Do it yourself! Enhance your brain! Design your Future! What do you think?

A NERRI World Café about Neurotechnology & Society was organized in the Netherlands by Radboud University in collaboration with University of Twente.

Can tDCS be used for human enhancement? Dr. Dennis Schutter is skeptical about it. At the moment there is little proof that neuro stimulation can enhance your brain functions. But wat he does notice is a growing demand for neuro stimulation technologies for daily use in society, because they look safe and are easy to build. That is where the bottleneck is, according to Dr. Schutter. He studied psychology and does fundamental research on brain functions at the Donders Institute in The Netherlands. Therefor he uses stimulating technologies like tDCS. In his introductory talk at the World Café, he told us that it could just be a placebo effect. He has a clearly message, but will he also learn something from the other participants? He will meet other participants with different backgrounds, but all interested in tDCS. The concept of a World Café is that every thirty minutes they will change tables so he will meet at least fourteen other persons.

Radboud University_workshop

The first applications his group talked about were medical applications related to rehabilitation of language or motor functions. Also people with psychiatric problems, depression or schizophrenia were mentioned. This group clearly states that if this technology helps people that have no other option, the use should be allowed for them, even though we do not know how it exactly works.

A criteria that they mention is the necessity of this application. One participant would like to be ‘cured’ from his dyslexia. But should we want this? Another participant clearly pleas for diversity in society: “We all try to be on the same level, while we should develop our own talents and combine these talents.” So there should pay less attention to ‘the ideal image’.

And how can we make sure this technology will be used for the right purposes? The participants switch tables and are sitting with other people to discuss this question. Let us first look at the situation right now. Dr. Schutter knows that at the moment the guidelines are made by the professionals themselves. Psychiatrists, using TMS on patients, advise each other on how to use it. There are no laws on who can use these stimulation technologies or on how to use them, because they are not categorized as drugs. The only thing they check is that the product should be safe, based on European safety standards. But what safety standards are we talking about if people make the device themselves?

Radboud University_workshop 2

At another table they discuss this question. In the first place people should be equipped with enough correct information to be able to make an informed decision, says one participant. Someone else compares it with drugs that are used as stimulants. In that case it is also important to talk about the safety of other people (think of use of alcohol) or the personal safety on a longer term, for example related to addiction risks. Their conclusion is that people in our society should be protected and vulnerable people even more.

When the World Café ended after three rounds, the participants are clearly not finished discussing this topic. They keep talking and discussing. Some do agree with each other, but most participants do not agree on the details. There seems to be a big difference between personal preferences and societal needs. Looking back, the participants clearly shared their opinions and many participants were surprised about how many interesting views the other participants had. Sharing, listening to other people’s views and linking these ideas is what this concept is about. Dr. Schutter leaved the room very content and I am sure he will not forget the conversations with other participants soon.

This day was organized in collaboration with Prof. Peter-Paul Verbeek, University of Twente, and hosted people with various backgrounds like: philosophy, neuro-science, biology, psychotherapy, neuroimaging, societal research, computer creativity, producers and designers. A parallel workshop session focused on EEG neuro technologies. The location was the recently opened Design Lab at the University of Twente, The Netherlands.

Schutter, D. J. (2014). Syncing your brain: electric currents to enhance cognition. Trends in cognitive sciences.