying this situation. It will thus
- (i) integrate philosophical analysis of embodiment and agency as core concepts regarding mechanised corporeality,
- (ii) vision assessment for the understanding of the overall social and cultural significance of NTs and of broader visions of the future of the human body,
- (iii) socio-empirical research in using quantitative and qualitative methods to better understand the practices and points of view of actual or potential users of NT and people closely working with them,
- (iv) participatory reflection on NTs including art-science interactions and the use of films in particular, as well as (other) experimental practices,
- and (v) a socio-theoretical approach which focuses on ability expectations.
The project in which ITAS cooperates with institutional partners from Calgary, Freiburg and Vienna will contribute to ELSA research by providing a new basis for ethical reflection and help responsibly steer neurotechnological innovation.
Within FUTUREBODY, ITAS is responsible for the overall coordination and for a sub-project on ethical and legal aspects in which ITAS also closely works with Enno Park (Berlin), Romy Rasper (Munich) and Vera Borrmann (Vienna). The sub-project will include an analysis of the state of the art of research in and on NT (technoscientific and ELSA), a vision assessment study, case studies on cochlear implants and neurostimulation technologies, and an analysis of how future visions and current practices interact in shaping the options for the further innovation trajectory and governance of NT.