cochlear implantees. Because severe hearing loss can be diagnosed at an early age,cochlear implants have been placed into children as young as 9 to 12 months.These implantees are the first generation to grow up with neurobionic additions, giving researchers the opportunity to better understand the long-term effects of implants and what it means to be bionic. As an example of the problems that might arise, in the summer of 2003, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented research showing that children with certain types of cochlear implants are at increased risk of developing a par- ticular form of meningitis. (However, no one knows yet if the im- plants are responsible, or if children who are good candidates for implantation also happen to be naturally susceptible to the disease.)
Even if bionic additions and implants are proven to be medically and psychologically safe, other questions remain, such as who should have access to the benefits of bionic alteration? If implant technology can extend life, or enhance mental or physical capabilities, how do we decide who receives these precious gifts, and who does not?
The idea that ethical issues might surround bionic modifications, especially cognitive ones, that one might think are purely beneficial, might seem far-fetched.We are not yet, and we might never be, able to modify people sufficiently to change their mental nature. Some researchers believe that artificially enhanced natural minds, and fully synthetic ones, will prove impossible to achieve. This question en- gages philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists as well as robotics experts: Can we really build artificial brains and link them to artificial bodies? And even harder to answer is the question: If an artificial brain can be built, is the result a self-aware mind, like the one with which we humans experience our own consciousness?The next chapter addresses this complex and perhaps unanswerable question, when we begin to consider artificial beings as they exist today.