The term neurotechnology can often bring to mind science fiction narratives, where machines can read our thoughts or harness our brain power to control robotic devices. Yet, this narrative obscures the powerful reality of how neurotechnologies are already revolutionising people’s daily lives.
In recent years, we have seen rapid advances in devices and methodologies that can predict, diagnose, and treat complex physical and mental illnesses by using information directly taken from the brain. Such capabilities have led to complex scientific research on how the human brain functions. This knowledge can be harnessed to provide support in the workplace, education and sport, as well as identifying new ways to entertain ourselves.
There is significant government, private sector, and public interest in the field of neurotechnology and a clear sense of the opportunities and benefits that are emerging.1 We also recognise the need to proactively scope for future potential risk and harms that could undermine the benefits of neurotechnological advances. Our work monitoring the speed and breadth of development and anticipating future applications will help us respond in a timely and proactive manner.
This analysis aims to support our ability to protect people, provide clarity for businesses and enable privacy-positive innovation. It is aimed at:
- organisations and people considering the policy intersections of privacy and neurotechnologies; and
- organisations seeking to deploy new or innovative forms of processing based on neurotechnologies or neurodata.
To increase understanding of possible future uses of neurodata, this report explores likely scenarios and use cases for emerging technologies and solutions in this space. These illustrate potential deployments across a number of sectors including health, employment and education. The scenarios raise key issues about gathering and using neurodata, which we examine to better understand critical challenges around emerging neurotechnologies and privacy.
We intend to address these issues through continuing proactive work with stakeholders and the public, as well as further cross-regulatory work. We are asking for views from interested organisations at the end of this report and in the longer term we are also aiming to create guidance.
1 Global Neuroethics Summit Delegates; Rommelfanger KS, Jeong SJ, Ema A, Fukushi T, Kasai K, Ramos KM, Salles A, Singh I. Neuroethics Questions to Guide Ethical Research in the International Brain Initiatives. Neuron. 2018 Oct 10;100(1):19-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.09.021. PMID: 30308169 and Pfotenhauer SM, Frahm N, Winickoff D, Benrimoh D, Illes J, Marchant G. Mobilizing the private sector for responsible innovation in neurotechnology. Nat Biotechnol. 2021 Jun;39(6):661-664. doi: 10.1038/s41587-021-00947-y. PMID: 34099907 and iHuman Neural Interfaces Perspective (royalsociety.org)