Policy ForumTechnology and Ethics

Help, hope, and hype: Ethical dimensions of neuroprosthetics

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Science  30 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1338-1339
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7731

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Brain-controlled prosthetic robots that restore independent activities of daily living to paralyzed people are about to enter everyday life environments (1). The regained ability to grasp a cup of coffee, hand over a credit card, or sign a document with a pen (1) enhances the independence and self-determination of severely paralyzed individuals. However, introducing devices controlled via brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) into everyday environments, possibly enhancing the capabilities of able-bodied people to interact with digital devices, raises a number of ethical and social challenges in the areas of (i) autonomy, responsibility, and accountability; (ii) data security and privacy; and (iii) managing end-user expectations about a promising field of medical advances. We here take a closer look at these issues and suggest some possible answers to addressing them.