The Ethics of Supernumerary Robotic Limbs. An Enactivist Approach

Science and Engineering Ethics 28 (6):1-19 (2022)
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Supernumerary robotic limbs are innovative devices in the field of wearable robotics which can provide humans with unprecedented sensorimotor abilities. However, scholars have raised awareness of the ethical issues that would arise from the large adoption of technologies for human augmentation in society. Most negative attitudes towards such technologies seem to rely on an allegedly clear distinction between therapy and enhancement in the use of technological devices. Based on such distinction, people tend to accept technologies when used for therapeutic purposes (e.g., prostheses), but tend to raise issues when similar devices are used for upgrading a physical or cognitive ability (e.g., supernumerary robotics limbs). However, as many scholars have pointed out, the distinction between therapy and enhancement might be theoretically flawed. In this paper, we present an alternative approach to the ethics of supernumerary limbs which is based on two related claims. First, we propose to conceive supernumerary limbs as tools that necessarily modify our psychological and bodily identity. At the same time, we stress that such a modification is not ethically bad in itself; on the contrary, it drives human interaction with the environment. Second, by comparing our view with the extended mind thesis, we claim that the mediation through tools is crucial for the formation of novel meanings and skills that constitute human interaction with the world. We will relate the latter claim to enactivism as a helpful theoretical perspective to frame issues related to artificial limbs and, more in general, to technologies for augmentation. Based on this approach, we finally sketch some suggestions for future directions in the ethics of supernumerary limbs.



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The extended mind.Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers - 1998 - Analysis 58 (1):7-19.
Intelligence without representation.Rodney A. Brooks - 1991 - Artificial Intelligence 47 (1--3):139-159.

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