Center for Interdisziplinary Research

The Use of Implants in Ethical Surveillance Infrastructures: Towards a Transdisciplinary Ontology

Date: September 3 - 5, 2008

Organizers: Michael Nagenborg (Karlsruhe), Kirstie Ball (Milton Keynes), Torin Monahan (Tempe), David Murakami Wood (Newcastle upon Tyne), Karsten Weber (Opole/Frankfurt(Oder))

There is a huge range of range of what we can currently call 'implants' from simple access technologies (RFID to open doors etc.) through drug delivery systems in medicine to 'brain machine interfaces'. Current discussions on implants are dominated by technocentric and posthumanist discourses about desirable futures and better living. A key example of this is the populist techno-utopianism of experts like Kevin Warwick or Rodney Brooks. They conceive the development and widespread use of implants as desirable, and indeed as inevitable, for curing a whole range of social ills. Debates are heavily influenced by cultural issues such as techno-centred science-fiction and engineering utopianism like Star Trek, the popular futurism of the Wired generation in Kurzweil's 'singularity' of humans and machines as well as in academic projects like William Mitchell's 'E-topia'. As a result, the discussion in this area focuses on material questions, efficiency and functionality rather than the ethics of implantation and the diverse social and spatial consequences. However, there is a pressing need to add greater momentum to the debate, to define it more precisely, and to discuss social and ethical consequences.
It was the aim of the workshop to sharpen ideas and concepts currently used in debates on implants and their use in surveillance infrastructures as well as to define conditions under which surveillance could be morally acceptable. Furthermore, the participants aspired to create an ontology which could be used in and support future transdisciplinary discourses on implants. The discussion took place within the framework of 'ethical surveillance'. Hence, 'surveillance' was used in a descriptive way allowing discussing what the design of an ethical surveillance infrastructure might look like. The focus was particularly on the infrastructure, since implants always rely on infrastructure: Implants, highly meshed computers, organizations, companies, state authorities, individuals and groups will interact within such an ethical surveillance infrastructure and cannot be scrutinized as single items.
As a tentative result of the workshop one has to learn that there is a massive lack of knowledge: Although the number of implantees is pretty small, particularly with regard to implants designed for surveillance purposes, the issue generated a huge political and cultural impact. It is not well understood why that happened. Other questions are, for example: Who and where are the implantees, what experiences do they have? What are the technological limitations of implants systems and infrastructures and what is the surveillance capability of implants? The participants of the workshop identified-among others-as most important ethical and social issue the instrumentalization of the human body or even the person itself, interference with individual autonomy, and threats of disintegration of identity, self and the body.

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