Well, we don’t want that … or do we?

The idea of sentient, lab-created “organoids” raises ethical questions that ripple through science.

Tests could include physical scans, mathematical models, and more.

Scientists say there are reasons it could be necessary to create consciousness … and destroy it.

A thought-provoking new article poses some hugely important scientific questions: Could brain cells initiated and grown in a lab become sentient? What would that look like, and how could scientists test for it? And would a sentient, lab-grown brain “organoid” have some kind of rights?

Buckle up for a quick and dirty history of the ethics of sentience. We associate the term with computing and artificial intelligence, but the question of who (or what) is or isn’t “sentient” and deserving of rights and moral consideration goes back to the very beginning of the human experience. The debate colors everything from ethical consumption of meat to many episodes of Black Mirror.

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Here’s how the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy describes sentience:

“An animal, person, or other cognitive system […] may be conscious in the generic sense of simply being a sentient creature, one capable of sensing and responding to its world. Being conscious in this sense may admit of degrees, and just what sort of sensory capacities are sufficient may not be sharply defined. Are fish conscious in the relevant respect? And what of shrimp or bees?”


In Nature, reporter Sara Reardon explains a specific area where the debate over sentience gets very heated, very quickly. In August 2019, Alysson Muotri, a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, published a paper with colleagues in Cell Stem Cell on the “creation of human brain organoids that produced coordinated waves of activity, resembling those seen in premature babies.”

And those waves, Reardon reports, continued for months before Muotri and his team ended the experiment.

That means the cells Muotri’s group was making in the lab were exhibiting the beginnings of being a “cognitive system” that might end up “sensing and responding to its world” in some way.

Via PopularMechanics.com