What is it that makes us human? Our brain is more complex than the brain of other animals. It has made us able to use tools, control fire, build supercomputers and explore the universe. Digital tools allow us to learn more about the brain. What we learn is embedded in, and dependent on growing worlds of data and tools of automation. Therefore, we find ourselves facing complex philosophical, social, and ethical, questions – and questions about how this knowledge should influence our societies, healthcare, and everyday lives.

Over the last 10 years, we have developed a new methodological approach to philosophical and neuroethical reflection that promotes integration of scientific, conceptual, social and ethical perspectives to analyse the nature of consciousness and criteria for assessing its presence in humans, non-human animals, and machines; social and cultural influences on the developing brain’s architecture; the use of digital twins to understand and help treat human brain pathologies; and the ethical and philosophical issues that arise through AI research and its applications.

We asked over 3400 citizens across 19 European countries about how they think Brain science should embrace data protection, data -and neuroethics, AI and dual use issues. We found that citizens want: Information that is easy to find and understand. They want to know about the outcomes of research. Tjeu also want protection, safety, and accountability, oversight and proactive prevention of misuse. They are concerned about commercial exploitation of public research. And they want to be heard on directions and priorities of research.

We have developed a Data governance framework for the Human Brain Project and the EBRAINS infrastructure built on people, processes and technology. Including a Data Policy Manual, a management process for ethics compliance, governance policies for the EU research infrastructure EBRAINS, where we have implemented robust access control model, terms of use, a data provision protocol and data use agreement, ensuring ethically responsible, socially acceptable and legally compliant data processing pipelines and work-flows. 

We developed a novel approach to dual use of concern in brain research that considers a range of concerning uses, covering political, security, intelligence and military domains. The approach has been developed in collaboration between scientists and experts inside and outside the Human Brain Project. This broader approach to dual use of concern has been crucial in raising awareness about responsible brain research, because it includes proactive reflection and action.

We take equality, diversity and inclusion seriously and have collaborated across different levels of the human brain project. We have involved everyone, from leaders to students. We have created tools and guidelines that enables critical reflection and practical implementation of equality, diversity and inclusion across the project.

Our work has also highlighted the importance of considering gender and other variables to improve our understanding of the brain. Working proactively to counteract biases in brain inspired AI models and brain research.

We created spaces for dialogue between Human Brain Project researchers, experts, and stakeholders. These dialogues have helped us look at the future implications of brain technologies through the lens of the and knowledge developed in the Human Brain Project. This work has contributed to shaping policies on data governance, public engagement and neuroscience, But also as roadmaps for co-creating research in EBRAINS, and communities of users of the services offered by EBRAINS and the Human Brain Project.

Our parting gift is an intellectual legacy spanning 10 years of publications and insights. A vision for Ethics and Society in brain research that is embracing human rights, the inclusion of citizens, vulnerable and marginalised groups, and  that integrates diversity and gender as research topics. A full and free online training resource to build capacity for addressing ethical and social issues for societal benefit tested by more than 300 people in the Human Brain Project.  And a hands-on toolkit for proactive reflection on social and ethical issues in brain research.

Want to know more? Take a look at the legacy of the ethical, societal and reflective work in the Human Brain Project at https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/en/science-development/ethics-and-society/

This text is a transcript of a video developed by the Human Brain Project team at the Danish Board of Technology. Watch it on the Human Brain Project’s YouTube channel.

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