We could believe that it is easy to position against or in favour of the use of neuro-enhancement (NE) technologies. However, the multiple implications of this line of research and innovation make difficult to postulate about it. In addition, citizens don't have much information about NE. For the vast majority, the MML (“mutual mobilization and learning”) activities carried out by the European project NERRI in different countries are the first contact with these new technologies.
SuperMI is the first public debate which was held in Spain about NE. It was co-organised by the Science Communication Observatory (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) in collaboration with FECYT (the Spanish Science and Technology Foundation), MUNCYT (the National Science and Technology Museum) and the Science House’s Friends Association. The event received high coverage in local and national media, even before its celebration (here, two interviews on Radio Galega and Cadena SER). It also received considerable diffusion through social networks and more conventional ways of promotion (posters on the street and shops, etc.). All these factors made SuperMi to be a successful event which involved different publics.
The debate aimed to find out what the needs and expectations of society regarding NE are, as well as its limitations and conditions. Casto Rivadulla (professor at the University of Coruña and researcher at Neuroscience and motor control group NEUROcom), Stephen Dunne (Director at Neuroscience Research Starlab Consulting Division), and Carmen Casado (Senior Associate Lawyer, Information Technology Working Group, Jausas) have not only given an overview of the current NE situation, but also have raised its projection for the future, and the ethical and legal issues that arise around it. During the event, the public was asked to vote several questions about therapy, normality, governance, autonomy, empowerment and agency within the field of NE. Each participant had a controller to vote on real time (see more info in Custom Vote). After each question, results were showed at a big screen and, then, speakers and public commented on them on a very active and interesting conversation.
In general terms, attendees were more predisposed to use NE to cure and prevent diseases (present or future) than to use those techniques to increase abilities. Although voting was anonym, as each controller has an identification number we were able to identify clusters of people with similar answers. For instance, within the attendees of the event that would approve the NE use to prevent cognitive damage due to age (i.e. to prevent the loss of memory), most wouldn’t allow their children to use NE techniques to improve their cognitive abilities (or just allow in specific cases, or just with “natural” methods). See infographic.
Results from this activity showed that considerations about NE use are not simply based on its therapeutical or not therapeutical use, and that more deep analysis is needed to understand public’s expectations and limitations about these techniques.