Neurotechnology Ethical and Legal Issues

We can all agree that the brain is one of the most important organs we have in our bodies. The human brain is in charge of biological and neurological procedures such as memory, speech, perception, sleep, and emotion.

What is neurotechnology?

Neurotechnology is a scientific field that consolidates and connects electronic devices with the nervous system. Neurotechnology can pose interesting and complex ethical and legal issues since it can be used to create a so-called “interface” between the brain and computers. Neuralink is an example of this technology which is initiated by inserting a microchip into the brain. The brain-computer interfacing technology is arguably a positive step towards merging humans and artificial intelligence. The proponents argue that this technology could allow humans to overcome diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, blindness, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The opponents argue that this technology will be overly invasive and could create unanticipated complications.

Neurotechnology presents novel ethical and legal issues which should be carefully considered beforehand. For example, what if a person commits a criminal act by using the implanted microchip. Who would be responsible for the criminal violation? So, if another person somehow manages to control the electronic device to commit a violation, how would the courts address the legal issues? In essence, how do we regulate human mental capacity? There are other questions that can come up when implementing this technology. For example, can workers be instructed to use some kind of microchip to enhance their mental capabilities? Can the courts force sex offenders to use special microchips so their brain activities are monitored and controlled by a government agency?

Brain implants are not an entirely new technology since they’ve been used in previous instances. However, merging microchips and artificial intelligence is relatively new and untested at this time. Also, there are multiple ethical and legal issues that will come up. First, there are privacy concerns. Second, the individual’s identity can be stolen without permission. Third, the individual’s autonomy can be taken away. Fourth, the culprits (e.g., hackers) can exploit the technology and manipulate individuals for self-serving purposes.

What are the potential ethical and legal issues?

Now, like every other software or hardware technology in the market, the users should be granted the right to opt in or out of sharing their personal information. In other words, the users must give permission to third parties before data will be shared with them. Personal autonomy is an important factor that can be taken for granted by us. In other words, a person’s ability to make personal choices in their daily lives is paramount. However, taking away the power to make personal choices cannot be overlooked under any condition. Yet, if the neurotechnology devices (e.g., Neuralink, Kernel) become part of the social norm, then there must be strict rules and regulations to avoid exploitations. We have managed to enjoy the privacy of our thoughts for decades before this technology was introduced to the public. But now, we’re facing the possibility of sharing our personal brain’s data with third parties.

The key ethical issue that we face with this new technology is the degree of harm the users can face by using the brain microchip. It’s possible for users to experience an immediate adverse reaction (e.g., infection, burn) as soon as the microchip is implemented into their brain. However, there could be undetectable adverse reactions such as cognitive distortions which may be more difficult to evaluate. For example, there could be sudden and unanticipated mood changes or emotional reactions which may take more time to assess.

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