May 2021 Explica
A few weeks ago, Elon Musk’s company Neuralink published an amazing video in which a nine-year-old monkey named Pager could be seen playing the classic video game Pong with his mind. At first, the monkey uses a joystick to interact with the computer while the devices installed in your brain read your activity brain and a computer decodes it. Once the technique is learned, the Neuralink team disconnects the joystick and Pager continues playing without using anything other than his brain implant: welcome to the future. This technology powered by Elon Musk aims to help patients with paralysis to use a computer or mobile phone using only their brain activity.
Although these types of projects can have very useful applications, they also have potential harm if not used properly: they could create soldiers with supercapacities or send impulses to our brains through a simple cochlear implant. Hence the need for the so-called ‘neuro-rights’ so they can’t ‘manipulate’ our brains. Neuro-rights drivers are neuroscientists “It is difficult to define the concept of neuro-rights. They are part of the new trend called fourth generation rights, that is, those rights that affect legal rights affected by genetics, bioengineering …”, says Vanesa Morente, collaborating professor at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas ICADE. “It is the scientists and not so much the legal experts who have led this initiative,” says Morente. The BRAIN project team, devised by the Spanish neurologist Rafael Yuste at Columbia University (New York), has spent years fighting for advances in artificial intelligence do not violate the rights of people.
Neuroscience is a fascinating universe where everything is yet to be discovered, the brain “is the only organ in the human body that we have not yet been able to fully decipher”, says Morente. Launched in 2013, the BRAIN project is an ambitious scientific initiative where the best specialists in the world seek to “map” the human brain in all its dimensions to decipher its functioning and be able to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression… “At present, these diseases are treated from the symptoms, but not from the root”, says Morente.
For their part, the experts propose five neuro-rights: the right to mental privacy, the right to personal identity, the right to free will, the right to increase neurocognition and the right to protection from biases. “Neural activity readers are being developed that can affect privacy. Imagine that they implant a device in me that is capable of reading what I am going to do and send it to a computer. It would be an absolute invasion of mental privacy. We need to know what can be done and how can this data be protected “Morente points out.
Private technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple … are investing “huge amounts of money” in developing this type of technology and “compete with the public, with the guarantor of human rights,” says the expert. That is why the last of the five rights raised is necessary: the protection of biases or as Morente calls it distributive justice: “It is necessary that we can all have access to the advances that neuroscience can produce. Discrimination must be prohibited and distributive justice promoted, as is now being demanded with the covid-19 vaccine. “
Governments are aware of the growing importance of regulating these rights and are beginning to open the debate to public opinion. Chile is just one step away from becoming the first country in the world to include neuro-rights in its Constitution, a project that academics, international organisations, other countries and large technology companies look at with a magnifying glass.
“In Chile the issue has already taken on a political body and that is a great step,” Morente celebrates, although he also points out that “one thing is recognition and another is a guarantee, it can remain as a mere toast to the sun. “ For its part, Spain presented last November the first draft of its Charter of Digital Rights, a “non-binding declaration of intent” on the subject of neuro-rights. “First we have to define well what they are and then start regulating,” says Morente.
The human rights expert suggests that perhaps the UN should take the lead on this issue to provide a global and universal definition of neuro-law. “We are in a global world. It is useless for Chile or Spain to recognise neuro-rights in a sectoral manner. On the contrary, neural havens can be created where to develop and install these devices. It must be clear that neuro-rights have to be regulated at a universal level, “Morente conclude