Ethical Issues

The essence of being human lies in the human brain [Olesen et al., 2006], and this century will probably be remembered as the “century of the brain”. It is therefore natural that brain research today raises more ethical issues than others, and the issues are not straightforward. Nevertheless, brain research will benefit greatly humanity, and also transform it, so the issues must be faced.

The project can open the door to breakthrough technologies that could be used in negative ways, such as (conceivably) mind control and BCI-related military applications. The project however will not research aspects related to either of these two applications, which are in fact quite removed from the project’s potential immediate fallout.

As described in [Olesen et al., 2006], this topic falls partly under the area of cognitive enhancement, i.e., the possibility of enhancing normal functions with technologies such as implanted chips or prostheses. As such it faces the questions of regulation, ‘fairness’ (in a competitive sense), etc. Such questions are common with those associated to drugs, and are not easy to answer.

In addition, bi-directional BCI technologies, if and when they mature, will have a profound impact on society, redefining along the way the meaning of being human. While challenging, these changes are in many ways unavoidable.

We believe that the benefits of the project more than offset the potential dangers. These benefits include:

  • Provision of new knowledge and new tool for research in neuroscience
  • Improve diagnosis of neurologic and psychiatric disorders
  • Improved treatment of neurologic and psychiatric disorders
  • Benefits to BCI research and applications with the disabled, providing the vital computer-to-brain link.

All these ethical implications will be directly studied within the projected work, and we will seek to inform, in a responsible way, project stake-holders and the public at large about the research, technologies and both their benefits and their dangers.


HIVE is supported by the European Commission under the Future and Emerging Technologies program.

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