Online course

Research ethics & societal impact





This course explores ethical and social issues that have arisen, and continue to arise, from the rapid research development in neuroscience, medicine and ICT. Lectures focus on key ethical issues contained in the HBP – such as ethics of robotics, dual use, ICT ethical issues, big data and individual privacy, and the use of animals in research.

ECTS credits: 1.5 (after attendance of the online course, one full workshop and successfully passing the exam)



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Lecture 1: Introduction to ethical theory
Christine Mitchell | HMS

Lecture 2: Responsible Research and the Human Brain Project
Nikolas Rose | KCL

Lecture 3: Computer ethics and the HBP
Bernd Stahl | DMU

Lecture 4: Scaling up neuroscience - Responsible Research and the big brain projects
Nikolas Rose | KCL

Lecture 5: Neuroethics and Philosophy in Responsible Research and Innovation
Michele Farisco| | UU

Lecture 6: Data Use and Ethical Awareness in the Human Brain Project
Manuel Guerrero| | UU

Lecture 7: Neuroscience and the problem of dual use
Malcolm Dando | UoB

Lecture 8: Responsible Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, governance and policy
Inga Ulnicane | DMU

Lecture 9: The Ethical Roboticist
Alan Winfield | UWE

Lecture 10: The Thinking Robot
Alan Winfield | UWE

Lecture 11: Ethics in biomedical research and the 3Rs
Viveka Hillegaart | KI

Lecture 12: Cognitive enhancement: Ethics and efficacy
Sebastian Porsdam Mann | HMS


Speakers & Abstracts

Malcolm Dando trained originally as a biologist (B.Sc and PhD at St. Andrews University, Scotland).  After post-doctoral studies in the United States (University of Michigan and University of Oregon) he held UK Ministry of Defence funded fellowships in Operational Research at the University of Sussex during the 1970s. Since then he has worked on arms control and disarmament, particularly on chemical and biological issues (DSc. University of Bradford).  In recent years this work has been focused on awareness raising and education of life scientists in regard to dual use and biosecurity, for example in the recent Royal Society Brain Waves module on Neuroscience, conflict and security. He is a Fellow of the UK Society of Biology.


Lecture 7: Neuroscience and the problem of dual use

The UK Royal Society in its 2012 study of Neuroscience, conflict and security had as its first recommendation that: “There needs to be fresh effort by the appropriate professional bodies to inculcate the awareness of the dual-use challenge (i.e., knowledge and technologies used for beneficial purposes can also be misused for harmful purposes) among neuroscientists at an early stage of their training.” There can be little doubt that the need to raise awareness of this challenge remains among practicing neuroscientists today. This lecture aims to give an introduction and overview of the dual-use challenge as it applies to neuroscience today and will apply in coming decades. Following a brief introduction to the general problem of dual-use biotechnology, the lecture is divided into four sections. The first section outlines how the threat of chemical and biological weapons developed in the last century. The second section then shows how benignly-intended civil science was taken up in the production of chemical and biological weapons that attacked the nervous system in the last century. The third section discusses how the States Parties to the BTWC and the CWC have responded to this possible misuse of neuroscience, and the final section focuses on the problem of awareness-raising amongst neuroscientists.


Michele Farisco is a Post-doc researcher at the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics of Uppsala University, Sweden. He was appointed Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy in Italy. He holds a MA in Philosophy from University of Naples "L'Orientale" in 2003, a PhD in "Ethics and Anthropology. History and Foundation" from University of Lecce in 2008, a Master degree in Biolaw from the University of Rome "Lumsa" in 2009, and a PhD in Neuroscience and Philosophy from Uppsala University in 2019. He spent time on an exchange grant from the European Neuroscience and Society Network within the European Science Foundation joining the Coma Science Group of the University of Liège (Belgium). He is the head of the "Science and society" research unit of Biogem Genetic Research Centre in Ariano Irpino (Italy). He is the author of four books and several articles about posthuman philosophy, philosophical, ethical and legal implications (ELSI) of genetics and neuroscience, consciousness (with a particular focus on disorders of consciousness), addiction, Artificial Intelligence, and neuroethics.


