August 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction – in the scientific arena – of the neologism “neuro-ethics” by Harvard neuropsychiatrist Anneliese Alma Pontius (1921-2018). Since 2009, thanks to the work of the Interdisciplinary Research Group in Neurobioethics (GdN) of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum (APRA) in Rome, the term has acquired a personalist connotation.
After 15 years of research experience – and since 2017 having delved into the contexts of transhumanism, the so-called “head transplantation” in humans, robotics (roboethics), artificial intelligence (algor-ethics), neurotechnologies and current developments in virtual reality, augmented reality, and the Metaverse, from September 2023 to June 2024, the GDN will be offering a training course on neuroethics with the aim of critically “remapping” this interdisciplinary context of reflection on the neurosciences and their interpretations.
The Course also aims to raise the participants’ awareness about the relevance of neuroethical reflection in the multiple contemporary scenarios in which we live, move, and are. This 7th Advanced Training Course “Neurobioethics: remapping the territory” will offer a package of 10 seminars, round-table discussions, and the conference in March 2024 within the framework of the Brain Awareness Week promoted by the DANA Foundation, through which the historical genesis of the birth of neuroethics and the different paradigmatic models encountered today will be compared. Along the way, various areas of this reflection will be specifically presented: from the context of consciousness to neuroaesthetics, from neurolaw to sexual difference, and even including trans and posthuman backdrops.
The course will be in Italian and English and streamed online. Participants will be able to follow the course in synchronous and asynchronous modes.
Faculty of Philosophy
UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights
Institute of Science and Faith
September 29, 2023 to 27-10-2023
The course consists of a monthly two-hour meeting (seminar or round-table), 5-7 p.m.
26/01: 17-19:00 23/02: 17-19:00 15/03: World Brain Week Conference
19/04: 17-19:00 24/05: 17-19:00 21/06: 17-19:00
The specific contents and speakers will be communicated month by month and will range from technological, neurological, neurosurgical, psychiatric, psychological, ethical, bioethical, legal and theological aspects related to the concept of “Metaverse”.
WHO SHOULD APPLY? The program is aimed at all those who wish to learn more about neuroscience and its interpretations to better understand themselves, the advances, and risks. In particular, politicians, engineers, physicians, bioethicists, philosophers, theologians, teachers, and formators. At the end of the Course, participants will be awarded a certificate for the advanced course and 3 ECTS credits will be awarded after the evaluation of a written synthesis paper.
Our Chair fellow Fr. Alberto Carrara, LC, will participate in the Webinar “LEADERSHIP RELOADED POST REMOTE WORKING” on Wednesday, May 20th at 6.30 pm organized by EXS Evolution Xperience Success.
The Leadership Reloaded – Post Remote Working webinar will offer practical actions that respond to the following post-Covid-19 concerns:
What scenarios will we face when we return to the office and return to the physical working community? What will be the psychological repercussions that these new scenarios will generate in us and in our team? What will we need to modify (train or create from scratch) our leadership in order to maintain a high level of engagement and team performance? They discuss: Pasquale Natella, CEO of EXS ITALIA Alberto Carrara, Professor and expert in neuroethics and neuroleadership Armando Piccinni, President of the Brain Research Foundation Speakers: Ugo De Carolis, outgoing CEO of ADR Paola Corna Pellegrini, CEO of Allianz Partners
Pasquale Natella, CEO of EXS ITALIA (LinkedIN): “Hey Leader!!! This appointment is just for you: a new model of leadership starts from the corporate “Head” (neuroscience docet). Why is it different from the other webinars? Because after a scientific examination on the psychological and neuronal effect of what we will face tomorrow in the company we will show you how to train yourself to adopt a new leadership that will guarantee a better individual and team performance. The agenda will be structured as follows: – Introduction and scenarios: 10 minutes – Psychological impact scenarios: 10 minutes – New awareness and actions to “have contra”: 10 minutes – Tips & Training for a new Leadership: 15 minutes – Live comparison with the 2 TOP CEOs: 10-15 minutes – Q&A: 25 minutes A webinar with this content you haven’t seen yet! Don’t miss it ;-)”
The mysterious American writer Emily Elisabeth Dickinson (1830-1886) is mostly known for her unusual life, spent mainly reclused in her house in Amherst, where she was born. Her work, in addition to her well-known poetry on the brain “The Brain is wider than the Sky”, has one poem dedicated to the storm.
Translated by Eugenio Montale in 1945, this poem, number 1593, reads:
There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the windows and the doors
As from an emerald ghost;
The doom’s electric moccason
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day.
The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the world!
The world learned about the Coronavirus on January 12th, 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised it as “2019-nCoV” (i.e. new Coronavirus 2019) and its related pathology “COVID-19”. The Coronavirus has spread globally as a “storm” striking a globalized and technologized world that moved frantically and almost unstoppably towards the achievement of its growth, production and efficiency objectives, rewarding with fame the typical “hard” and “soft skills” of our industries 4.0.
For months, silence, isolation, the desert of our cities, the solitude of our monuments have become our existential “storm”.
