Ethical issues in brain–computer interface research and systems for motor control

Donatella Mattia, Guglielmo Tamburrini

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


BCI (brain-computer interface) systems for motor control process patterns of brain activity and translate them into signals which enable one to replace, restore, or improve impaired motor capabilities. BCI operation involves sustained interactions of the central nervous system with computational and robotic systems that are themselves capable of adaptive behaviors. This fact molds distinctively BCI ethical issues. Indeed, experimental BCI therapies for motor rehabilitation target directly brain areas and raise special informed consent and medical beneficence issues in view of the fact that the functional implications of brain plasticity are not fully understood and are difficult to predict. Similarly, epistemic limitations concerning the future behaviors of adaptive BCI systems shape ethical reflection on retrospective distribution of responsibilities and liabilities for damages caused by BCI-actuated devices. Novel ethical issues arise in connection with more distant prospects for BCI enhancement of unimpaired motor capabilities. Ethical policy formation about BCI-enabled enhancements appears to be premature in view of technological lack of imminence. Nevertheless, watchful monitoring of BCI research is presently called for, in order to anticipate prospective ethical tensions between the claims of personal freedom to enhancement and the claims deriving from social justice, fairness, and mental and physical integrity considerations. On the whole, BCI systems afford unique potential solutions for protecting the autonomy, the action, and even the thinking capabilities of people affected by severe motor impairments. However, trust building between BCI researchers and various groups of stakeholders requires the development of communication strategies which enable one to appreciate the rapid advancements in BCI research without underestimating at the same time the formidable challenges one has to meet before various forms of BCI-enabled communication and motor control become more widely available.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Neuroethics
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9789400747074, 9789400747067
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Medicine(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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