UNESCO wants a global dialogue on the ethics of Neurotechnology

UNESCO wants a global dialogue on the ethics of Neurotechnology

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), announced that the Member States of its Executive Board have endorsed the Director-General’s proposal to launch a global dialogue to develop an ethical framework for the growing and still largely unregulated neurotechnology sector.

A press release from the UN organization specifies that this dialogue will notably aim to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. A first international conference will be held on July 13, 2023, at UNESCO headquarters.

quoted in the press release, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, underlined that “neurotechnologies can contribute to solving many health problems, but could also allow access to the brain of individuals, to manipulate it and to provide information on identity, emotions, fears”.

“They could be a threat to human dignity, freedom of thought and privacy. This is why there is an urgent need to establish a common ethical framework on an international scale, as UNESCO has done for artificial intelligence”, she added.

UNESCO’s international conference, to be held on July 13, will explore the immense potential that neurotechnology offers for neurological care and mental health, while identifying the actions needed to address the risks it poses on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Public decision-makers, NGOs, academics, researchers and representatives of the private sector from around the world will participate in this dialogue, it is specified.

This dialogue will be based on the report of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of UNESCO devoted to “Ethical issues related to neurotechnologies”, as well as on a UNESCO study presenting for the first time data on the landscape of neurotechnologies: innovations, key players in the world and main trends.

The objective is to promote a better understanding of the ethical issues related to the governance of neurotechnologies, in order to develop an ethical framework that will eventually be approved by the 193 Member States of UNESCO – a similar method has already been successfully adopted by UNESCO to establish global ethical frameworks on the human genome (1997), on human genetic data (2003) and on artificial intelligence (2021).

One in eight people worldwide lives with a mental or neurological disorder, accounting for up to a third of total health expenditure in developed countries. This proportion is also increasing in low- and middle-income countries. This trend is expected to continue worldwide as the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050 to reach 2.1 billion (WHO 2022).

Neurotechnologies have great potential in reducing the number of deaths and disabilities caused by neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.


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