About this Research Topic
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and other high-tech devices that interact with the brain no longer belong to the future, allowing direct communications between the mind and computers. For instance, in 2021, a locked-in patient posted a mind-dictated tweet, while Neuralink developed a novel brain-implant that has recently obtained approval for first human trials from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). On the other hand, wearable brain-stimulation devices (WBSD) enable direct physiological influence/manipulation beyond medical application, e.g., to influence moods and enhance relaxation, concentration, sleep, and strength, as various startups such as Thync, Muse, NextMind, and Mind Maze, among others, promise. The set of neurotechnologies such as WBSD and Brain/neural-computer interaction (BNCI) can be summarised under the broader phenomena of Brain-Machine Interaction, which form a new branch of study that also embraces Digital Therapeutics (‘software as a service’ medical treatments supplied via app) and intercepts the wide discussion on human enhancement (HE) and even transhumanism. Indeed, although the literature previously considered these topics as science-fiction, the growing economic (e.g. Jeff Bezos' investments on Nautilus Biotechnology, and Alphabet’s interests in Calico Life Sciences) and scientific attention (e.g. the transplant of genetic modified organs grown in animals) indicated that the matter is finally mature for a broad and comprehensive scientific debate on the present - and plausible forthcoming - issues that will potentially derive from the interconnections between BMI and HE.
Cases such as Cambridge Analytica and 23andMe, and projects such as DARPA’s Brain and IBM Truenorth demonstrate the urgency to prevent any potential abuse of mental and brain-data processing and to regulate these phenomena adequately. Several countries around the world, such as Chile for BCIs, Germany for what concerns Digital Therapies, and France for brain-imaging are already addressing narrow sectors related to the BMI spectrum, while the Italian Data Protection Authority has addressed the issue in 2021 in a dedicated conference. However, a wider debate on how to regulate and consider BMI technologies is still to come and the need for such a discussion will increase exponentially when these technologies reach the mass consumer market.
Indeed, BMI technologies place themselves in a fast-changing technological framework where the data economy models govern the ecosystem composed of Artificial Intelligent (AI) systems and predictive algorithms, the Internet of Everything (IoE) and even the new hypes represented by the Metaverse and the Web 3.0. In this sense, the rise of generative AI and GPT-like services intercepts the growing attention on BMI technologies and increases the need for a focused analysis of the issues emerging from the convergence of these two technological domains.
Alongside these developments, technology addiction, dark patterns design, neuromarketing techniques, and invasive user-profiling methods have also emerged together with the dark side of data exploitation, while the current tendency among users is to yield consent for online services (deceptively advertised as “free”). Problems such as mental-health and “problematic usage of the Internet” are not even solved for smartphones and social media, and issues related the usage of neurotechnologies in juridical trials, workplaces, and digital environments are still to be disentangled properly, unless Btechnologies are already entering the commercial market.
The combination of these multisectoral factors must spur the research community to bring an interdisciplinary and holistic attention to the BMI and HE phenomena and their potential impact on socio-legal, ethical, technical, and medical paradigms of the democratic society, as we know it.
While the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has helped somewhat to restrain the waves of uncontrolled data exploitation in the EU, BMI technologies – and their connected techniques for gathering new kinds of personal data – reveal the limits of the current ethical and regulatory frameworks worldwide, exposing users to border-line data processing and concerns for their fundamental rights and liberties.
The goal of this Research Topic (RT) is to explore the multidisciplinary interconnections between legal, ethical, economic, but also technical, psychological, medical, and applicative issues concerning the BMI realm. Specifically, it aims to address the emerging interdisciplinary questions about the protection of mental privacy and cognitive liberties, autonomy of the decision-making process, and the informed consent, together with the economic models, user-interface applications, design methods, cybersecurity and architectural solutions that can enhance the protection of individuals and their fundamental human rights in medical and non-medical applications.
The interdisciplinary RT focuses on the human mind as the new frontier of data gathering and aims to bring out the most relevant questions about BMI's design, development, usage, and applications in relation to neuro-privacy rights and algorithmic fairness.
Only a few authors have highlighted the BMI interrelated issues as described above but generally the matter remains unexplored and deserves a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis. Therefore, this RT wants to stimulate and attract contributions from various connected fields that focus on the emerging and forthcoming interconnected questions that BMI and HE involve. The call particularly welcomes cross-sectoral analyses that compare different cultural, technical, ethical, and legal approaches (European, Anglo-American, Asian, etc.) on the issues and address peculiar aspects that the general literature still has not investigated or deepened.
The Research Topic welcomes interdisciplinary contributions from both humanities and social sciences, STEM and HCI concerning the emerging issues related to BMI broadly and, in particular, BCI and WBSD devices, human enhancement and their possible applications and integration with AI systems.
The Research Topic follows five main interconnected lines of investigations: social and/or legal analysis, ethical and/or bioethical inquiry, economic, policy, and governance studies, IT and Human-Computer Interaction, data security, and Medical and Psychological contributions concerning applications, design, frameworks, and architecture solutions. The red thread of the RT scope is represented by the ethical-legal values of privacy and fundamental liberties concerning the human mind and brain integrity.
Sub-themes relevant for the call are:
● BNCI impact on Privacy regulations
● BMI effects on cognitive liberties (even in combination with generative AI applications)
● Persuasive neuromarketing and dark patterns influence over decision-making processes via BMI
● Ethical considerations regarding algorithmic fairness and generative AI impact on BMI technologies
● Data economy of BMI technologies, governance frameworks and innovative business models
● HCI design and IT solutions for BMI technologies security in user-centric applications
● Psychological and neurological aspects of BNCI technologies and their non-medical applications
The analyses of applicative frameworks, plausible ethical-legal and technical issues, and concrete problems within the Internet of Things/Everything ecosystem, Metaverse (virtual and augmented reality), spatial computing, generative AI systems and Web 3.0 are also welcome if they focus on BMI issues specifically.
Link to the Hybrid Minds conference website: https://www.hybridminds.org/conference
Keywords: interaction, brain-stimulation, wearables, Privacy, Data Protection, Ethics, GDPR, Law, cognitive liberties, Neuroprivacy, Internet of Things, Metaverse, Web 3.0
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