Workshop at the European Parliament on neurotechnology and the future of neurorights
Having in mind the profound implications of new neural technologies on the human identity, behavior, privacy and sense of autonomy, a group of experts gathered on 16 November 2023 at the European Parliament to give an informed account on neurotechnology and neurorights and to have a public discussion.
All new technologies open the gate for great opportunities, but also menacing risks or threats. A robust legal framework, capable of guaranteeing maximum protection for fundamental legal rights, is a prerogative. In the case of neurotechnology, some rights are especially threatened: the right to mental intimacy, the agency of our nervous system, the independence of our decision-making power.
Marcello Ienca, Professor of Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience, Deputy Director of the Institute for History and Ethics of Medicine, Technical University of Munich, offered a more detailed presentation of these rights. They are more precisely called neurorights, a subcategory of human rights introduced in 2017 and defined as “fundamental ethical, legal, social or natural principles of freedom or entitlement related to a person’s cerebral and mental domain.” He spoke about four rights: cognitive liberty, mental privacy, mental integrity, and psychological continuity. The cognitive liberty means we have the right to refuse external interferences or coercion (manipulation, which is characterized by non-transparency, asymmetry of outcome, intentionality, arational influence). Mental privacy refers to the freedom to conceal his or her mental information and to prevent non-consenting intrusion into his or her neurocognitive domain. Now, with the ubiquity of mental data and the AI decoding, the mental privacy finds itself under a very real threat. The mental integrity is the prohibition of non-consensual and harmful manipulation of a person’s neural activity, while the psychological continuity is the right to preserve one’s one personal identity and the continuity of one’s mental life from non-consensual external alteration. Mr Ienca explained that we need to defend our neurorights, because the human freedom rests on the freedom of our thoughts
Trinidad Saona, First Secretary, Mission of Chile to the European Union, explained her country’s efforts to regulate the use of neurotechnology and its pioneering status in this domain, alongside several other countries of the world.
Ander Ramos-Murguialday, Leader of Neuroprosthetics at Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, offered a panoramic view of the progress and new technologies and hardware influencing the activity of the brain, facilitating communication (for example, with patients considered brain dead or lacking certain physical elements), motion, and thinking, among other applications.
Ophelia Deroy, Chair of Philosophy of Mind, Faculty of Philosophy, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, explained that invasive technologies do not have to enter the skull or be connected in any way to the body. The eye-tracking technology, for example, offers a great deal of information regarding out mental state, emotions and thoughts. She also made a difference between the tangible and the intangible self and the fight to preserve its dignity, autonomy and authority :”Are we trying to protect the tangible self or the intangible idea of the self (…) the sense of self, the idea we have about ourselves, and which is not only in the brain, although it regulates our brain activity.” Even with the idea that we don’t fully control or know what we think or feel, we should still be able to refuse the idea that others know better than us our own mental states. This include the right to mental privacy and authority over ourselves.