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Data watchdog sounds neurotech discrimination warning

neurotech discrimination
Concept art for Elon Musk's Neuralink chip. Image credit: Neuralink

The UK data watchdog has warned that neurotech has a “real danger” of bias and discrimination if proper precautions are not made.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today that developments in neurotech – technology that interfaces with the brain or nervous system – could lead to discrimination against people if they are not “put at the heart of their development”.

The regulator said that technology that monitors neurodata will become widespread in the next decade. One such company is Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is developing brain implants that it hopes to one day commercialise.

Neurotech is currently most commonly used in the healthcare sector to predict, diagnose and treat complex conditions. The ICO, however, has said the tech will likely expand beyond the tightly regulated medical industry and be deployed across personal wellbeing, sports, marketing and other consumer industries.

The regulator said that without proper testing on a wide range of subjects, and various groups – notably neurodivergent people – there will be a risk of discrimination.

“To many, the idea of neurotechnology conjures up images of science fiction films, but this technology is real, and it is developing rapidly,” said Stephen Almond, executive director of regulatory risk.

“Neurotechnology collects intimate personal information that people are often not aware of, including emotions and complex behaviour. The consequences could be dire if these technologies are developed or deployed inappropriately.

“We want to see everyone in society benefit from this technology. It’s important for organisations to act now to avoid the real danger of discrimination.”

The watchdog warned that future uses of neurotech will lead to unfair treatment without diverse data training.

The ICO is currently developing neurodata guidance that will consider the “interpretation of core legislative and technical neurotechnology definitions”.