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Ethical Issues in Brain–Computer Interface Research, Development, and Dissemination

Vlek, Rutger J. MSc; Steines, David MSc; Szibbo, Dyana MSc; Kübler, Andrea Prof.; Schneider, Mary-Jane PhD; Haselager, Pim PhD; Nijboer, Femke PhD

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: June 2012 - Volume 36 - Issue 2 - p 94–99
doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e31825064cc
Special Interest Articles

The steadily growing field of brain–computer interfacing (BCI) may develop useful technologies, with a potential impact not only on individuals, but also on society as a whole. At the same time, the development of BCI presents significant ethical and legal challenges. In a workshop during the 4th International BCI meeting (Asilomar, California, 2010), six panel members from various BCI laboratories and companies set out to identify and disentangle ethical issues related to BCI use in four case scenarios, which were inspired by current experiences in BCI laboratories. Results of the discussion are reported in this article, touching on topics such as the representation of persons with communication impairments, dealing with technological complexity and moral responsibility in multidisciplinary teams, and managing expectations, ranging from an individual user to the general public. Furthermore, we illustrate that where treatment and research interests conflict, ethical concerns arise. On the basis of the four case scenarios, we discuss salient, practical ethical issues that may confront any member of a typical multidisciplinary BCI team. We encourage the BCI and rehabilitation communities to engage in a dialogue, and to further identify and address pressing ethical issues as they occur in the practice of BCI research and its commercial applications.

Radboud University Nijmegen, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, The Netherlands (R.J.V., P.H.); University of Illinois, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois (D.St.); NeuroSky Brain-Computer Interface Technologies, San Jose, California (D.Sz.); University of Würzburg, Department of Psychology I, Würzburg, Germany (A.K.); Laboratory of Neural Injury and Repair, Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Albany, and Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior, School of Public Health, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany (M.-J.S.); and Human-Media Interaction Group, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands (F.N.).

Correspondence: F. Nijboer, Human Media Interaction, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, the Netherlands; E-mail: Femke.Nijboer@utwente.nl

This study was supported by the BrainGain Smart Mix Programme of the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and by the Information and Communication Technologies Coordination and Support Action “FutureBNCI” within the FP7 framework, Project Number 248320.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

© 2012 Neurology Section, APTA