Stage 8
17:30 - 18:30
The end for freedom of thought? On the commercial use of big brain data


“So what if you could type with your brain?" - Tech companies such as Facebook invest millions in the development of neurotechnology for consumers. At the same time, big data and advanced machine learning enable better decoding of brain data. This development evokes worrying scenarios: What are the ethical, legal and social challenges if brain data from consumer neurotechnology is collected on a large scale? Are brain data a special kind of biomedical data requiring special protection?


The session will start with a video showing parts of the web documentary "Homo Digitalis". The panelists will then discuss, together with the audience, the ethical, legal and social implications of the convergence of consumer neurotechnology with big data and advanced machine learning.

After all, the brain is not any old organ: it is the seat of our feelings, desires, personality, attitude, creativity and thoughts. Gaining access to this rich trove of highly personal biometric data via advanced neurotechnology may be an enticing prospect for companies that want to harness this data for potentially unprecedented levels of personalization of their services, e.g. targeted advertising. Yet, thus far, there is no wide ranging public disocurse or deliberation of the potential threats of this development for the privileged privacy and the freedom of our thoughts, feelings and other mental states. Do existing regimens for protecting biomedical data suffice to manage this potential flood of Big Brain Data? Can technology, such as blockchain, federated learning or differential privacy, protect users' brain data from unwarranted access and commercial exploitation? Who will decide over the priorities for research and applications as experts in data science and machine learning systematically move from public research institutions to the private sector?

In the first part of the session, we will present the benefits and risks of this scenario from a medical, scientific, legal and neuroethical perspective. In the second part, we will engage the audience in discussing and deliberating about possible solutions for these ethical, legal and social challenges.