Lecture 5: Neuroethics and philosophy in RRI

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is an important ethical, legal, and political theme for the European Commission. Although variously defined, it is generally understood as an interactive process that engages social actors, researchers, and innovators who must be mutually responsive and work towards the ethical permissibility of the relevant research and its products. The framework of RRI calls for contextually addressing not just research and innovation impact but also the background research process, especially the societal visions underlying it and the norms and priorities that shape scientific agendas. In my talk I will focus on potential contribution of philosophical reflection to RRI, referring to specific works done within SP12.


Manuel Guerrero is a sociologist and bioethicist with extensive experience in human rights. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Ethics and Research Ethics, a PhD in Sociology and postdoctoral experience in Neuroethics at Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University. He is part of the Neuroethics and Philosophy of the Brain research team at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB), Uppsala University, and affiliated teacher at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Division of Occupational Therapy at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. He is also Assistant Professor in Bioethics at the Department of Bioethics and Medical Humanities in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Chile. In the Human Brain Project, he is task leader for the Ethics Rapporteur Programme, located in the Responsible Research and Innovation Work Package 9. His research interests combine philosophy, social sciences and neuroethics, with focus on the ethical and social implications of brain research and neurotechnologies, and the promotion of responsible research and innovation.

Lecture 6: Data use and ethical awareness in the Human Brain Project

The Human Brain Project (HBP) aims to empower brain research toward understanding the human brain and its diseases to advance brain medicine and computing technology. For that purpose, the HBP brings together neuroscientists, computer and robotics experts to build a unique Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-based infrastructure for collaborative brain research. The HBP helps researchers to access and share collections of brain data from different species allowing accelerating the understanding of the brain through modelling and simulation in computers and robots. Within the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), the HBP carries out ethics management, foresight and philosophy work as well as public engagement. This talk will share a high-level overview of the ethical issues related to data use in such a big, complex and multi-national research initiative as the HBP.


Viveka Hillegaart is by training a zoologist with interdisciplinary interest from evolutionary biology, ecology, ethology to behavioral sciences (psychology) bridging over to behavioral pharmacology, neurophysiology, pharmacology and brain anatomy. Her Ph.D. thesis was an interdisciplinary project at Göteborg’s University involving the Department of Zoology, the Department of Pharmacology and the Department of Psychology. Her post-doc was in the area of cognitive and anatomical psychology at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA. Her career has been in the field of life sciences, with competence from various University-settings in Sweden and America and from research in industry. Experience from research and development procedures in the pharmaceutical industry and from University, as well as safety and regulatory aspects towards authorities. Her skills are from scientific procedures, techniques and statistical analysis to project driven management. She has an academic scientific profile (Docent), with teaching and student supervision at the graduate and postgraduate level, as well as basic research within neurobiology, animal behavioral sciences, brain anatomy, histology and pharmacology mainly in the CNS research area. Her original research has resulted in 47 peer-reviewed original publications. At present she has the title as Docent in Zoology, at Stockholm University and hold a position since 2015 as a “Senior 3R officer at Comparative medicine at the Karolinska Institutet. From 2010 to 2015 she was appointed head of the Department for Animal Welfare and Health, at the Swedish Board of Agriculture, Jönköping, Sweden, were we implemented the Directive 2010/63/EU on protection on animals used for scientific purposes into Swedish legislation.


