Research Topic

Neurorights and Mental Freedom: Emerging Challenges to Debates on Human Dignity and Neurotechnologies

About this Research Topic

New developments in neuroscience give us unprecedented knowledge about the brain’s functioning. By allowing direct access to mental data and new forms of intervention in the brain, they have great potential to improve the wellbeing of patients suffering from neurological disorders. Examples include: brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, CAT, PET, SPECT, etc.), neuropharmacology, trans- and intracranial stimulation, gene and cell therapies, optogenetics, and neural implants. In parallel, artificial intelligence (AI) research has been taking place in a convergent way to neurotechnology, as demonstrated by progress in the development of artificial neural networks, neuromorphic systems, and federated learning.

However, these same developments create new and complex ethical and policy challenges to human rights and human dignity. This is the case of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), in which human and artificial intelligence are strongly interconnected in such a way that the identity and decision-making capacity of the human part could be blurred in different ways. Another prominent example is optogenetics, which has great potential to intervene and manipulate behavior in subtle ways. This illustrates that the potential of neurotechnology to improve the living conditions of individuals could also be used for an unauthorized and abusive manipulation of human consciousness for economic, political, or military purposes.

Can we take advantage of neurotechnologies and AI to improve health without putting human dignity at risk? How can we make these technological advances compatible with what we may call “mental freedom” (broadly understood), thus including values such as personal identity, mental privacy, cognitive liberty, psychological continuity, mental integrity, and others? What would be the appropriate policies to guarantee this compatibility? Should these values be regulated by national and international legislations (the so-called ‘neurorights’), as debated by researchers such as Andorno, Ienca, Yuste and others? How do the ethical challenges posed by neurotechnology affect deontological codes? This Research Topic is aimed at trying to answer these questions, and others closely related, at the intersection of neuroscience and technology with ethics and society.

Topics for contributions include, but are not limited to, the following:

- Ethical, legal, and social repercussions of the neurotechnologies currently available, as well as of those that are currently being developed.
- Ethico-legal implications for health, commerce, national and military intelligence, communication, and politics.
- Philosophical and ethical debates on the incidence of neurotechnologies and AI on human rights.
- Conceptual relevance and legal content of neurorights in national and international legislations and treaties.
- Policy proposals related to neurotechnologies and AI.

Contributions with diverse approaches are welcome as long as they are useful for understanding or advancing discussions on the challenges that neurotechnology and AI pose to human rights and dignity. Theoretical and methodological approaches are appropriate in principle. Empirical studies on neurotechnologies are admissible as long as the authors give relevant weight to the ethical, legal and/or public policy repercussions of the results obtained—in this case, integrating a neuroethicist, jurist, or similar in the authorial team is encouraged, although it is not a requirement.


Keywords: neurotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), human dignity, mental freedom, neurorights


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

New developments in neuroscience give us unprecedented knowledge about the brain’s functioning. By allowing direct access to mental data and new forms of intervention in the brain, they have great potential to improve the wellbeing of patients suffering from neurological disorders. Examples include: brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, CAT, PET, SPECT, etc.), neuropharmacology, trans- and intracranial stimulation, gene and cell therapies, optogenetics, and neural implants. In parallel, artificial intelligence (AI) research has been taking place in a convergent way to neurotechnology, as demonstrated by progress in the development of artificial neural networks, neuromorphic systems, and federated learning.

However, these same developments create new and complex ethical and policy challenges to human rights and human dignity. This is the case of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), in which human and artificial intelligence are strongly interconnected in such a way that the identity and decision-making capacity of the human part could be blurred in different ways. Another prominent example is optogenetics, which has great potential to intervene and manipulate behavior in subtle ways. This illustrates that the potential of neurotechnology to improve the living conditions of individuals could also be used for an unauthorized and abusive manipulation of human consciousness for economic, political, or military purposes.

Can we take advantage of neurotechnologies and AI to improve health without putting human dignity at risk? How can we make these technological advances compatible with what we may call “mental freedom” (broadly understood), thus including values such as personal identity, mental privacy, cognitive liberty, psychological continuity, mental integrity, and others? What would be the appropriate policies to guarantee this compatibility? Should these values be regulated by national and international legislations (the so-called ‘neurorights’), as debated by researchers such as Andorno, Ienca, Yuste and others? How do the ethical challenges posed by neurotechnology affect deontological codes? This Research Topic is aimed at trying to answer these questions, and others closely related, at the intersection of neuroscience and technology with ethics and society.

Topics for contributions include, but are not limited to, the following:

- Ethical, legal, and social repercussions of the neurotechnologies currently available, as well as of those that are currently being developed.
- Ethico-legal implications for health, commerce, national and military intelligence, communication, and politics.
- Philosophical and ethical debates on the incidence of neurotechnologies and AI on human rights.
- Conceptual relevance and legal content of neurorights in national and international legislations and treaties.
- Policy proposals related to neurotechnologies and AI.

Contributions with diverse approaches are welcome as long as they are useful for understanding or advancing discussions on the challenges that neurotechnology and AI pose to human rights and dignity. Theoretical and methodological approaches are appropriate in principle. Empirical studies on neurotechnologies are admissible as long as the authors give relevant weight to the ethical, legal and/or public policy repercussions of the results obtained—in this case, integrating a neuroethicist, jurist, or similar in the authorial team is encouraged, although it is not a requirement.


Keywords: neurotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), human dignity, mental freedom, neurorights


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

19 July 2020 Abstract
16 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

19 July 2020 Abstract
16 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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