Neuroscience Fiction or Current Science?

Manipulating people's minds is no longer a potential situation. It’s now a real possibility. Neuro- rights are needed to set real obligations for governments, private sectors and citizens.

Throughout history, both film and literature have rooted the idea of manipulating people’s minds as the backbone for their sci-fi plots to engage viewers or readers. Today, however, we are very close to realizing the famous statement that “reality surpasses fiction”. We are no longer facing a potential situation, but the manipulation of the brain is now a real possibility.

In 2013, a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate was held in the United States Congress, at which the launch of a large-scale, long-term scientific project – the BRAIN initiative – was announced. This project is based on developing tools that are applied to the brains of both laboratory animals and human patients to record brain activity or to interfere with it by placing invasive (inside the brain) or non-invasive (above the skull) devices.

Like most matters in this life, neuroscience also presents a duality in which there is “good” and “evil”. But in the end, we can determine that science is “amoral” depending on the use we give to it.

On the one hand, this research will help us find out what lies behind most brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy or schizophrenia, thus helping to find a better therapy for them or even a cure for most of them, undiscovered to date.

From a legal point of view, these studies and technological advances can help us understand the reasons why an offender acts in a certain way. Thus, promoting a better system of sentencing that is suited more appropriately to the specific circumstances of each case.

We should not forget that there are also some downsides in this project. If you have access to the human brain, as well as the subconscious, where will our privacy be? Or, will we be able to decide for ourselves again? Another relevant aspect to consider is the possible creation of mental clones. If it is possible to access and store the mind and its memories, could this mean the creation of “eternal life”?

These advances in neuroscience have led to the emergence of a new movement that seeks to establish a set of rights to prevent abuse and interference on individuals. These have been called “neuro-rights”.

Neuro-rights advocates demand that the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights include specific points to set real obligations for governments and authorities, as well as for private sectors and citizens.

According to the information provided by the BRAIN Initiative, the neuro-rights are as follows:

1. Right to personal identity. One of the main characteristic features of human beings is our brain. That is why it is essential to protect personal free will. If no limits are placed on technology, a person’s consciousness could be altered through external technological inputs.

2. Rights to free will. Linked to the later idea, the fact that a hacker can access our personal computer also puts on alert the fact that someone could access our mind through this technology. Through this intrusion, modifying our decision-making would be a possibility.

3. Right to mental privacy. The aim is to prevent any data obtained from the analysis and measurement of neural activity from being used without the individual’s consent. Within this right it will also be necessary to strictly regulate the transaction, or any commercial use of the data obtained through this technology.

4. Right to equal access. It also required that, if this technology allows for an improvement in brain activity, access is equally guaranteed to all of society.

5. Right to protection against bias. It is also intended to avoid neuroscience knowledge discriminating or distinguishing on the basis of race, colour, sex, opinion, economic position or any other condition. The way to avoid this is by allowing inputs into the design of user group algorithms to address these biases.

As stated above, what this community of researchers and experts wants is for our minds to remain free of manipulation, as well as to guarantee the privacy of the data obtained through this new technology. These experts believe that the protection of these rights is essential to prevent the information extracted from our brains from being used for purposes other than the individual and ultimately the general interest.

Although basic human rights sit above any interest, innovation and legislation do not currently go hand in hand, rather the latter is a step behind the former.

While countries such as the USA, China, Canada, Australia and Israel are advancing, giving priority to research over legislation, both Chile and the European Union are beginning to realise the importance of the legal matter. Chile, announced in October 2019 that it would present a reform project to include these rights within its Constitution; on the same note, in the EU, the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence was also announced last year, which will also explore all the legal points necessary to ensure transparency, responsibility and security in this technological process.

It seems that we are getting closer and closer to living in a world worthy of a Black Mirror episode which only seemed so distant and fictitious not too long ago.

5/5 - (5 votes)

Natalia Rigueiro


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