Lecture 11: Ethics in biomedical research and the 3Rs

What is Ethics in biomedical research? In this case the ethics we talk about is how we think we can use animals in biomedical research and what we gain from the experimental setup of experiments. We will talk about “a common set of values” and how 3R engagement can make a difference to experimental procedures and a progress in the positive outcome of experimental procedures and results and scientific papers of the future. Comparative Medicine (CM) is built on the vision that the 3Rs should permeate every aspect of care and use of laboratory animals at KI. The aim is to offer a cutting edge research environment set in a best practice and care culture fostered by the staff at CM. A thread of 3R activities based on evidence-based practice is being implemented and harmonization on the national level and within the EU is another goal. To live up to regulations and regulatory requirements, CM has established a backbone of support for the laboratories and the animal facilities composed of an Infrastructure unit, an Education and training unit and an Executive office. To be able to implement the 3Rs concept from the Directive 2010/63/EU, CM has created a position as “Senior 3R officer” within the executive office and with the missions to make all the 3Rs visible both externally and internally in a transparent way, and that all research performed at KI shall be aligned with the 3R intentions of the Directive. To accomplish this aspiration, a program for the 3Rs has been set up at KI. Highlights of this program are (1) a yearly event where employees, researchers, students and others can exchange new concepts and results around animal welfare in biomedical research and the 3Rs, (2) custom tailored educational efforts in collaboration with the LAS education office to increase knowledge and awareness of the 3Rs, (3) to embed the animal welfare officer function (AWO) in the 3R office, and (4) the senior 3R officer is the chairperson of the local animal welfare body (AWB) at KI.


Christine Mitchell is Executive Director of the Center for Bioethics and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School.  She directs the capstone program and teaches a two semester seminar on “the ethics of bioethics” as well as teaching medical students and bioethics fellows. Prior to her current work, Mitchell founded and led the clinical ethics program and consultation service at Boston Children’s Hospital.  She serves on numerous national ethics committees, including the newly formed Council of Neuroethics Program Leaders, as well as the Ethics Management Team for the EU Human Brain Project.


Lecture 1: Introduction to ethical theory

Neuroethics has been described as containing at least two components - the neuroscience of ethics, and the ethics of neuroscience. The first involves neuroscientific theories, research, and neuro-imaging focused on how the brain arrives at moral decisions and actions, which challenge existing descriptive theories of how humans develop moral thinking and make ethical decisions. The second, ethics of neuroscience, involves applying normative theories about what is right, good and fair to ethical questions raised by neuroscientific research and new technologies, such as how to balance the public benefit of “big data” neuroscience while protecting individual privacy and norms of informed consent. This lecture explicates selected theories of ethics as applied to questions raised by the Human Brain Project.


Sebastian Porsdam Mann is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics. Having split his childhood years between his native Denmark and Germany, he moved to England for his studies following a year of service in German Military Police. Originally enrolled in the philosophy program at the University of Cambridge, he soon developed an interest in the sciences of the mind, graduating with a degree in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. This background enabled him to pursue graduate work at the intersection of philosophy and the brain sciences in the emerging field of neuroethics. His current work explores the moral dimensions of modifying and creating lifeforms, human rights, informed consent, medical data sharing, and the role and responsibilities of modern universities. Sebastian’s future work will be supported by a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Postdoctoral Research Fellowship grant.


Lecture 12: Cognitive enhancement: Ethics and efficacy

Cognitive functions underlie everything we feel, think, and do. It has often been assumed that the cognitive capacities of an individual, whether human or animal, is fixed, either at birth or at maturation. Yet recent studies have demonstrated that cognitive functions can be modified by a wide variety of factors, many of which are controllable. Some of these, including sleep and meditation, are not currently ethically controversial. But others, especially those which make use of advanced technology or unfamiliar drugs, have been challenged on ethical grounds. This lecture explores the morally relevant aspects of cognitive enhancement, with special emphasis on safety, fairness, authenticity and coercion (peer pressure). It will also touch upon the less-widely discussed issue of moral status and cognitive function.


