The rapid evolution of AI technologies has made a profound impact on the world of medicine, leading to significant advances in how technologies can interface with the human nervous system. But the use of AI-based neuroprostheses as medical devices raises a number of questions: Which AI-elements should future neuroprostheses incorporate or leave out? What technical design choices or regulatory measures are required to proceed safely? How can we support patients in clinical decision-making to avoid overblown hopes and to know—to borrow Thomas Nagel’s famous phrase—“what it’s like to have a hybrid mind”?
An international (Canadian, German and Swiss) research team coordinated by Professor Jennifer Chandler has been awarded a major 3-year grant from the European Research Area Networks (ERA-NET) program, worth a total of CAD $1.26 million (815,000 euros) provided by Canadian, German and Swiss national funders. The project is entitled “Hybrid Minds: Experiential, ethical and legal investigation of intelligent neuroprostheses” and addresses intelligent neuroprostheses, which represent the next phase in the evolution of devices integrated with the nervous system to assist, replace, or alter human sensory, motor, cognitive, and affective functions. These devices include “read out” or output systems that detect, interpret, and translate neural signals for various applications such as to move a robotic arm or cursor. They also include “write in” or input systems that deliver signals or stimulation to the brain to alter thinking, emotions, and the ability to move. The technology increasingly incorporates artificial intelligence to create devices characterized by mutual adaptation, in which both the user and a self-learning algorithm change over time to optimize system output. The integration of AI with human brains and minds into hybrid minds is a departure in terms of its complexity, unpredictability, and psychological impact. The project pursues a unified theoretical approach to the ethical-legal assessment of intelligent neuroprostheses, informed by the perspectives of users, the neuroengineering community and other key stakeholders.
The grant is funded by ERA-NET, which brings together predominantly European national funding agencies to provide a mechanism for the design and implementation of transnational activities. Specifically, the ERA-NET NEURON network supports basic, clinical and translational research in the diverse fields of disease-related neuroscience, and supports the research by Professor Chandler, as consortium coordinator, and her colleagues, Prof. Dr. Surjo Soekadar (Charité – University Medicine Berlin, Germany), Dr. Marcello Ienca (ETH Zurich – Department of Health, Sciences and Technology, Switzerland) and Dr. Jan Christoph Bublitz (Faculty of Law, University of Hamburg, Germany). The group benefits from a multidisciplinary and multi-national team of collaborators and advisors representing neurosurgery, neuroengineering, rehabilitation engineering, philosophical phenomenology, neuroethics, engineering ethics, and neurological patient policy and advocacy. The project also involves other researchers based at uOttawa: Professor Chandler’s colleagues in the University of Ottawa’s Brain Mind Research Institute, including Dr. Adam Sachs (Director of Neuromodulation and Functional Neurosurgery at the Ottawa Hospital), are key collaborators in this research project.
Congratulations to Professor Chandler and her colleagues! The Common Law Section wishes them success with this important research.