Neurorights: What happens if our brain is connected to a computer?
While the goal of neurotechnology is to improve people's quality of life, the ability to access and manipulate a system as critical as the brain can be catastrophic if it falls into the wrong hands.
Last month Chile became the first country in the world to recognize neurorights and incorporate them into its constitution. From the sanction of the neurorights law it is established "that scientific and technological development will be at the service of people and that it will be carried out with respect for life and physical and mental integrity", explains the text of the law . The norm “will regulate the requirements, conditions and restrictions of the technology for its use in people. The norm must safeguard, especially, brain activity, as well as the information coming from it”.
To better understand this law and the impact it has on people's lives, we must begin by understanding what neurorights are.
Neurorights make up the legal framework of human rights specifically aimed at protecting the brain and its activity as advances in neurotechnology occur. Any technology that records or interferes with brain activity is defined as neurotechnology and combined with machine learning and current advances could have the potential to fundamentally alter our society.
This concept was developed by the NeuroRights Foundation and its objective is to protect the human rights of all people from the possible misuse or abuse of neurotechnology.
Perhaps this may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but the truth is that today technologies are already being developed that interact with the human mind and all the information and thoughts stored there.
The best known neurotech company is Neuralink , developed by Eleon Musk. Among his most outstanding projects is the Neuralink sensor, a tiny probe that contains more than 3,000 electrodes connected to flexible wires, which can monitor the activity of 1,000 brain neurons. The sensor is capable of collecting real-time information on brain activity recorded by the sensors and sending it to a computer or smartphone for processing. The project aims to treat different diseases caused by neurological disorders.
Another example is the brain device developed by scientists at the University of California to 'eliminate' negative thoughts through electrical stimulation. Research published earlier this month demonstrates its effectiveness in treating a severely depressed patient.
In these cases, neurotechnology seeks to improve the quality of life of people through access and interaction with the processes and information of the brain. However, the ability to access and manipulate a system as critical as the brain can be catastrophic if it falls into the wrong hands.
To reduce the abuse of neurotechnology, five fundamental rights are established:
Mental privacy: The 'data' obtained from a person's neural activity is private and belongs to the person. They cannot be commercialized or transferred and can only be stored with the express consent of the person. In addition, they must be eliminated at the request of the same.
Personal identity: Technology cannot alter a person's 'sense of self'. In other words, the identity of the person must be protected, since the line between the conscience of a person and external technological contributions could be blurred.
Free will: People must be able to make decisions freely and autonomously, that is, without any manipulation mediated by neurotechnologies.
Equitable access: The improvements in brain capacities introduced by neurotechnology should be available to everyone, so that they do not generate inequality in society.
Protection against bias: Countermeasures to combat bias should be the norm for algorithms in neurotechnology, since this prevents people from being discriminated against based on the data obtained by neurotechnology.
The data obtained by devices with access to the brain could be used to identify emotions or behavior patterns and associate them with specific stimuli or even interfere or manipulate the person's brain activity. What would be the impact of using this data for marketing purposes?
If today there is already a debate about the value of the information that users themselves provide to technology companies through applications and social networks, imagine the value that a person's neurological data could have. If laws such as the GDPR in Europe, LGPD in Brazil or CCPA in California are currently applied to limit and protect people's digital information, it is necessary to think about regulations that also regulate access and manipulation of digital data generated from of a person's thoughts.
Undoubtedly, advances in neurotechnology not only give rise to the debate on new rights, but also present great challenges for information security.
In terms of privacy and security, there are still many unknowns to be resolved. Although neurorights provide a protective framework for mental integrity and indemnity against the advances and capabilities of technology, they still have to be put into practice. In this sense, a regulation that effectively protects the rights of users of these technologies is necessary, paying special attention to their privacy and cognitive freedom.
On the other hand, new challenges arise in terms of computer security, since both the neurological devices and the systems that process the information obtained must be carefully protected to prevent them from being compromised. We are talking about highly critical information that is unprecedented, being transferred and processed by computer systems. If we take into account the experience with IoT devices and the lack of security in many of these connected devices, the picture is not very encouraging.
The brain will soon be the new space of dispute between big technology companies and cybercriminals. In addition to laws, we will need robust protection technologies that can protect neurological devices and the systems to which they are connected. If we have learned anything throughout history, it is that laws and security are often late in the face of new technologies. In this instance, where recognizing neurorights is the first step to protect the mental integrity of people, it is essential to continue working on the implementation of regulations and security measures that guarantee these rights, before it is too late.