Bioethics Blogs

Considering ethics now before radically new brain technologies get away from us

Now’s the time to think about what we’re getting into with neurotechnologies. Brain image via www.shutterstock.com.

Imagine infusing thousands of wireless devices into your brain, and using them to both monitor its activity and directly influence its actions. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, and for the moment it still is – but possibly not for long.

Brain research is on a roll at the moment. And as it converges with advances in science and technology more broadly, it’s transforming what we are likely to be able to achieve in the near future.

Spurring the field on is the promise of more effective treatments for debilitating neurological and psychological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and depression. But new brain technologies will increasingly have the potential to alter how someone thinks, feels, behaves and even perceives themselves and others around them – and not necessarily in ways that are within their control or with their consent.

This is where things begin to get ethically uncomfortable.

Because of concerns like these, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) are cohosting a meeting of experts this week on responsible innovation in brain science.

Berkeley’s ‘neural dust’ sensors are one of the latest neurotech advances.

Where are neurotechnologies now?

Brain research is intimately entwined with advances in the “neurotechnologies” that not only help us study the brain’s inner workings, but also transform the ways we can interact with and influence it.

For example, researchers at the University of California Berkeley recently published the first in-animal trials of what they called “neural dust” – implanted millimeter-sized sensors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.