How should HBP and similar research projects address that others could use their research results for political, security, intelligence or military purposes? The Danish Board of Technology consulted 2.289 citizens in a major European citizen consultation spanning 12 countries, combining online surveys and citizen workshops.
The purpose and background for the consultation
The HBP is committed to strictly conducting civilian research. But the great advances that the project promises to make in research and technology, could very well attract interest from political, security, intelligence or military (PSIM) organisations. This naturally challenges the non-PSIM aspirations of the project, and it presents a range of practical and ethical questions.
The Danish Board of Technology previously engaged stakeholders in the debate about PSIM use of HBP research (see the newsletter here).
So, to get a grasp of citizens’ opinions, values, hopes and concerns regarding these questions, the Danish Board of Technology set up a Europe wide citizen consultation, as part of Ethics and Society’s (SP12) work on dual use and PSIM.
The citizen consultation consisted of two parts.
First, an online citizen consultation promoted in Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia, running from September to December 2017, where a total of 2048 Europeans took part. The online consultation provided explanatory texts and video to make respondents familiar with the research and the practical and ethical dilemmas associated with it.
Second, full-day citizen workshops in Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia in November 2017 and March 2018, where a total of 241 European citizens took part.The participants received information material prior to the workshops and were helped in their discussions by trained facilitators.
Both parts of the consultation addressed questions of a principal character as well as three examples of how research such as that in HBP could be applied. The citizen workshops also produced recommendations for future actions with specifications for who should carry out these actions.
The consultation took place in context of the work on PSIM and neuroscience research taking place in the Ethics and Society subproject of the HBP.
The results of the consultation showed that there were generally worries about the use of and consequences of the research, however, the research was also found to be important and beneficial. Below are the key points and recommendations from the consultation.
- Widespread support for research in neuroscience, neurotechnology and brain-inspired ICT.
- Concerns about the research’ PSIM potential.
- Most common concerns: Surveillance, privacy and vulnerability to hacking; artificial intelligence; social and political control and manipulation.
- Also concerns about wider societal impacts.
- Openness about research and results widely supported.
- Issues should be addressed at policy level and involve the surrounding society.
- Concerns should be taken seriously and addressed at project and policy level.
- Call for International regulation and ethical guidelines, as well as a standing monitoring and enforcing body.
- Openness about research and results, including better communication.
- Call for broader debate about what research should receive public funding, what it should be used for, and whose interests it should serve. To this end, more public engagement in research agenda setting is requested.
- Call for research on societal impacts of research
What does this mean for HBP and the individual scientist?
It is important that the concerns of the citizen be taken seriously, even if they express support for the research in general. Not least because the funding of future research projects like HBP and further development of the area rests on public acceptance. Further, addressing these concerns can help prevent them from developing into opposition to the project and its research. Thus, advocating for the HBP to adopt regulation in relation to PSIM use and ethics guidelines could serve as self-preservation.
While the citizens gave expression that they want policy makers to act, this does not exempt the individual scientist from responsibility for the research they carry out or for minding the concerns.
In addition, ethical guidelines are not just restrictions. They should be seen as a way of helping scientists act ethically responsible in their day-to-day research, and a way to help scientists consider in advance, the potential ethical issues that their research could raise.
You can read more about the consultation and the results in the brief “Dealing with dual use of HBP research – The citizens’ perspective”, which can be found here
The full report from the online consultation can be found here
The full report from the citizen workshops can be found here
The newsletter from the stakeholder workshop on dual use can be found here