Cross Cutting Themes

CC1: Responsible research 

Now is a critical moment to address the ethical, societal, legal and regulatory questions posed by recent progress in neurotechnology. There has already been important work in this area, for example by the Nuffield Council and the recent Royal Society iHuman report. Yet these issues are uniquely brought into focus by closed-loop neural interfaces, which blur the boundaries between human minds and artificial technology. Closed-loop systems can exhibit emergent, unpredictable behaviour so demonstrating safety is challenging - we don’t know in advance what patterns of brain activity may emerge during use, or how increasingly complex algorithm incorporating AI approaches and adaptive control policies will interact with malleable neural circuits. As our lives become ever more enmeshed with technology, we have become aware of the unanticipated risks to our privacy, autonomy and mental wellbeing, but direct interfaces with the brain take these to a new level. Who owns the systems, algorithms and data that interface with the user’s brain? Who is in control of a device that both responds to and influences that brain? Who decides the extent to which we should use technology to regulate brain states and enhance mental capacities? 

CC2: User involvement

We are aware of the importance of involving user groups in the co-creation of technologies that consider the diverse requirements of different individuals. This is especially pertinent for closed-loop devices that may impact upon or become integrated into a user’s sense of self and identity. When developing therapies to regulate aberrant brain activity, it is important to question narrow definitions of normality and ensure that neurotechnology is inclusive and empowering. We expect our network to take user needs and viewpoints into account and will facilitate this by linking with charities and engaging with patient groups through dedicated ‘user in the loop’ network events. 

CC3: Public engagement

The use of closed-loop neurotechnologies raise wider questions for society that can only be addressed through dialogue with the public. It is important that researchers offer realistic appraisals of the potential and limitations of new therapies, understand what the public wants and be sensitive to concerns about the possible harms of new technologies. Such dialogue is essential to maximise the benefits of transformative neurotechnologies to everyone in society. We are keen to explore imaginative approaches towards public engagement and will support for publicfacing activities by researchers within the network including work with schools and community groups, collaboration with artists and the development of hands-on interactive exhibits.

CC4: Diversity, inclusivity and openness

To improve scientific practice within this newly emerging field, will develop and promote ethical best practices for diversity, inclusion and openness across all dimensions, encompassing both the network and end-users of technology. Our network will be inclusive, accessible and supportive of all researchers interested in CNITs, regardless of academic status. We will develop an understanding of the diverging needs of various patient sub-groups that might have been previously marginalised from mainstream research. We will promote a public discussion of these and other ethical considerations through the public events that we will organise. To accelerate sound discovery of evidence with broad impact we will promote pre-registration of exploratory research and link it to benchmarking. We will also encourage and support early career researchers, by organising a dedicated student and ECR meeting and making a portion of the research funds available to develop their ideas.