The risks and challenges of neurotechnologies for human rights

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The risks and challenges of neurotechnologies for human rights

Neurotechnology, and the ethics surrounding it, are among the most important and pressing issues of the day. Substance use and mental and neurological disorders account for more than 10% of the disease burden worldwide, incurring huge economic costs. The two most common mental disorders alone (anxiety and depression) account for $1 trillion in global losses each year.1 This burden is only expected to grow in the coming decades as the world’s population ages. According to the latest projections from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the number of people aged 65 and over will double to 1.5 billion by 2050.2 In light of this, advancements in neurotechnology offer us renewed hope in its potential to provide new treatments and to improve preventive and therapeutic options for the millions of individuals who suffer from neurological and mental illnesses. This is particularly pertinent in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread digital transformation, which have had significant effects on mental health worldwide. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alone, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression rose by 25%.3 The application of neurotechnology goes far beyond the medical sphere. As you will see several authors discuss in this publication, it possesses the immense potential to improve student learning and cognition. Neurotechnology also facilitates features such as thought-to-text creation, as well as virtual and augmented reality systems that are supported by brain control and can be used for entertainment. These exciting possibilities have naturally driven rapidly growing investment into neurotechnology. The latest research shows that the total amount invested in neurotech firms reached $33.2 billion in 2021, a 60% increase on the previous year.

However, while we celebrate the vast opportunities offered by the advancement of neurotechnology, if we are to reap collective benefits for all of humanity we must also tackle the novel ethical and human rights challenges that arise with the development and deployment of neurotechnology.

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