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Will Neurotechnology and Artificial Intelligence bring us new human rights?

BBVA and OpenMind, in collaboration with Professor Rafael Yuste, held a conference in Brussels to discuss the potential legal implications stemming from the rapid development of Neurotechnology and Artificial Intelligence. Under the title “Do we need new human rights?” scientists, politicians and regulatory authorities described the current situation and pointed to problems that need to be addressed, offering possible solutions to an issue that is not without controversy.

The evolution of society is marked by constant change. This change is often slow and gradual, allowing social actors to adapt little by little. When this evolution takes place within a very short period of time, through disruptive, rapid change, adaptation is more difficult. One example is the so-called digital revolution, where the massive adoption of new technologies has radically transformed the world.

Advances in Neurotechnology and AI could mark the start of a new revolution in the world of Neuroscience, and spark debate over all the implications this entails. Neurotechnology has a positive impact on intellectual well-being, education, companies and social norms. Brain stimulation technology, together with potential applications of AI, are leading to entirely new approaches to facilitate comprehension and the treatment of mental and neurological diseases. However, these technologies could also be used to decode people’s mental processes and directly manipulate the cerebral mechanism that underlies their intentions, emotions and decisions.

How should we prepare for a world where our thoughts can be read and our minds controlled?

All of these advances could lead to incredible opportunities to improve people’s quality of life – for example in research on brain damage, paralysis, or diseases like Parkinson’s. Neurotechnology and AI also have another side to them, however, as José Manuel González-Páramo stressed when introducing the conference.

Advances in Neurotechnology and AI could mark the start of a new revolution in the world of Neuroscience

The Executive Member of the Board and Head of Global Economics and Public Affairs at BBVA noted that: “These advances could increase social inequality, especially if they are mainly used by developed countries. They could also offer companies, governments or any other person the opportunity to exploit or manipulate people. And finally, they could leave us all ‘naked’ before anyone with access to our neural data, allowing them to find out what our desires are, even before we recognize them ourselves.”

Therefore, the new digital paradigm raises important ethical problems. For González-Páramo, the current regulatory framework “is not capable of addressing the new challenges associated with digital innovation, as it lacks momentum and flexibility and is not sufficiently cross-cutting among sectors and geographic locations.” In his opinion, “the political response should move toward a new phase, which should be developed without preconceived notions of the technology.” He also emphasized that technology is not beneficial or hurtful ‘per-se’: “The key is to focus on how technology is used and how to mitigate its drawbacks.”

Panel moderated by Rafael Yuste with Blaise Agüera y Arcas, Jack Gallant and John Donoghue - BBVA

Following this introduction, in three panels of experts, scientists and politicians, the symposium explored the new ethical and human rights ramifications of the accelerated development of artificial intelligence and neurotechnology.  Titled “The Scientists’ View”, the first panel discussion was moderated by Rafael Yuste, Director of the NeuroTechnology Center at Colombia University. Participants discussed future advances in decoding brain activity from an ethical and social perspective, and how artificial intelligence could be used with these technologies to increase humans’ cognitive abilities.

It was followed by a second panel titled “The Citizens’ Voice”, in which speakers expressed various opinions and feelings held by citizens regarding these ethical issues. They also identified legislative solutions that could be the most effective at addressing possible abuses. The final panel, “The Policy Makers’ View” included discussion of potential political solutions.

About OpenMind and Professor Rafael Yuste

The event was organized by BBVA, OpenMind and Professor Rafael Yuste at the historic Solvay Library in Brussels, with the goal of sharing concerns over neurotechnology with European authorities. OpenMind is a digital knowledge community launched by BBVA in 2011 with the aim of contributing to the generation and dissemination of knowledge in an open and free manner.

How science and technology will define the future is one of the big questions OpenMind analyzes from different perspectives. The website has a section specifically on AI, where users can find a variety of content on the advances that are still to come in this field, the ethical dilemmas that its evolution entail, and the history of technological developments that have enabled the consolidation of this field of knowledge.

Rafael Yuste is a neurobiologist and Professor of Biological Sciences and Neuroscience at Colombia University in the U.S. He is also Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Colombia University, and helped to come up with the idea behind BRAIN, a project on the cutting-edge of global science that seeks to create a map of the human brain.

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