Ethics in the HBP

The Human Brain Project (HBP), as with all European-funded research currently, actively seeks to include responsible research and innovation in its planning and research. It is an aim of responsible research to pre-empt ethical and social ramifications of research and to include their anticipation in research activities and outputs. This is an ambition with a very wide scope. Dealing with such such variety is a complex task requiring thoughtful and pragmatic approaches. Some discussion of the overall rationale for these approaches can be read here.

The HBP uses research methods, and has research goals, that raise interesting and sometimes urgent ethical, social, and philosophical issues. These include everything from human and animal experimentation, personal information and privacy of data, up to the future understanding of human minds and human nature. These come in fields as diverse as biology, neuroscience, computing, robotics, and across philosophical and social science areas.

The following video gives an overview of the main ethical and social issues that the HBP faces. 



Ethics Map

To chart some of the breadth of issues, we can visualise HBP ethics issues in terms of how regulated they are, versus how material their impact might be. This means that issues charted on the bottom left are well-regulated, and responses have a procedural character. Those on the upper right are unregulated and could have strong material implications. This is the ethics map.


Standard Operating Procedures

For ways of dealing with these ethics challenges, standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been developed. Some examples are as follows:

These represent approaches developed in discussions between ethics management and other researchers in SP12 and the wider HBP.
The HBP also treats these issues and others as objects of study in themselves so that current research can inform responses to known issues, as well as feed into issue anticipation such as the future of neuroscience and the HBP, and philosophical issues surrounding brain simulation.

Researcher awareness

Ethics management in the HBP is a driving force in this area, in tandem with researchers from SP12 and beyond. Researcher awareness is an important part of this work.Utilising resources from SP12 research, such as neuroethics, foresight lab work, and ethics management structures, HBP-wide work can take place to increase the awareness of ethics throughout the HBP. This is important so that reflective ethical research can take place. More information on the mechanisms that run this can be found here.


One way to highlight particular issues of central importance to the HBP is to produce expert Opinions to inform the discussion within the HBP. For the phase from 2016 to 2018 such Opinions are a key output of the Ethics and Society subproject.

  1. Opinion on Data Protection and Privacy