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The Authenticity of Machine-Augmented Human Intelligence: Therapy, Enhancement, and the Extended Mind


Ethical analyses of biomedical human enhancement often consider the issue of authenticity — to what degree can the accomplishments of those utilizing biomedical enhancements (including cognitive or athletic ones) be considered authentic or worthy of praise? As research into Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology progresses, it may soon be feasible to create a BCI device that enhances or augments natural human intelligence through some invasive or noninvasive biomedical means. In this article we will (1) review currently existing BCI technologies and to what extent these can be said to enhance or augment the capabilities of the respective users, (2) describe one hypothetical type of BCI device that could augment or enhance a specific aspect of human knowledge — namely, mathematical ability, and (3) relate these concepts to the active externalism view of the extended mind as espoused by Clark and Chalmers in order to (4) argue that knowledge of mathematics derived from the usage of a BCI and the application thereof constitutes authentic knowledge and achievement.

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  1. 1.

    It is important to note that there are many different, and mutually excluding definitions of authenticity. This is why Pugh [4] defines authenticity as having a dual-basis constituent, where immutable characteristics meet existentialist ones (i.e. true self and self-creation).

  2. 2.

    For an in-depth discussion of the treatment-enhancement distinction and how it guides public policy, see [11].

  3. 3.

    In what follows we will refer to this type of hypothetical BCI as mathBCI. It should be noted here that being-in-the-loop with an implantable BCI, where a human is cognitively supported by BCI, may have positive effects, but the opposite is also true, even if the outsourcing only impacts one cognitive capacity. Some neuroethicists have reported a burden of abnormality when brain implants are effectively correlated to enhanced normal species-typical cognitive function [27]. This is an important point, but fails to refute our argument, as this may happen only in isolated pathological cases. We are grateful to anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that lead to this clarification.

  4. 4.

    It is important to note that mathBCI is offloading cognitive processes that the user’s brain is not capable of, and not simply making the brain more plastic. The mathBCI is an “external” (to the mind) device like a cochlear implant, which is crucially different from something that prompts biochemical change or neuroplasticity. Also, it should be noted that our argument relies on an analogy with trusting a cochlear implant (I am hearing a fire siren) or automatically trusting a visual-cortical implant (there is a bear in front of me). Overcoming an impairment like dyscalculia still implies limits and intersubjective confirmation. Thus, mathBCI is on par with other sources of information and inference about things in the outside world.

  5. 5.

    In the interest of space, we have focused on one specific potential ethical issue of BCI, namely, authenticity. For an in-depth discussion of other various ethical issues of BCI discussed in the literature, see [6].


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Correspondence to Veljko Dubljević.

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Coin, A., Dubljević, V. The Authenticity of Machine-Augmented Human Intelligence: Therapy, Enhancement, and the Extended Mind. Neuroethics 14, 283–290 (2021).

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  • Authenticity
  • Brain-computer interface
  • Brain-machine interface
  • Computer-augmented human intelligence
  • Extended mind
  • Machine-augmented human intelligence