Nikolas Rose is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Kings College London.  Before joining King’s in 2012, he was Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Head of the Department of Sociology from 2002 to 2006, and Director of the LSE's BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society, which he founded in 2003.   He was trained as a biologist before switching to psychology and then to sociology. He is founder and co-editor of BioSocieties: an interdisciplinary journal for social studies of the life sciences. has published widely on the social and political history of the human sciences, on the genealogy of subjectivity, on the history of empirical thought in sociology, on law and criminology, and on changing rationalities and techniques of political powerHis most recent books include books The Politics of Life Itself : Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (2006) Governing The Present (written with Peter Miller, 2008) and Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (written with Joelle Abi-Rached, 2013). He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Society and Ethics Division of the Human Brain Project, a European FET Flagship Project, and is responsible for their Foresight Laboratory.  He is the lead investigator from Kings in several large EPSRC funded collaborations with Imperial College, London to develop research and capacity in synthetic biology, and is currently engaged in comparative research on mental health and migration in megacities such as Shanghai.  For six years he was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.  He was lead partner in BIONET, a 21 partner consortium, funded by the European Commission, examining the ethical governance of research in the life sciences in China and Europe. He is Chair of the Neuroscience and Society Network (previously funded by the European Science Foundation) and has worked in various capacities with the Academy of Medical Science and the Wellcome Trust, and with the Royal Society, where he is currently a member of the Science Policy Committee.


Lecture 2: Responsible Research and the Human Brain Project

In the face of perceived public concerns about technological innovations, leading national and international bodies increasingly argue that there must be ‘dialogue' between policy makers, scientific researchers, civil society organizations and members of the public, to shape the pathways of technology development in a way that meets societal needs and gains public trust. This is not new, of course, and such concerns go back at least to the debates over the development of nuclear technologies and campaigns for social responsibility in science. Major funding bodies in the UK, Europe and elsewhere are now addressing this issue by insisting on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the development of emerging technology. Biotechnologies such as synthetic biology and neurotechnologies have become a particular focus of RRI, partly because of the belief that these are risky technologies involving tinkering with the very building blocks of life, and perhaps even with human nature. With my fellow researchers, I have been involved in trying to develop Responsible Research and Innovation in these technologies for several years. In this session we will consider the methods and methodologies we have developed, and the challenges involved, in working with life scientists to enhance their capacity for understanding, and taking responsibility for, the social implications of their research.


Lecture 4: Scaling up neuroscience - Responsible Research and the big brain projects

In this lecture I consider some of the key social and ethical issues raised by the ‘big brain projects’ currently under way in Europe, the USA, China, Japan and many other regions. I will draw upon our own experience in the ‘ Foresight Lab’ of the HBP to discuss the ways in which these can usefully be approached from the perspective of responsible research and innovation and the AREA approach - anticipation, reflection, engagement and action. These include data protection, privacy and data governance; the search for ‘neural signatures’ of psychaitric and neurological disorders; ‘dual use’ or the military use of developments initially intended for clinical and civilian purposes; brain-computer interfaces and neural prosthetics; and the use of animals in brain research. Following a brief discussion of the challenges of translation from the lab to the real world, I will conclude by arguing that success in contemporary scientific research and innovation is best assured by openness, collaboration, sharing with fellow researchers; robust systems of data governance involving lay persons; frankness about realities of scientific research and innovation with fellow citizens; realism about complexities of links between researchers, publics and private enterprise; and understanding and engaging with the realities of science today in the real world.


Bernd Carsten Stahl is Professor of Critical Research in Technology and Director the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His interests cover philosophical issues arising from the intersections of business, technology, and information. This includes ethical questions of current and emerging of ICTs, critical approaches to information systems and issues related to responsible research and innovation.


Lecture 3: Computer ethics and the HBP

The HBP as an ICT flagship project crucially relies on ICT and will contribute important input into the development of new computing principles and artefacts. Individuals working on the HBP should therefore be aware of the long history of ethical issues discussed in computing. The discourse on ethics and computing can be traced back to Norbert Wiener and the very beginning of digital computing. From the 1970s and 80s it has developed into an active discussion involving academics from various disciplines, professional bodies and industry. The lecture will provide an overview of the most widely discussed ethical issues in computing and demonstrate that privacy and data protection are by no means the only issue worth worrying about. It will cover likely ethical issues that can be expected in emerging ICTs and specifically look at the issues that are likely to arise in the context of the HBP.