In an evocative, though eerily empty Piazza San Pietro, on March 27th, Pope Francis described this tragic moment with these words:
“Dense darkness has thickened on our squares, streets and cities; it has taken over our lives filling everything with a deafening silence and a desolate void, which paralyzes everything in its passing: you can feel it in the air, you can feel it in people’s gestures and looks. We found ourselves afraid and lost”.
As the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari recently pointed out, on the one hand, we are living in the best time to be able to clinically and technologically face this pandemic thanks to the development of molecular medicine, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, the coronavirus storm is exposing our vulnerabilities, leaving uncovered those superfluous certainties with which we have built our agendas, our projects, our habits and priorities.
SARS-Cov-2 (the new Coronavirus) has no boundaries, is not subject to barriers, nor walls, affects everyone, does not look at anyone, does not consider passports, social class and does not read the titles on our business cards. But the same reason why it spreads — our common human nature — makes us rediscover the common antidote: we are not monads closed in on ourselves, but we are all united and intrinsically connected to each other as no one can survive on their own. The Coronavirus should awake us from the deafening frenzy to which we were accustomed, and which now frightens us for its unrecognizable silence. The pandemic that struck us underlines how we are all deeply in communion with each other through the multiple interactions that connect us, so today more than ever we feel the thrill of the common bond to which we cannot escape: to belong as brothers. None of us lives alone, others’ lives are always present in mine in what I think, say, do, work. And vice versa, my life enters that of others.
“We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”
(Pope Francis, 27th March 2020).
On the horizon, we may face a significant, longer-term problem concerning the issue of surveillance and individual control through biometric recognition that states could maintain and implement even after the epidemic crisis. Harari warns us: “one of the dangers of the current epidemic is that it will justify extreme control measures … But even after it, this idea will remain”.
We are called to reinvent our relationships and to discover our deep skills, those relating to our empathic ability, to know how to be with others, to listen, to be in solidarity, but also to be morally sound and responsible.
To reflect on this existential situation we are experiencing, the Neurobioethics Group and Brain Circle Italia organized a day dedicated to the topic “The epidemic at the time of artificial intelligence. A new anthropology for a safer world?” which took place on 23rd April 2020 live from the Neuroscience and Neuroethics Facebook page.
A panel of the highest scientific and cultural depth divided into 5 sessions debated today’s epidemic contingency in an interdisciplinary discussion. Over 5,000 people followed the event.
The digital revolution has the potential to become a new form of coexistence among people who, in their fight against the new enemy presented by epidemics, prompt us to reconsider the concepts of privacy and freedom. The need then emerges for a pact between citizens and institutions to rethink the methods of application of what Hobbes would call a new “law of nature”. But how much of our identity spaces are we willing to give up to fight these invisible threats?
Prof. Claudio Bonito presented and moderated the event. After the greetings from the academic authorities, Viviana Kasam, President of BrainCircleItalia and Father Alberto Carrara, Director of the Neurobioethics Group introduced the topic at hand.
The morning (10:30-12:30) was divided in a first scientific portion with the presentations of:
Gian Carlo Blangiardo, President of ISTAT
Luca Maria Gambardella, University of Lugano, Dalle Molle Institute of Studies on Artificial Intelligence USI-SUPSI.
In the second medical-clinical portion of the conference spoke:
Matilde Leonardi, neurologist, pediatrician, Director of UOC – IRCCS Foundation Neurological Institute Carlo Besta, Milan;
Stefano Mazzoleni, professor of Computer Science and Big Data Analytics – Bari Polytechnic.
The afternoon (15:30-18:30) opened with the legal session, with the following speakers:
Amedeo Santosuosso, scientific director, European Center for Law, Science and New Technologies (ECLT), University of Pavia;
Avv. Tania Cerasella, lawyer, member of the GdN
Avv. Emanuela Cerasella, lawyer, Coordinator of the Neurolaw subgroup of the GdN.
The technical-analytical-philosophical session followed with the presentation of:
Damiano Sabatino, CEO Travelport and Guido Traversa, philosopher, European University of Rome – Master Coordinator in Philosophical Consultancy and Existential Anthropology.
The conference Concluded with the psychiatric session in which the following speakers are present: Donatella Marazziti, psychiatrist, University of Pisa, Professor at the Unicamillus University of Rome, Head of research BRF Brain Research Onlus Foundation
Armando Piccinni, neurologist and psychiatrist, Professor at Unicamillus University of Rome, President of BRF Brain Research Onlus Foundation.
Nuestras investigadoras Mariel Kalkach Aparicio y Ma. Elizabeth de los Ríos Uriarte junto a un grupo de trabajo interdisciplinario, en diálogo constante y con base en la experiencia de médicos en España, Italia, México y EU, han trabajado sobre una guía práctica con 7 pasos que son recomendaciones para el personal de salud que se enfrenta a la toma de decisiones éticamente difíciles durante COVID19.
