Neuroenhancement: An opened debate to society
The existence of substances and devices that improve brain capacities such as memory, learning, creativity or concentration is already a reality: it is the neuroenhancement. However, their research and use raises many questions: should they be regulated as medical technologies or as devices for recreational use? Is its application as a preventive treatment of cerebral aging justified? Will inequalities be generated between citizens who use them and those who do not?
A research team led by Winnie Toonders of Radboud University in Nijmegen (The Netherlands), firmly believes that researchers and developers of these technologies should be aware of the opinions of society and its different groups (consumers, patients, educators, etc.). They also claim that this approach or dialogue should not be performed at the end of the process, when the product is already in the market, but at the beginning, when the research is still in its earliest phase. In an article published in the journal Nanoethics, this team shows the benefits of establishing scenarios for dialogue between researchers and different groups affected or interested in these technologies.
In the framework of the European project Neuroenhancement: Responsible Research and Innovation (NERRI), the scientific team has developed mutual learning exercises, in which different publics (researchers, potential users, students, media, etc.) are gathered in order to exhibit their views, experiences and concerns regarding the application of neuroenhancement in society. Since it was launched in 2013 and with the aim of initiating a public deliberation on the neuroenhancement, the NERRI project has organized more than sixty exercises of mutual learning in eleven European cities.
To encourage in-depth dialogues, mutual learning exercises employ innovative methods developed in challenging environments. Thus, "through games, performances, scientific coffees and other dynamics, mutual learning exercises become the contemporary version of Socratic agoras," says Gema Revuelta, co-author of the study and director of the Studies Center for Science, Communication and Society of the Pompeu Fabra University (CCS-UPF). And adds, "They create a scenario in which multiple voices share different perspectives, allowing a better ability to adapt emerging technologies to the expectations and values of society."
While emerging technologies will affect social culture, these technologies will also be affected by social and cultural dynamics. Via their active involvement, citizens become the co-authors rather than the targets of technological change, sharing the responsibility for our future among all people and institutions affected by and involved in research and innovation practices.
Reference work: Hub Zwart, Jonna Brenninkmeijer, Peter Eduard, Lotte Krabbenborg, Sheena Laursen, Gema Revuelta, Winnie Toonders. Reflection as a Deliberative and Distributed Practice: Assessing Neuro-Enhancement Technologies via Mutual Learning Exercises (MLEs). Nanoethics, Marzo 2016. DOI 10.1007/s11569-017-0287-4