I received a response from the European Commission to my Article “An open letter to the “Human Brain Project”. Here is the text:
Dear Mr Keller,
Thank you for contacting the Commission services about your concerns regarding one of the six candidates of the new FET flagships in the European Union research framework programme.
We don’t know why your request to the Human Brain project didn’t receive a direct reply, but – although a supporting study was indeed carried out last year based on an earlier project investigation – it should be noted that HBP is currently only a proposal.
Several of these six very advanced Flagship candidates, while very ambitious on the potential benefits they might bring to society, including in better understanding of humankind (at individual and group levels), raise indeed possibly new ethical issues.
The Human Brain project among them might raise the issue you describe, regarding the possible consideration of an artificial consciousness as equivalent to a human being. Many other projects in the world are researching on the simulation of consciousness without even the underlying mimicking of the live beings nervous systems.
The Human Brain project, if it were selected for EU funding, although possibly making discoveries in that consciousness direction, is initially more focussed on lower layers of brain and neural activities, targeting already enough potential on supporting better understanding of many human brain diseases or disorders or on developing new types of so-called neuro-morphic computing architectures for more efficient information processing technologies and problem solving techniques.
Nevertheless, as stated above, the European Commission is fully aware that special ethical care is to be taken regarding such projects; such initiatives require a mandatory ethics review by an independent expert board before a decision for funding can be taken. And then, if sensitive issues are indeed to be touched upon but can be mitigated, relevant measures are enforced on those activities and if necessary further ethics monitoring is organised by the Commission research ethics board.
I hope these explanations will be reassuring you.
Head of Unit
Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology
Unit C4 – Flagships
Tel. +32 2 296 35 91 – Fax +32 2 299 17 49
<snip – I cut out some EU-internal routing stuff here. Below the text of my mail to the European commission – Nannus>
Dear sir or madam, I am writing to you because I am concerned about the Human Brain Project (http://cordis.europa.eu/projects/rcn/99188_en.html). I have written an open letter to the Human Brain Project that you can find at http://asifoscope.org/2012/11/20/an-open-letter-to-the-human-brain-project/. In that letter, which I have also sent to the project, I voice my concerns about ethical problems I see with this project.