New Paper Sets the Scene for Neurotechnology Regulation and the Role of Human Rights

4 December 2023

The past decade has seen a major transformation in the development, utility and availability of neurotechnology. Progress in brain mapping tools and machine learning has expanded its application beyond the medicine sphere, reaching the entertainment and lifestyle sectors. In large part, this has been facilitated by corporate actors entering the neurotechnology research, development and production space. This raises myriad concerns regarding possible misuse, emphasizing the necessity of suitable legal regulation. From a human rights perspective, particular concerns include the right to privacy, data protection, as well as employee rights and non-discrimination.

Our new Research Brief The Evolving Neurotechnology Landscape: Examining the Role and Importance of Human Rights in Regulation provides a comprehensive background analysis of the complexities of regulating neurotechnology and the role of human rights in this process.

Authored by Dr Erica Harper, our Head of Research and Policy Studies, the paper marks the inception of our research project on neurotechnology and human rights, conducted in collaboration with the University of Geneva Neurocentre and the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) Advisory Committee.

‘The aim of the paper is to present what is a highly complex topic in an accessible manner, and from this enable meaningful stakeholder engagement. Understanding the forces driving the growth in the neurotech sector, as well as what the technology can, cannot and might do, is critical to identifying priority actions around regulation and safeguarding’ explains Dr Harper.

From Neuro-Enhancement to Weaponized Neurotechnology

The paper traces the evolution of neurotechnology, highlighting the involvement of the corporate sector, and the role played by machine learning. It examines four spheres of neurotechnology advancement —neuro-marketing, neuro-enhancement, brain monitoring, and weaponized neurotechnology— including their limitations, potential and possible externalities for human rights, social cohesion and conflict.

The final section considers emerging questions around regulation and the potential role of human rights in this context. The next steps in this research project include mapping where neurotechnology may impact human rights — both positively and negatively. ‘Only through an interdisciplinary process, engaging technologists, neuroscientists, ethicists, regulators, and human rights experts, can we forge regulatory solutions that foster innovation, uphold human rights, deter misuse, and ensure accountability’, explains Dr Harper.

A Dedicated Newsletter

As of January 2024, we are launching a dedicated newsletter to spotlight our work on digitalization.

Titled Digital Frontiers: Navigating Armed Conflicts and Human Rights in the Digital Age, this monthly newsletter will be your gateway to stay abreast of our research on the digitalization of armed conflicts and the human rights challenges posed by cutting-edge technologies, including neurotechnology. Beyond providing insights into our ongoing work, this monthly update will also keep you informed about the most recent news and developments in this ever-evolving landscape.

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