Neurorobotics exists at the intersection of neuroscience and robotics. Some of the ethical concerns raised by the technology are inherited by its parent(s). Worker safety, systems reliability, and unconscious biases, to name a few. But with new technology comes new ethical and social challenges. A recent publication offers an important first step towards responsible neurorobotics.

Dual-use, public-private partnerships, and data governance may be areas of particular interest, according to the authors of a recent Science and Engineering Ethics publication.

“As with all research and innovation, it is important that we keep reflecting on the ethical and social aspects of it. This needs to be an ongoing activity, driven and informed by the scientific and technical experts. We believe responsible research and innovation (RRI) and ethics dialogues offer robust starting points to this process” says Bernd Stahl, one of the authors.

The paper was co-authored by technical experts and social science and humanities researchers, who maintain that continuous and collaborative reflection is central to ensure responsible neurorobotics. Within the Human Brain Project, RRI and ethics dialogues offer a robust starting point. With its focus on anticipation, reflection, engagement, and action. A reliable foundation for the more high-level and policy-oriented recommendations outlined in the publication.

Neurorobotics is a combination of neuroscience, robotics, and information technology. Interdisciplinary collaboration is central to establishing frameworks for what responsible neurorobotics could look like. And also makes it easier to involve external stakeholders in the process, allowing their voices to be heard.

Undertaking research and innovation activities with a continuous focus on the ethical and social concerns raised by brain research is key to remaining responsible and ensuring developments in neurorobotics are socially acceptable and desirable as well as ethically sound.

Aicardi C., Akintoye, S., Fothergill, B.T. et al. Ethical and Social Aspects of Neurorobotics. Science and Engineering Ethics (2020). DOI: 10.1007/s11948-020-00248-8

By Anna Holm

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