Human Brain Project publishes opinion on Dual Use of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology

    28 February 2019

    HBP experts provide recommendations to help researchers and policy makers address emerging ethical issue

    HBP experts provide recommendations to help researchers and policy makers address emerging ethical issue

    LONDON, 28 Feb 2019: “Dual Use” describes the potential for scientific knowledge and emerging technologies, developed within a civilian context, to be used in other settings, including the military domain. With current and newly emerging insights and technologies arising from brain science, Dual Use concerns are becoming increasingly relevant in this area, raising ethical and regulatory questions. An expert group of ethicists and scientists from the European Union-funded Human Brain Project (HBP) has now published an “Opinion on ‘Responsible Dual Use”. Political, Security, Intelligence and Military Research of Concern in Neuroscience and Neurotechnology’. This document sets out a framework to promote awareness of the issue and encourage responsible practice among those involved in the research and development of such technologies. To ensure ongoing attention to the issues raised, the Opinion offers recommendations for the Human Brain Project, the European Union and the research communities in neuroscience, information and communication technology, and robotics.

    As a pan-European project at the interface between neuroscience and technology, the HBP early on recognized that new research developments in these fields raise ethical, social, philosophical and regulatory issues. Within the HBP, a dedicated Ethics and Society group that includes scientists, philosophers, sociologists and public engagement specialists, has been tasked from the start of the project to identify, examine and address these questions. This group has introduced appropriate structures and mechanisms within the project and carries out public engagement activities, as well as extensive sociological, philosophical and ethical analyses, to make sure that neuroscience, neuro-medicine and neuro-inspired technology research are all done in a responsible way.

    Most recently, the group focused on current and potential applications of brain research and brain-inspired technologies in political, security, intelligence and military settings. Its new “Opinion on Responsible Dual Use” analyses definitions of dual use and relevant regulations in the EU and other international jurisdictions, describes emerging neuroscientific research that could have dual-use applications and examines ethical implications.
    One of the issues identified is that existing policies often restrict their focus to the stated aims of the research. This is problematic, as even if the initially intended use is purely civilian (for example a medical application), it can be difficult to foresee how a neuroscientific technology or innovation might be used thereafter.

    A key recommendation for policy makers is therefore to supplement existing policies with the moreprocess-oriented measures embodied in the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework.

    As defined in 2014, in the “Rome Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation in Europe”, RRI is an approach that aims to align the innovation system more closely with the needs, expectations and values of citizens. To this end, it requires that societal actors, such as researchers, citizens, policy makers, businesses and NGOs, work together throughout the research and innovation process. RRI principles are being applied successfully throughout the HBP, as described in a second paper recently published in the journal Neuron, (see Press Release, 7 February 2019).

    The authors of the HBP Dual Use opinion suggest that the ability to identify developments of concern can be increased by applying these principles and distinguishing between “responsible” and “irresponsible” systems of research and technological development.

    Further recommendations are addressed to universities and other organisations engaged in neuroscientific, neurotechnological and neurorobotics research, as well as corporations involved in artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous intelligent systems.

    In light of the issues discussed in the opinion, the HBP has established a new working group, which is developing an action plan on Dual Use to be implemented throughout the project.

    The full text of the opinion is available here: Opinion on ‘Responsible Dual Use’ Political, Security, Intelligence and Military Research of Concern in Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (PDF)



    Prof. Nikolas Rose 
    Foresight Lab
    Department of Global Health and Social Medicine
    Kings College London
    United Kingdom


    About the Human Brain Project
    Understanding the organisation of the human brain at all relevant levels is a big challenge, but necessary to improve treatment of brain disorders, create new computing technologies and provide insight into our humanity. Modern ICT brings this within reach. The HBP’s unique strategy uses it to gather, integrate and analyse brain data, understand the healthy and diseased brain, and emulate its computational capabilities. By sharing our tools with researchers worldwide, we aim to catalyse global collaboration.

    Unlocking the brain’s secrets promises major scientific, social and economic benefits. One is improved diagnosis and treatment of brain-related diseases; a growing health burden in our ageing population. A second is neuroscience’s potential to contribute to approaches for future ICT, including extreme-scale and neuromorphic computing. The HBP will also contribute to a brain-inspired approach to Artificial Intelligence and robotics.

    The HBP studies the brain at different levels, from genomics to higher-level brain functions. To help achieve this goal, the HBP is building an ICT-based research infrastructure to facilitate research collaboration, via the sharing of software tools, data and models. Incorporating inputs from the scientific community, the HBP’s scientists and engineers ensure that our infrastructure meets real research needs. Another aim is to accelerate medical research, by facilitating researchers’ secure access to broader data sets of patient data, as well as HBP tools and models. The HBP also educates young scientists to work across disciplinary boundaries and addresses the ethical implications of its work. Finally, it helps to integrate global brain research efforts and leads Europe’s contribution in this field.