Workshop participants. Photo credits: HBP Education

Winter-Gladys Wanjiku and Inga Ulnicane

The 2nd Human Brain Project (HBP) Curriculum Workshop ‘Research, ethics & societal impact. Dual use and responsible research: ethical challenges’ took place at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm from the 14th to the 17th of November 2018. This workshop showcased the interdisciplinary nature of not only the HBP itself, but the dual use of brain science and the societal impacts this may have. Hence, the purpose of the workshop was to offer a space for discussing both the disciplinary aspects of the HBP, such as neuroscience and medicine, and the wider interdisciplinary aspects such as dual-use and responsible research and innovation (RRI). In order to engage as wide a range of students and researchers as possible with these topics, the workshop was open to all.

With lectures covering topics such as the fascinating chemistry behind drug addiction and the revolutionary technology CRISPR that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of a genome, the interest in the workshop was high. The collaborative nature of the HBP meant that a range of academic disciplines and research areas were able to contribute to the discussion around both the technological developments and the wider implications of the HBP, which gave a great deal of insight into the work carried out behind the scenes to make such a broad research project function.

The workshop organizer Abdul K. Mohammed opened the event with introduction about the rich history of Karolinska Institute that includes work of several Nobel Prize winners which also has dual use aspects. Michele Farisco gave the first lecture in which he discussed results from his recent article on neuroscience and ethics of drug addiction (Farisco, Evers and Changeux 2018). By using the case of opioids, he demonstrated the dual use of medication that helps to treat pain but also has many side effects of addiction. This was a thought-provoking talk about ethics and socio-economic aspects of addiction, as it gave insight to the real problems of today’s society and how they may be overcome.

Responsible Research and Innovation

HBP Ethics Director Bernd Stahl introduced the RRI approach which is currently used as a framework for many research activities including the Ethics and Society subproject of the HBP. He discussed relative merits and limitations of RRI which allows a more intelligent conversation about research and innovation to occur however it is not a panacea because it cannot predict the future and avoid all problems arising from research, innovation and technology.

Workshop participants. Photo credits: HBP Education

One of the key areas of RRI, according to the European Commission, is the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation which was addressed in the talk given by Karin Grasenick and Harald Kleinberger-Pierer. They explored guiding questions for diversity and gender sensitive research projects, for example, how diversity aspects are taken into account in different concepts and theoretical models and whether different interpretations of results are conceivable. Simisola Akintoye and Lise Bitsch tackled another key aspect of RRI, namely public engagement. While Simisola Akintoye discussed different ways to involve citizens as partners in research projects, Lise Bitsch shared insights from public engagement in the HBP which so far has focused on data protection, privacy and dual use, and in future will explore attitudes to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Dual Use

Some of the cutting-edge topics of dual use technologies were addressed in Malcolm Dando’s talk on preventing chemical weapons. It was a great opportunity for the participants to listen to his lecture exactly at the time when his article on this topic was published in Science (Crowley, Shang and Dando 2018). His talk focused on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), explaining new challenges for the implementation of CWC arising from the convergence of sciences as well as from changing external environment.

Discussion on dual use and RRI. Photo credits: HBP Education

A roundtable discussion on dual use and RRI concluded the first day. It highlighted many important questions about relationship between civilian and military research, the role of scientists in dual use and the need to educate and raise awareness about dual use topics. Many of these questions are addressed in a recently published Opinion on Responsible Dual Use in neuroscience and neurotechnology that sets out directions for future activities within and beyond the HBP.

Emerging Technologies: Opportunities, Risks & Governance

Inga Ulnicane started the second day with a talk on governance and policies for responsible AI. AI being one of the disruptive technologies of our times presents great promises for well-being and growth yet simultaneously raises major ethical and societal concerns about equality, inclusion and accountability. One of the key questions of her talk was what policies and governance mechanisms can facilitate the use of AI for tackling Grand societal challenges in areas such as health, environment and energy (Ulnicane 2016).

In the following lecture on cognition, plasticity and ethics, Sebastian Porsdam-Mann discussed various approaches to cognitive enhancement which can include lifestyle factors – such as exercise, diet and nutrition as well as pharmacological enhancement. He highlighted the ethical and legal aspects of using pharmacological methods of enhancement. At the end of the second day, one of the workshop participants Jie Gao presented her research on cognitive sciences and education.

Team-based learning. Photo credits: HBP Education

Afternoon of the second day was dedicated to the team-based learning on dual use. It was led by Simon Whitby and Malcolm Dando, and focused on ethical, legal and social implications of CRISPR. In preparation for the team-based learning exercise, participants were asked to read materials on CRISPR technology, its development and applications. At the beginning of the exercise, all participants had to undertake an individual readiness assessment test which was followed by a team readiness assessment test. The results clearly indicated the benefits of teamwork.

Team-based learning. Photo credits: HBP Education

During the afternoon, teams worked through a number of questions about the benefits and risks of using CRISPR technologies, required governance and oversight mechanisms, and compliance with relevant international and national regulations. To learn more about this transformative technology, the leaders of the exercise suggested to read the book ‘A Crack in Creation’ (Doudna and Sternberg 2018). This was a good suggestion and the book turned out to be an exciting holiday reading for some of us.   

Agenda for future: dual use, AI & more

Manuel Guerrero started the third and final day of the workshop with a talk on data use and ethical issues in HBP. He introduced participants to processes and mechanisms that have been developed in the HBP to deal with ethical and data use issues. The workshop ended with an open discussion round. Participants clearly indicated their interest and need to learn more about the workshop topics. Students highlighted that all lecturers had been very approachable which allowed students to learn not only from lectures but also from informal conversations. However, students also mentioned that the introduction of participation fees was a major barrier for many.

To sum up, the workshop raised many questions about broader aspects of building bridges between researchers and the public, risks and opportunities of emerging technologies, and the dual nature of technology. Although not all of these questions were answered, the workshop was successful in seeking to raise awareness and advance the debate around these issues. Many of these questions will be addressed in forthcoming work on responsible dual use and AI in the HBP.

Lectures and team-based learning exercise were filmed and will made be available online. While we are waiting for videos from the Stockholm workshop, those interested can watch a team-based learning exercise from the 1st HBP ethics workshop and the HBP online ethics course.


Crowley, M., Shang, L. and M.Dando (2018) Preventing chemical weapons as sciences converge, Science 16 Nov 2018: Vol. 362, Issue 6416, pp. 753-755. DOI:

Doudna, J. and S.Sternberg (2018) A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution. Vintage.

Farisco, M., Evers, K. and J-P- Changeux (2018) Drug Addiction: From Neuroscience to Ethics, Frontiers in Psychiatry 9:595. DOI:  

Ulnicane, I. (2016) ‘Grand Challenges’ concept: A Return of the ‘Big Ideas’ in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy? International Journal of Foresight and Innovation Policy 11(1-3): 5-21. DOI: 10.1504/IJFIP.2016.078378

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