Citizen workshops: Dual use of Human Brain Project’s research

November 25, 2017 9:30 am → March 3, 2018 4:00 pm

As part of a large citizen consultation the Human Brain Project hosted five face-to-face workshops on November 25th 2017 in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Slovakia on potential dual use of HBP research and of neuroscience in general. Three additional workshop were arranged in February and March 2018 in Lithuania, Malta and United Kingdom. The purpose of the face-to-face consultations was to investigate how the public views the possible dilemmas related to dual use of neuroscience to thereby provide recommendations to the research communities, particularly the HBP researchers and managers, and to provide insights into the societal concerns, needs, and aspirations connected to their work.

In all countries the citizen consultations were day-long workshops, and prior to the consultations the citizens received with information material and a short intro film about HBP, neuroscience and potential dual use. During the day the citizens deliberated and reflected on each other’s concerns and opinions about issues related to potential dual use – or political, security, intelligence, or military purposes – of HBP research and of neuroscience in general. The issues discussed at the workshop included overall principles for dual use of research, and the future uses of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Brain-Computer Interfaces in the fields of medicine and neuroscience.


Outcomes of the face-to-face consultations:

The research showed that the citizens were generally concerned about the HBP research and the potential uses that it could be put to.
The participating citizens were most frequently concerned about how these technological advances could lead to or be used for dehumanization of society, reduction of self-determination and free will, manipulation and political and social control and, lastly, privacy and surveillance. Central to this was that it was not the user that was primary to the participating citizens’ concerns. Rather, it was the use itself. To them, dual use could also be beneficial. In addition, they considered PSIM use to be inevitable.

The overall conclusion of the face-to-face workshops was that the citizens, despite their concerns, were in favour of continuing neuroscience research even if it could have dual use, as long as it contributes to developing society, science and technology in a beneficial way. They generally considered the positive aspects of neuroscience research to outweigh the negative ones, and emphasized the potential benefits related to medicine, particularly in relation to medical treatment and diagnostics.

The citizens’ support for continued neuroscience research was contingent on the development of international legislation and ethical guidelines for the research and use of neuroscience, and they suggested setting up a monitoring and enforcement body. To the citizens, policy-makers should play a central role in defining what neuroscience research and use is acceptable.


The results of the face-to-face consultations have been presented in a report for each workshop, as well as a synthesis report concluding on all workshops.
The individual country reports and the synthesis report can be found below.


The citizen face-to-face workshops on dual use were accompanied by an online survey carried out during the autumn of 2017, which was promoted in ten European countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia (report here). The result of the consultation as a whole, is presented in the brief Dealing with dual use of HBP research – The citizens’ perspective (August 2018). This work also contributed to the brief on citizens opinions about dual use and the official Opinion from the Ethics & Society subproject.

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