Science and Society

    Science and Society

    Director Dr. Michele Farisco

    Main research lines

    Biogem's Science and Society participates in the European "Human Brain Project" in the units dedicated to consciousness, artificial intelligence and neuro-ethics.

    The Human Brain Project, included among the FET Flagship projects, started in 2013 and will end in 2023.

    The Biogem unit, in particular, is involved in a theoretical and ethical study, in collaboration with cognitive and computational philosophers and neuroscientists, on the specific issue of consciousness and related disorders (coma, vegetative states, minimally conscious states). Alongside the investigation of the most relevant results for identifying the correlates of consciousness and the most advanced technological applications in the clinical and engineering fields, a conceptual and ethical investigation is being developed that is raising interest at  international level.

    Besides the studies on consciousness, an in-depth study of neuro-ethics is being carried out e, which has led to the definition of the so-called "fundamental neuro-ethics", as well as a deepening of the ethical and social implications of Artificial Intelligence. The research activities, mainly of a multidisciplinary nature, are carried out in collaboration with internationally renowned researchers.

    Current projects:

    • Definition of criteria for a more correct diagnosis of consciousness disorders (coma, vegetative states, minimally conscious states): the laboratory of Science and Society is coordinating a multidisciplinary work with the involvement of 15 researchers (cognitive, computational, clinical neuroscientists ) from various European centers
    • Investigation on the application of the recent guidelines on disorders of consciousness: the laboratory of Science and Society is coordinating a research on the reception and application of the recent guidelines on disorders of consciousness issued by the European Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Neurology in collaboration with the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. The project, in the form of a questionnaire, will involve several doctors in Europe, the USA and Asia.
    • In-depth study of the relationship between neuro-ethics and culture: the Science and Society laboratory is curating an anthology, under contract with the publisher ISTE-Wiley, with the involvement of 18 researchers from various international centers (Europe, USA, Asia)
    • Conceptual and ethical analysis of Artificial Intelligence: the laboratory of Science and Society is coordinating a work on some conceptual implications and related ethical impact of Artificial Intelligence (in particular Machine Learning and Deep Neuronal Network), and relationship with neuroscience
    • Analysis of the definition of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and its application: the Laboratory of Science and Society is participating in the drafting of an article on the concept of RRI and its implementation in the context of scientific research.

    Main scientific collaborations

    • Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics, University of Uppsala, Sweden;
    • Centro de Investigation Filosofica, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
    • The Coma Science Group, University of Liège, Belgium
    • IRCCS Fondazione Don Gnocchi, Florence, Italy
    • International Brain Initiative (IBI)
    • International Neuroethics Society (INS)
    • International Brain Injury Association (IBIA)


    Latest publications

    • Farisco, M., Evers, K. & Salles, A. On the Contribution of Neuroethics to the Ethics and Regulation of Artificial IntelligenceNeuroethics 15, 4 (2022).
    • Farisco M, Evers K, Salles A, Towards Establishing Criteria for the Ethical Analysis of Artificial Intelligence, Science and Engineering Ethics 2020; 26: 2413-2425.
    • Salles A, Evers K, Farisco M, Anthropomorphism in AI, AJOB Neuroscience 2020; 11(2): 88-95.
    • Pennartz C, Farisco M, Evers K, Indicators and Criteria of Consciousness in Animals and Intelligent Machines: An Inside-Out Approach, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 2019; 13: 25.
    • Salles A, Evers K, Farisco M, Neuroethics and Philosophy in Responsible Research and Innovation: The Case of the Human Brain Project, Neuroethics 2019; 12(2): 201-211;
    • Farisco M, Filosofía de las Neurociencias: Cerebro, mente, persona. Ediciones Universidad Catolica de Salta, 2018.
    • Farisco M, Evers K, Changeux JP. Drug Addiction: from neuroscience to ethics. Frontiers in Psychiatry 2018: 9:595.

    Internal seminar

    MICHELE FARISCO PhD, Are you conscious? Looking for reliable indicators
    MICHELE FARISCO PhD, Are you conscious? Looking for reliable indicatorsMonday 11th October
    Assessing consciousness in other subjects and/or agents (both human and non-human, especially if non-verbal) is an increasingly urgent task. In these two papers, I have recently contributed to elaborate indicators of consciousness in behaviourally unresponsive patients, animals, and intelligent systems, also analyzing related ethical issues. Starting from a characterization of consciousness as a “multimodal situational survey”, we applied an inside-out approach: how can the features of conscious experience, correlating to mechanisms inside the brain, be logically coupled to externally observable (“outside”) properties? Instead of proposing criteria that would each define a “hard” threshold for consciousness, we outline six indicators: (i) goal-directed behavior and model-based learning; (ii) anatomic and physiological substrates for generating integrative multimodal representations; (iii) psychometrics and meta-cognition; (iv) episodic memory; (v) susceptibility to illusions and multistable perception; and (vi) specific visuospatial behaviors. Rather than emphasizing a particular indicator as being decisive, we propose that the consistency amongst these indicators can serve to assess consciousness in other subjects/agents. The application of these indicators to the particular case of patients with disorders of consciousness (i.e., vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome, minimally conscious state, and cognitive-motor dissociation) will likely inspire new strategies for assessing pressing ethical issues.

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