Inga Ulnicane has 15 years of international and interdisciplinary experience of research, teaching and engagement in the field of science, technology and innovation policy and governance. Her research on international scientific collaboration, Grand societal challenges, higher education and European research and innovation policy has appeared in Science and Public Policy, Journal of European Integration, Journal of Contemporary European Research and International Journal of Foresight and Innovation Policy as well as in edited volumes published by Routledge and Springer. Additionally, she has prepared policy reports for the European Parliament and European Commission. She has worked at University of Vienna (Austria), University of Twente (Netherlands), University of Latvia and Latvian Academy of Sciences and has been visiting researcher at University of Manchester (UK) and Georgia Tech (US). Currently she is Research Fellow at De Montfort University (UK) contributing to Responsible Research and Innovation, ethics and society issues within the Human Brain Project. She chairs the HBP Dual Use Working Group. Her current research focusses on governance of Artificial Intelligence, dual use and research infrastructure.


Lecture 8: Responsible Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, governance and policy

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly affecting almost all areas of life from jobs, healthcare and entertainment to public safety and defence. While advances in AI are associated with new opportunities for economic growth and well-being, they at the same time raise major ethical concerns about AI impact on social equality, transparency and accountability. In recent years, these issues have acquired a prominent role on the agendas of policy-makers around the world. Today the need to facilitate beneficial development of AI and regulate it in public interest is regularly addressed in speeches of political leaders and policy documents prepared by national governments, international organizations, experts, consulting companies and stakeholders. At the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos, the UK prime minister announced that ‘we are establishing the UK as a world leader in Artificial Intelligence’. In summer 2017, China’s State Council called for China to become ‘the world’s primary AI innovation center’ by 2030. In early 2017, the European Parliament recommended to support research into the possible long-term risks and opportunities of robotics and AI. Similar examples of political declarations can be found in other countries and international organizations.


Alan Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK, and Visiting Professor at the University of York. He received his PhD in Digital Communications from the University of Hull in 1984, then co-founded and led APD Communications Ltd until taking-up appointment at UWE, Bristol in 1992. Winfield co-founded the Bristol Robotics Laboratory where his current research is focussed on cognitive robotics.  Winfield is an advocate for robot ethics; he is a member of the British Standards Institute working group that drafted BS 8611: Guide to the Ethical Design of Robots and Robotic Systems, and he currently chairs the General Principles committee of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous Systems. Winfield has published over 200 works, including ‘Robotics: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford University Press, 2012), and lectures widely on robotics, presenting to both academic and public audiences.


Lecture 9: The Ethical Roboticist

Like any transformative technology, intelligent robotics has the potential for huge benefit, but is not without ethical or societal risk. In this lecture I will explore two questions. Firstly, the increasingly urgent question of the ethical use of robots: are there particular applications of robots that should be proscribed, in eldercare, or surveillance, or war fighting for example? When intelligent autonomous robots make mistakes, as they inevitably will, who should be held to account? Secondly, I will consider the longer-term question of whether intelligent robots themselves could or should be ethical. Seventy years ago Isaac Asimov created his fictional Three Laws of Robotics. Is there now a realistic prospect that we could build a robot that is Three Laws Safe?


Lecture 10: The Thinking Robot

Press headlines frequently refer to robots that think like humans, or even have feelings, but is there any basis of truth in such headlines, or are they simply sensationalist hype? Computer scientist EW Dijkstra famously wrote, “the question of whether machines can think is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim”, but the question of robot thought is one that cannot so easily be dismissed. In this talk I will attempt to answer the question “how intelligent are present day intelligent robots?” and describe efforts to design robots that are not only more intelligent but also have a sense of self. But if we should be successful in designing such robots, would they think like animals, or even humans? And what are the realistic prospects for future (sentient) robots as smart as humans?


Course Director

Manuel Guerrero | Uppsala University
Kerstin Hakansson | Linnaeus University