Understanding neuroethics in an increasingly global world: an interview with Data Privacy Officer Matt Bosworth

Our Data Privacy Officer, Matt Bosworth, recently attended the Global Neuroethics Summit (GNS) in Seoul, South Korea. Here is what he had to say about some of the key issues that were brought up.

What were the major themes of the conference?

From my perspective, the major themes were:

  • Cross cultural ethics; how cultural norms can impact ethics.
  • Identification of important topics for research in neuroethics.
  • Curriculum development for training neuroscientists and engineers in how to approach these questions.
  • Communication best practices for advances in neuroscience and neurotech and how to overcome fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

The 2018 GNS program further describes this year’s series as taking an “important culturally informed strategy for addressing the societal and ethical implications of emerging neuroscience and neurotechnologies. As neuroscience is now a global endeavor, neuroethics must be equally prepared to address global values.”

Was there a key takeaway?

That there are real, important differences in the ethics of neuroscience between cultures, and that understanding and bridging those gaps is vital for improving coordination between research groups.

Is there anything people should know about contributing biometric data?

In my opinion, the key thing that people should understand about contributing any data, biometric or otherwise, is the difference between privacy and security.  Data services, and especially biometric data services consider security an important part of their strategy. These companies place a huge value on their data, and generally make a point of protecting it.

However, selling or sharing that data is not a breach of security, it’s a breach of privacy. A company can have the best security in the world and still share data in ethically questionable ways.

Did the issue of  “brain hacking” come up and can you please explain what it is?

“Brain hacking” came up in the context of curriculum development and communication. “Hacking” in particular is a word with an interesting etymology; wikipedia includes two definitions:

  1. An adherent of the technology and programming subculture.
  2. Someone who is able to subvert computer security. If doing so for malicious purposes, the person can also be called a cracker.

As a result, “brain hacking” can refer to tips and tricks to improve cognition (see the O’Reilly title, Mind Hacks); it can refer to the potential danger of subverting a neural implant; or most recently, it can refer to the use of neuroscience to create addictive behavior.

Part of the education discussion at the summit revolved around reclaiming the narrative.  The race to the bottom occurring in modern media rewards articles which instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt; painting dystopian possibilities which can slow or stop advances in neuroscience.  But “brain hacking” also has a more positive connotation, and the neuroscience community needs to popularize the ways in which neuroscience can improve individuals, communities, and societies.

Matthew Bosworth is Director of Cloud and Data Engineering and the Data Protection Officer at EMOTIV, the global leader in contextualized neuroinformatics.  At EMOTIV he is responsible for the privacy, security, and availability of one of the world’s largest databases of EEG data. Previously, Mr Bosworth was Principal Research Software Engineer and a member of the HIPAA Technical Working Group at NeuroPace, where he was responsible for the world’s largest database of ambulatory ECoG recordings. His professional experience includes engineering, management, and entrepreneurship.  He has participated in both GDPR and HIPAA implementations. Additionally he has significant experience in firmware development, database architecture, web engineering, and cross-cultural engineering management. He earned his MS in computer engineering at the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems at Carnegie Mellon University, and his BS in computer engineering at Tulane University. In his spare time he enjoys international travel, bicycle touring, and yoga.

More information about the Global Neuroethics Summit is available at globalneuroethicssummit.com