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Researchers Develop Regulatory Standards for Neurotechnology

18 January 2018

Brain technology is a quickly evolving sect of technology. Because of its quick rise, it is becoming difficult but necessary to ethically regulate brain technology. This has been difficult in the past, but ethicists from the University of Basel have developed an outline of a new biosecurity framework that is specific for neurotechnology.

The researchers have said that an outright ban on dual-use technology is ethically unjustified, but they call for regulations aimed at protecting the mental privacy and integrity of humans.

The term "dual-use" refers to technology that can be used for beneficial, like medical, and harmful aims, like military terroristic uses. Recently many dual-use technologies emerged, especially in virology and bacteriology. In the last years, military-funded research has entered the domain of neuroscience and neuroethology.

Because of this, there has been a rapid growth in the brain technology prototypes aimed at modulating the emotions, cognition and behavior of soldiers. This includes neurotechnological applications for deception detection and interrogation as well as brain-computer interfaces for military purposes.

The military research has raised concern about the risks associated with the weaponization of neurotechnology, which has sparked an ethical debate about neurotechnology.

Three bioethicists from the University of Basel have argued that an outright ban on military neurotechnology would not be ethically justified. According to the study, a ban may delay the development of new technologies for people in need, like Alzheimer’s patients or people with spinal injuries. A ban could push military experimentation underground.

The researchers say that with the aging world population and the consequent prevalence of brain disorders, there is an increase in the need for investment in neurotechnological innovation. Because of this they developed a framework concept for biosafety that is specifically geared to neurotechnology. It proposes neuro-specific regulatory approaches as well as a code of conduct for military research and calls for awareness-raising measures in the science community.

“Our framework postulates the development of regulations and ethical guidelines aimed at protecting the mental dimension of individuals and groups, especially their mental privacy and integrity,” says first author Marcello Ienca from the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel. In addition, the researchers call for raising awareness and starting a debate about these controversial issues.

The paper on this research was published in the journal Neuron.

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