Coherentes con los esfuerzos de organismos internacionales que exhortan a los países e individuos a proteger y acompañar a los profesionales de la salud en esta pandemia de diversas formas (5, 6), el propósito de esta guía es dar un acompañamiento de ética a la toma de decisiones de los profesionales de la salud. Se propone un listado de siete pasos concretos a tomar en cuenta durante la valoración de lo que se cree que pudiera ser un dilema moral en la atención médica durante la pandemia. De tal modo que el médico que la considere tome decisiones informadas para el beneficio suyo y de la sociedad. Al integrar consideraciones éticas en beneficio de su paciente y su sociedad, el médico comparte su responsabilidad con la sociedad y dicha sana distribución de cargas, permite su alivio psicológico y moral porque ha hecho lo correcto. Aunado a esto, la transparencia en la justificación detrás de cada postura otorga a la sociedad una sensación de certidumbre muy importante en este momento, de acuerdo con las recomendaciones de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). (4, 7)
Artificial intelligence (AI) aims to reproduce human intellectual faculties in artificial systems to be employed in a variety of fields, from communication networks and services to medicine and healthcare. The development of AI technologies is well described in its potential to lead to substantial improvements in wellbeing and economic growth however, in order to successfully realize this vision, fundamental questions on AI ethics need to be answered first. One of the most arduous challenges of arriving to a fully functional integration of digital services and human life is to take human rights as a starting point for the formulation of policies and guidelines while also offering a unique environment for innovation. In the medical sector, artificial intelligence (AI) systems have gradually emerged as potentially powerful tools to be employed in disease diagnosis and management, mimicking and perhaps even augmenting the clinical thought and decision-making of human physicians. These innovations could not only lead to improved forms of diagnosis and treatment but also to reduced medical expenses which could play an especially important role in countries were access to healthcare is limited by social and economic factors. For both human physicians and AI systems, patients’ data are the most important starting element.
To formulate a diagnosis, physicians frequently use hypotheticodeductive reasoning, starting with the chief complaint and with appropriately targeted questions related to that complaint. After this initial phase, the physician proceeds to investigate secondary or surrounding areas such as familial history, previous physical exam findings, laboratory testing, and/or imaging studies to rule in or rule out the diagnosis. The entire diagnostic process requires time and extensive data but, if automized with machine learning to extract clinically relevant features, it could be temporally and logistically simplified. A first example is represented by a commonly used technique for drug delivery to cerebral parenchyma. Magnetic particles are injected in the brain tissue and warmed with the use of the magnetic radiation, an operation that allows the burning of specific tumoral areas. The intensity of the magnetic field can be calculated using model-based algorithms, but large volumes of training data needs to be provided in order to determine how these values can be affected by individual variables. Despite their usefulness, operations such as these are not only time expensive but also highly energy intensive. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, calculated the time/energy relationship for training several common large AI models. They found that the process can emit more than 626,000 pounds of CO2 which equates approximately to five times the lifetime emissions of the average American car (and that includes manufacture of the car itself). The environmental impact of AI is only one of the many ethical issues associated with the development of intelligent forms of technology: careful evaluation must be designed so that costs for AI do not overshoot its performance, both in terms of energy but most importantly in terms of human identity.
Valuable lessons on the integration between human attributes and technological innovations can be taken from the experience of Da Vinci, an advanced robotic system for minimally invasive surgery, employed in a verity of medical areas, from urology to gynaecology and general surgery. Physical robots similar to those used in industries around the world have been implemented in the medical sector since the early 2000’s. Contrarily to industrial robots however, typically performing single and pre-defined actions like lifting, rotating or cutting objects, medical robots are able to perform more sophisticated and precise tasks that overshoot human precision. They are also becoming more intelligent, as other AI capabilities are being embedded in their operating systems. In Da Vinci, the surgeon is located at a physical distance from the operating field, controlling the robotic arms of the surgical system through monitors and controllers connected to the endoscopic instruments. From a strictly practical analysis, this operation drastically reduces typical “human-errors” due to hand tremors but, from a social perspective, the extensive and ever-perfecting use of these intelligent instruments may lead to (1) a progressive loss of physical and emotional contact between the patient and the doctor and (2) an immediate decline of the creative freedoms of the surgeon.
A first attempt aimed at the restoration of the surgeon’s sensory control over the machine was recently offered by a new generation of robotic arms developed to provide what is known as haptic feedback. A haptic feedback is an advanced pattern of vibration and waveforms conveying tactile information on the instrument’s movements. An everyday common example of haptic feedback is the resistance felt on the steering wheel of new generation cars when immediate danger is identified. When implemented to surgical robots, this sensory information is conveyed as a resistance on the instrument controller as the robotic arms advance inside the operated structure. This feedback is aimed at providing additional guidance to the surgeon’s movements thus preventing unwanted damage to vital tissues. Such novel integrations between human sensory skills and technology’s precision, between mechanical touching and human feeling does not only returns some degree or creative control to the surgeon but it also considerably improves surgical performances compared to those performed without haptic feedback.
The development of artificial intelligence technologies should thus not run isolated and independent from the societal landscape but rather align closely with human needs and intellectual faculties and their limitations. Observations on the role of men and women in the contemporaneity of the digital age should in fact be made in the very first stages of the design of AI services to obtain not only better performing systems but also their ethical advancement in the respect of human rights and values.