nanoTalks Basel: Reading brains, reading choices?

Come and join us for the very first round of nanoTalks Basel! What used to be science fiction is slowly becoming reality: An update on advances in the field of neuroscience

Enhancing human beings is a long-standing dream of technology visionaries. What used to be a science fiction utopia is slowly coming closer with advances in neuroscience. Alongside scientific discoveries how the brain works, the methodological repertoire to record neural data grew steadily over the last two decades. Neural data can be used today in a brain-computer interface to understand someone’s movements, moods, memories, and thoughts. Further, the technology even allows manipulating neural activity in beneficial way.

1. Talk: The scientific way of reading brains. Recording and stimulating neural activities

Peter Kraemer: PhD candidate Decision Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, University of Basel.

Everything we do, whether we move our limbs, produce language or enjoy the little things in life is rooted in the activity of neurons in our brains. Neural activity can be recorded with electrodes on the scalp or within the brain itself and transmitted to an external device which interprets the neural signal. This pathway is known as brain-computer-interfaces (BCIs). BCIs made major breakthroughs in the last couple of years allowing paralyzed patients to control robotic arms and reach for water bottles or even walk again by steering an exoskeleton. BCIs were developed further not only to read out information from neurons but also to stimulate them and manipulate their activity. Doing this, researchers currently aim to alter pathological activity patterns in mood disorders such as depression. Looking at the advances in BCI, it is important to acknowledge that neither recording neural signals, nor stimulation are as trivial as it may seem. In fact, every method in use has its disadvantages regarding practicality and safety. In this talk, I will give a brief overview of different methods for recording and stimulating neural activity. Further, I will outline respective usefulness and hurdles for the future of BCIs.

Talk 2: Ethical implications associated with reading brains

Dr. Marcello Ienca: postdoctoral researcher at the Health Ethics & Policy Lab, Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich. His research focuses on the ethics and governance of biomedical data, ethically aligned artificial intelligence (AI) and responsible innovation for emerging technologies at the human-machine interface.

Thanks to advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology we can now read brain signals with increasing accuracy and resolution. But should we? And if yes, under which circumstances? For example, should brain reading be allowed as evidence in a court of law? Or as a lie detection method during police interrogation? And as a method for device control and warfighter enhancement during military operations? And what about using it to discover consumer preferences during marketing analysis? These questions become increasingly relevant as several neurotechnology applications have moved away from the sole research/medical setting and into many other domains including the judicial, military and commercial ones. This nanoTalk will outline some ethical implications associated with decoding brain signals and address the question of which rights individuals should be entitled to exercise in relation to their neural domain.