Dual-use neuroscience

Development of new neuroscientific techniques and technologies – both within the Human Brain Project (HBP) – and more broadly - are enabling increasing capability to assess and affect the structure and functions of the brain. While principally oriented toward clinical/medical applications, the ability to evaluate and engage neural functions operative in cognition, emotion and behaviour renders such methods and tools viable and of potential value to employment beyond clinical care.

Such “dual uses” of brain science have been previously considered, but ambiguity exists regarding exact conceptual definition, and the range and intent of possible uses. Of particular concern is neuroscientific research that could/can be employed in political, military, and warfare operations. Such research activities include approaches to assessing and/or modifying human thought, feelings and actions (e.g.- for cognitive and behavioural performance enhancement), and the development of drugs, microbes, toxins, and devices that could be used as weapons (i.e.- “neuroweapons”) to affect the nervous system and alter opponents’ cognitive state(s), behaviours, health, or in some cases, to incur lethal consequences.

Defining the capabilities of such types of research, as well as their potential/probability for use-in-practice are key steps toward developing recommendations for guidelines and policies to direct research within the HBP, and perhaps the neuroscientific community at-large. As well, it is important to evaluate and address both currently used systems of ethics and extant regulatory approaches (e.g. - international conventions, treaties, laws, etc.) that guide and govern dual-use brain science, in order to remain forward-looking, descriptive, conceptually informed, predictive, preparatory, analytic, and precautionary for contingencies and exigencies that can occur as neuroscientific and neurotechnological research – and the environments in which it may be used - evolve. 

Aims

  • To clarify concepts of dual use (including dual use research of concern – DURC) with emphasis upon possible domains, types and developments of brain research that could be specifically employed for political, military and/or warfare purposes.
  • To address: (a) emerging neuroscientific research (within the HBP and elsewhere) that could have dual use capabilities; (b) ethical issues generated by such research and its potential applications in these ways; (c) various ethical approaches employed to assess and guide dual use brain science; and (d) international frameworks for regulating/governing both research and use of weaponizable brain science.
  • To develop recommendations regarding engagement, scope and conduct of dual use brain science that are both directly applicable to the HBP, and that may serve as a basis for wider application/use within the international neuroscientific and regulatory policy communities.
  • To engage discourse with representative stakeholders (e.g.- from the research community, the military and national security and defence organizations; policy-makers; the public)  to address key issues relevant to guiding/regulating both research and use-in-practice.
  • To develop and implement educational and training programs for professionals (in science, policy, military studies) and the public to provide clear and accurate information regarding the capabilities, limitations, and potential applications of dual-use brain science.

Time Table

Ongoing since 2016

Publications

Evers K, Farisco M, Giordano J, Salles A (2017) Dual Use in Neuroscientific and Neurotechnological Research. A Report on Background, Developments and Recommendations for Ethical Address, Assessment and Guidance of Human Brain Project Activities. HBP Neuroethics and Philosophy (SP-12) CRB-Uppsala University Report.

Palchik G, Chen C, Giordano J. (2017) Monkey business? Development, influence and ethics of potentially dual-use brain science on the world stage.  Neuroethics 10: 1-3

Giordano J. (2017) Weaponizing the brain: Neuroscience advancements spark debate. National Defense, 6: 20-21.

Tennison M, Giordano J, Moreno J. (2017) Security threats versus aggregated truths: Ethical issues in use of neuroscience and technology for national security. In: Illes J, Hussain S (eds.) Neuroethics: Anticipating the Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gerstein D, Giordano J. (forthcoming 2017) Rethinking the Biological Toxin and Weapons Convention? Health Security.

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