Bionic: A link between Computer Ethics and Bioethics

Antonio Marturano


Bionic is that disciplines which studies the possibilities of partly or totally implanting artificial pieces of human bodies (eyes, arms, legs, brain, etc.). In that, bionic is partly a branch of Biology; but, when the artificial manufact is almost computer assistited, bionic is also a branch of Information Technology.

The relevance of bionic for Bioethics is not obviously: generally, all parts of our organism are passible of artificial implanting without puzzling. Only when computers are used for support to bionic, problems for bioethic become clear. Computer Technologies, in fact, made possible to create “intelligent” support for implanted artificial organs. In way of principle, only by means of computers we can create a valid help for damaged human brains. Do Computer technologies make inner manipulations a real risk for people? Is it right to help damaged brains with computer devices? Are there limits in using computer technologies in supporting of artificial pieces in a human body? These are only parts of (computer and bio-)ethical mazes in bionics.

Related to the above mentioned problems we have genuine philosophical (not only ethical) problems correlated to ethical ones.

In a well-written science fiction book Roger McBride-Allen (The Modular Man, Byron Preiss Visual Publications, 1992) speak about a dying man who transfer all his self (brain? Soul? Knowledge? – I can’t find the right word!) in an vacuum-cleaner computer supported. When his body is passed on, He weak up as vacuum-cleaner. The vacuum-cleaner wonder what it really is (the problem of personal identity, pretty similar to D. Parfit’s book Reasons and Persons, Oxford U.P., 1984, see chap. X, the ‘Teletransporter paradox’, another case of I.T. ethical puzzle). Police suspect the vacuum-cleaner is the killer of the dead man, then, a policeman arrest the vacuum-cleaner and put it not in the jail (where logically all killers are imprisoned) but in the crime arms room; in this way policeman hurt the vacuum-cleaner lawyer, because only a man can be accused of an homicide (this is another puzzle: is that vacuum-cleaner a device or a person?).

Obviously, my reference to the McBride-Allen book is only a mental exercise. But I.T. is near to create nanocomputers in support of damaged brains or eyes (Parfit, cit., pp. 208-209); or neural direct connections between computers and brains (see W. Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984 and the W. Wenders’ movie Fino alla fine del mondo (Until the end of world)). This scenery looks very plausible. But ethical questions re-emerge twice: how much of ourself can be rightly connected with computers? In a such inner connection where there is a person and where there is a advice? What sort of inner mental manipulations people risks?

Certainly, these are only a few ethical problems examples. But I think these are enough for see there are ethical problems linking bioethics with computer and information ethics. It’s important for us to study and to understand these puzzles for a right idea of how much of human can be “synthesized” into an electronic advice and than avoid both a loss of human dignity and to open a way to new racist or classist ideology and then a new computer and biology-based silent dictatorship.