Cyborg Law

Cyborgs: Using Physically Implanted AI to Enhance Human Abilities.

Cyborg is a term that refers generally to humans with technology integrated into their body. The technology can not only be designed to restore lost functions, but also to enhance the anatomical, physiological, and information processing abilities of the body. Woodrow Barfield and Alexander Williams, Law, Cyborgs, and Technologically Enhanced Brains (Philosophies 2017, 2(1), 6; doi: 10.3390/philosophies2010006).

Some consider today’s smart phone to be a type of cyborg technology. Riley v. California, 573 U.S. __,  189 L.Ed.2d 430, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014). In Riley the Supreme Court established the general rule that police may not conduct a warrantless search of a cellular phone seized incident to an arrest. In dicta in Riley Chief Justice Roberts observed somewhat tongue in cheek that:

… modern cell phones…are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.

This is the Supreme Court’s first contemplation of “the concept of a cyborg in case law anticipating cyborg law.” Law, Cyborgs, and Technologically Enhanced Brains at Sec. 2.0. It will not be the last. There are many legal, regulatory issues unique to cyborgs, including the dangers of hacking of medical prosthesis.

The lead author of this article on cyborg law, Woody Barfield is an engineer who has been thinking about the problems of cyborg regulation longer than anyone. Barfield was an Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor at the University of Washington for many years. His research focused on the design and use of wearable computers and augmented reality systems. Barfield has also obtained both JD and LLM degrees in intellectual property law and policy. Woody’s most important book on the topic to date is Cyber-Humans: Our Future with Machines ( December, 2015). This is an excellent summary of all of the issues and contains good legal citations to case law and related articles. In a recent presentation Woody calls himself a Kurzweilian. See: No-Fear Side of the Debate (Ray Kurzweil). His book also makes that obvious.

The Barfield and Williams 2017 article, Law, Cyborgs, and Technologically Enhanced Brains, begins with this observation:

We are currently undergoing a “technological revolution” in the design and use of “cyborg devices” integrated into the human body. Worldwide there are millions of people equipped with “cyborg technology” ranging from prosthetic limb replacements and prosthetic hands controlled by thought [1,2], to neuroprosthetic devices implanted within the brain [3], and additionally to people equipped with heart pacers or defibrillators, retinal prosthesis and cochlear implants [4]. As people become more and more equipped with “cyborg/prosthetic” devices, important issues of law and policy are raised which result in significant challenges to established legal doctrine.

They ask a number of intriguing questions, including:

[W]hat is the relationship between legal doctrine and cyborg technologies with regard to our very sense of being; that is, as we continue to enhance ourselves with technology, should laws and statutes be enacted to safeguard our humanity, and our sense of being and identity as homo sapiens?

In the conclusion to the article, Barfield and Williams opine, as we do, that immediate actions are required now to prepare for likely future developments in AI, including AI enhanced human brains.

As we move deeper into the 21st century, the speed of technological advances is undoubtedly accelerating. Efforts to reverse engineer the neural circuitry of the brain are opening the door for the development of cyborg devices which may be used to enhance the brain’s capabilities. In fact, neuroprosthetic devices are being created now which can serve to restore lost cognitive function or, in the case of techniques such as transcranial brain stimulation to provide therapeutic help for those with depression [40]; within a few decades, even more cyborg technology will exist to enhance cognitive functioning. That is to say, we are on the cusp of creating a class of people which would resemble sci-fi versions of cyborgs in popular media, people with “computer-like” brains connected to the internet communicating wirelessly by thought. Such developments will surely challenge current legal doctrine and established public policy [39,40]. Based on these observations, we need a “law of the cyborg” because without it, constitutional laws, the broad intellectual property laws, and civil protections will not cover the intricacies of this new technology—especially because it creates a new way of being and sense of self [1]. On that point, as discussed in this article, there is a current body of law which applies (albeit indirectly in many cases) to cyborg technologies. However, this body of law is insufficient and near-future cyborg technologies will surely create great challenges for established legal doctrine. In conclusion, we recommend that much more be done in the area of law and policy for cyborg technology while we still have time to chart our future in the coming cyborg age.




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