Simple solutions to complex issues? Technology and the human brain



Neurotechnological developments could shift focus away from complexity and careful consideration of the human condition. In a recent paper, SIENNA’s Yasemin J Erden writes about the convergence of neuroscience, neurotechnology, psychiatry, and artificial intelligence for diagnostic processes. And how taking an over-optimistic approach to technology developments might result in a simplistic view on complex issues like mental illness and psychiatric disorder. 

(Image removed) Yasemin J Erden, University of Twente

Neurotechnologies offer the possibility for fast and efficient psychiatric insights that are not easily available through conventional means. Recording and processing brain signals offers the possibility to have information from ‘beneath the skull’. 

In a recent Science and Engineering Ethics paper, the authors describe how new developments in neurotechnology can be used to evaluate human behaviours and human functioning. In psychiatry, for example, using neural data in patient assessment and diagnosis might soon be common practice. This could be of great use to clinical psychiatrists. However, the approach introduces some ethical issues. 

“When we introduce new technology to complement human tasks that include interpersonal communication and dialogue, there is a risk of minimising the valuable roles of human perspective, and of emphasising other values, like increasing speed or lowering cost. There is a need to be vigilant here. And within psychiatry especially, as there is a risk of neglecting the necessary complexity of many mental health and psychiatric conditions” says Yasemin J Erden, postdoc at University of Twente and one of the authors. 

New and emerging technologies benefit both individuals and society. But they also challenge our notions of what is ethical. SIENNA will provide frameworks to help develop research ethics protocols, professional ethical codes and better legal frameworks.

On 14 December at 14:00 CET, Yasemin J Erden will host a webinar introducing our ethical guidelines for human enhancement technologies. Soon thereafter we will launch a public consultation of these guidelines. To be notified as soon as we do, and to get the latest news from the SIENNA project, make sure you sign up to receive our newsletter! 

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By Anna Holm

Rainey S, Erden YJ, Correcting the Brain? The Convergence of Neuroscience, Neurotechnology, Psychiatry, and Artificial Intelligence, Science and Engineering Ethics, 26, 2439-2454, 2020





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