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  • Writer's pictureFederico Somaini

Mindful Regulation: Ensuring the Privacy and Safety of Neurotechnology

Devices that read our mind were once confined to the pages of futuristic novels, but they are gradually finding their way into reality. More and more neurotechnology companies are developing brain computer interfaces (BCIs) that enable the direct communication between the brain and external devices using brain implants, and they are making lofty promises such as restoring vision to the blind and treating neurodegenerative disease. While skeptics may call these ambitions far-fetched, a fresh wave of clinical trials is proving this technology’s potential.

Mindful Regulation: Ensuring the Privacy and Safety of Neurotechnology

Elon Musk’s Neuralink, the biggest player in the BCI space, recently received US approval for the first human studies of their brain implants. The company generated buzz last year when it shared a video of one of their chip-implanted monkeys typing with its mind (1). Neuralink hopes to treat neurological disorders by restoring lost sensory and motor functions to patients, eventually using this technology to enhance the cognitive abilities of healthy humans. Precision Neuroscience, created by Neuralink’s cofounder Benjamin Rapoport, has also started the first human trials of their less-invasive brain implant with similar goals. Meanwhile, Gates- and Bezos-backed Synchron finished a first round of clinical testing of their BCI, which hopes to enable people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and other paralyzing diseases to control computers with their minds.

But as the sector grows, so do worries about the tech’s safety. The increasing ability of neurotechnology to decode sensitive neural information has introduced the concept of “mental privacy.” Rafael Yuste, Director of the NeuroTechnology Center (NTC) at Columbia University, led a research analysis of the consumer user agreements of 18 major neurotechnology companies in the world and concluded that “there is a complete lack of protection, in fact, you cannot imagine less protection to brain data” (2).

Professor Yuste presented this research at the very first UNESCO International Conference on the Ethics of Neurotechnology, where participants discussed the potential benefits and risks of this growing sector (2). A central topic of discussion was the integration of neurotechnology with artificial intelligence (AI). Recent studies have shown that when brain implants and AI algorithms are combined, they can decode highly complex information from human brain data such as speech and music.

UNESCO participants warned that unregulated advancements in AI-enhanced neurotechnology could threaten notions of human identity, freedom of thought, and mental autonomy. One of the main reasons AI poses this danger is because it is unpredictable. What we know about AI algorithms is that the bigger and more complex they get, the more they become a “black box.” In other words, we do not know how they work, we just know that they do. Without a clear understanding of the inner workings of these algorithms, regulators are understandably concerned about what could happen when they are given direct, unrestricted access to our thoughts.

Nevertheless, these privacy and safety concerns have not dissuaded investors: funding for neurotechnology companies increased 8-fold from 2014-2021 (3). This is very encouraging news for many of those who suffer from uncurable neurological ailments, especially considering that Big Pharma has pulled back from investments in neuroscience over the past decade (4). However, in this dynamic and ever-changing landscape, the synergy of innovation and regulation holds the key to unlocking the potential of neurotechnology while preserving our core values.

At Brooks Hill Partners, we understand the importance of forward-looking data security. Brooks Hill Partners is a life sciences consultancy and early-stage health tech venture capital firm that partners with passionate companies across the biopharma and healthcare landscape. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help you succeed in the long-term. For more information, visit and follow us on LinkedIn.  



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