Do Publics Share Experts’ Concerns about Brain–Computer Interfaces? A Trinational Survey on the Ethics of Neural Technology

Science, Technology, and Human Values 2019 (6):1242-1270 (2019)
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Since the 1960s, scientists, engineers, and healthcare professionals have developed brain–computer interface (BCI) technologies, connecting the user’s brain activity to communication or motor devices. This new technology has also captured the imagination of publics, industry, and ethicists. Academic ethics has highlighted the ethical challenges of BCIs, although these conclusions often rely on speculative or conceptual methods rather than empirical evidence or public engagement. From a social science or empirical ethics perspective, this tendency could be considered problematic and even technocratic because of its disconnect from publics. In response, our trinational survey (Germany, Canada, and Spain) reports public attitudes toward BCIs (N = 1,403) on ethical issues that were carefully derived from academic ethics literature. The results show moderately high levels of concern toward agent-related issues (e.g., changing the user’s self) and consequence-related issues (e.g., new forms of hacking). Both facets of concern were higher among respondents who reported as female or as religious, while education, age, own and peer disability, and country of residence were associated with either agent-related or consequence-related concerns. These findings provide a first look at BCI attitudes across three national contexts, suggesting that the language and content of academic BCI ethics may resonate with some publics and their values.



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Author Profiles

Matthew Sample
Northeastern University
David Rodríguez
Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario

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