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Ethics and Technology
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Ethics and Technology


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Bouke van Balen

Delft University of Technology
Eindhoven University of Technology
UMC Utrecht
PhD student


Brain Computer Interfaces are rapidly developing neurotechnologies that allow users to control a computer with their brains. This technology can assist people who are 'locked-in' (fully paralysed yet conscious) to communicate without functioning motor capabilities. The promise of this assistive technology is enormous, because communication is central to people's quality of life and sense of personhood in general. However, implantable BCIs raise serious ethical concerns regarding for instance (mental) privacy, informed consent and epistemic uncertainty. At the same time, this technology is asking us a deeper question about what it means to be a person. What are the essential elements of personhood? How crucial (or necessary) are faculties such as communication, relationality, autonomy to consider oneself and be considered as a 'full' person? How do BCIs mediate communication, identity, and personhood? All in all, this raises the question:

How do BCIs disrupt our concept of personhood, and what are the moral implications of this disruption?

This is the leading question of my PhD-dissertation. I work with a research group of neuroscientists and doctors in the UMC Utrecht who are the first in the world to develop a BCI for home use. My research is part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies (ESDiT) programme, where we research questions on the intersection of philosophy, ethics, technology, engineering and the social sciences.