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Bioethics and Prediction Algorithms

by Juan Jorge Michel Fariña with the collaboration by Eduardo Laso

“Our place in the universe is special but not significant, unique but not exceptional.”
Mario Livio

“From a political perspective, a good science fiction movie is worth far more than an article in Science or Nature.”
Yuval Noah Harari

What is the role of bioethics and its principles in a new era directed by a fusion of biological sciences, information technologies and genetic engineering? Since Alan Turing asked the well-known question "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?" in 1950, movies and TV series have not stopped dealing with the issue.

And they have done so by addressing it in its various facets: technologies that evaluate genetic predispositions or susceptibilities, expert systems in precision medicine, uses of Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT in therapeutic treatments, predictions about the conformation of the cosmos and the place of the human being in the universe.

The conclusions are clear: expert systems, machine learning, and sophisticated forms of so-called AI reflect the transformation of the symbolic world, that is, they are valuable instrumental mediations that enhance human capabilities. That is why they are applied successfully in segments of production or knowledge that carry out activities compatible with formalized systems. But here is the question: is the core of the human being compatible with this logic? The entire literary and cinematographic narrative suggests that the problem arises when these devices are assigned a "thinking", "sentient" or "lover" character, ignoring that such events in people’s lives are irreducible to logarithms or binary languages.

From the classic film “Blade Runner” to the more recent “Ich bin dein Mensch”, fictions propose that such languages are different in nature from the language with which we constitute ourselves as subjects of the species. It is that humans communicate with signifiers, a language regime that lends itself to misunderstanding, poetry, jokes. Cinematographic fictions propose that these wits of the language produce a loss of being.

And that this loss of being, together with existential anguish and uncertainty, are vital for the human being. We share a well-known fragment of the film "Her".

Tehodore, the character played by Joaquin Phoenix, has separated from his wife and to alleviate his loneliness he links up with an AI program in which a female voice (Scarlett Johansson) speaks to him at all times. At first she is just company, but little by little Tehodore becomes more and more dependent on the software. Until the next scene takes place that invites the question: what is love?

In Her, the American director Spike Jonze (Want to be John Malcovich?; The Orchid Thief) offers a disconcerting and endearing romance between a man, depressed by his recent separation, and a computer operating system capable of developing self-awareness. The film critically portrays our increasing dependence on technology and a programmed life, and the replacement of direct links with others by virtual links mediated by technology.

In an ironic turn of the film, technology, from a means of communication, becomes the very object with which our hero communicates, becoming passionate, and thus arming himself with a madness of love.

We inviting you to comment on it and propose other similar scenarios of interest for bioethics in which the tension between the human being and the digital order is raised. [1]


[1Some films that display the relationship between human beings and software, updating and making the Turing test more complex:

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
Ich bin dein Mensch (Maria Schrader, 2021)
Bicentennial Man (Chris Columbus, 1999)
Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)



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Message from Amatriain, Lucía  » 28 April 2023 » lu.amatr@gmail.com 

Westworld (Abrams et al., 2016-) presents a universe in which technological advances allow robots to be indistinguishable from people. This gives rise to a theme park named Westworld, which reproduces the main plots of Western movies. It is an eccentric high-cost tourist destination offered by the Delos company. During the first episode, a conversation takes place between two members of the company who are in charge of the robot´s programming, constantly improving them with the intention of making them more and more similar to humans. We find one of their questions interesting: to what extent is it convenient for robots to resemble us? Who really wants that? In this sense, it is important to consider the uncanny valley hypothesis formulated by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori (1970). He argues that as the appearance of an android approaches the human figure, it produces increasing acceptance, but that after a certain point, this trend reverses, generating an effect of disturbing strangeness. However, once that "valley" is overcome, the robot again generates trust, or even empathy, similar to what occurs between humans. Now, is it necessary, convenient, or prudent to cross that valley?

Message from Paula Mastandrea  » 27 April 2023 » mastandreapaula@gmail.com 

Thanks for the comment, it’s really interesting. Regarding the tension between human beings and the digital order, I recommend viewing Years and Years (Russell T. Davis, 2019) which addresses the issue of transhumanism.
The trailer is available here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8694364/

Message from Nazareno Guerra  » 26 April 2023 » nazarenoguerra@gmail.com 

Thank you very much for your comment. In response to the question, the human dimension of love involves understanding the power of a central concept: renunciation. How else could the ending of "Casablanca" be thought of? It is a conclusion that dazzles us with its invaluable relevance, and that calls us to think that not everything can be said, and not everything can be carried out.

Message from Pablo Bronstein  » 26 April 2023 » pabloebronstein@gmail.com 

Severance (Erickson, 2022) presents a dystopia with interesting proposals that fully touch the field of bioethics, and it is then possible to articulate it with the film The imitation game.
Lumon Industries, a biotechnology corporation, uses a procedure called "severance" to separate the consciousness of their employees between their lives at work and outside of it. Due to their increasingly divergent life experiences, the consciousnesses of the employees in their work place, gradually split from their consciousnesses outside of it, to the point that they become different personalities with their own agendas. Mark (Adam Scott), an employee who was fired, gradually uncovers a conspiracy at Lumon, and the mysterious project that employees are working on without their knowing.


Original Title:Her

Director: Spike Jonze

Year: 2013

Country: Estados Unidos

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