Nicole Vincent

Cognitive Enhancement and the Social Side Effects of Emerging Technologies

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Neuroscience; Chief Investigator, Enhancing Responsibility Project
Georgia State University, Department of Philosophy
Atlanta, Georgia; United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Saturday (8/5) 2:50-3:10PM

Cognitive Enhancement: A Social Experiment With Technology

Emerging cognitive enhancement (CE) technologies—for instance, so-called “smart drugs“ and transcranial electrical and magnetic brain stimulation devices—may change society and our values in a range of not-obviously-positive ways. But because CE is framed as a medical topic a bioethics and neuroethics niche such social and moral hazards are almost completely overlooked, downplayed, or simply ignored. Accordingly, current US government policy on the design and regulation of CEs borders on reckless social and moral experimentation. To explain what current US policy overlooks and why these things are important, we re-frame CE as a philosophy of technology topic. Within this framing, we concede that social experimentation with emerging technologies is not only inevitable but even necessary. However, we also offer a methodology for conducting such social experiments in a responsible way, and draw out the implications of our methodology for how all emerging technologies (not just CE) should be designed and regulated in order to enhance our lives.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Sharing to Enhance Life

The aim of this laboratory is to explore what scholars can offer – from philosophical, theological, historical, and social science perspectives – that might provide ideas about a) what sharing means, b) what is shared, c) how sharing occurs, d) what inspires and promotes sharing (e.g. religion, culture, institutions, economic forces), and e) barriers and limits to sharing (e.g. cultural, infrastructure, habits, systems, individual concerns about trust and equity). We construe sharing in the broadest possible sense, to include the material (e.g.w commodities/products, water, land) and immaterial (e.g. energy, time, culture, community). In this way, we hope to isolate the ways in which acts of sharing enhance personal and social life. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Nicole A Vincent obtained her PhD in the philosophy of tort law in 2007 from the University of Adelaide, Australia. She spent three years working in The Netherlands on a project entitled "The Brain and The Law." After returning to Australia for three years, she concurrently developed her work in the field of criminal law and neuroscience, as well as heading up the international inter-disciplinary project "Enhancing Responsibility: The Effects of Cognitive Enhancement on Moral and Legal Responsibility" based in Delft, The Netherlands and Oxford, UK. In August 2013 she joined Georgia State University as Associate Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Neuroscience. The concept of responsibility occupies center stage in Nicole's work in the fields of neuroethics, neurolaw, ethics, philosophy of tort and criminal law, and political philosophy. Her approach is analytic and empirically-informed, and her past work has devoted equal attention to tackling conceptual, normative, metaphysical and practical problems. She has written on such topics as the compatibility of responsibility and determinism, medical interventions to make criminal offenders competent for execution, how neuroscience and behavioural genetics fit into criminal responsibility adjudication procedures, tort liability for failure to use cognitive enhancement medications, and whether people who live unhealthy lifestyles should have de-prioritized access to public health care resources and to organ transplants.

Project Executive Summary

This project will develop four related ideas into a book with seven chapters. One, that unless as a society we start exercising greater foresight and managing the social uptake of emerging technologies through more sophisticated regulation, then in the near future we may all end up feeling pressured to use one of these technologies – cognitive enhancers – just to keep up with one another. Two, that such pressure to enhance would be regrettable because: on a daily basis we would lack substantive freedom to not enhance; over time we would hand over control in shaping society to the invisible hand of competition; and the resulting society would likely be toxic to human flourishing. Three, that it is helpful to view this pressure to enhance as an unexpected social side effect of an emerging technology — cognitive enhancement provides an example of a more general mechanism through which scientific and technological developments can shape our lives by gradually and imperceptibly changing our values and the moral, legal, and social landscape in which we operate as agents. And four, that for humans to flourish risks of such social side effects, not just medical ones, should also inform our regulatory schemes. The core hypothesis that ties the above four ideas together is that to enhance our lives, we must control our technologies in light of a broad range of values, rather than through the currently-favored minimalist regulatory approaches, since such minimalism allows technology's unintended effects on society to dictate how we should live our lives.