2018 Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA, USA
November 1-2

The Brain, Technology and Ethics

Dr. Hannah Maslen is the Deputy Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. She works on a wide range of areas in practical ethics and applied philosophy, from neuroethics to philosophy of punishment. Previously, she worked as a Research Fellow on the Oxford Martin Programme on Mind and Machine where she examined the ethical, legal, and social implications of various brain technologies such as brain stimulation for enhancement, deep brain stimulation, optogenetics, and virtual reality.

Dr. Maslen is serving on the 2018 INS Annual Meeting Program Committee and will chair a panel discussion on ‘DBS: Continuity of Self?’

Hannah Maslen

What is your field of research?

I work predominantly on neuroethics, with a focus on brain intervention technology. I have worked on human enhancement technologies and therapeutic interventions, for example, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). I am currently a Principal Investigator on BrainCom, a European Horizon 2020 project developing neuroprosthetics to restore speech. Outside neuroethics, I am working with Julian Savulescu (Oxford University) on personal responsibility for health and how we prioritize scarce healthcare resources.

What got you interested in neuroethics?

My background is in philosophy and psychology. I was really interested in philosophy of mind, ethics, and the psychology and philosophy of emotions; particularly the emotional responses to wrong-doing, such as remorse. I wanted to think about practical implications, such as whether remorseful offenders should receive less punishment. It is critical to understand individual differences in the psychology of remorse when judges or magistrates sentence criminals. So, for me, neuroethics is the fusion of psychology, ethics, and practical relevance.

Describe what it is like to be on the Program Committee for the INS Annual Meeting.

It’s really fun and a privilege. It’s been interesting to see, and be involved in, the process of deciding what to include this year. We want to introduce new topics coming up on the horizon as well as existing issues that will keep neuroethicists busy for many years. One longstanding issue featured this year is genetics, behavior and society. Genetic researchers have for many years asked if and how our behavior is determined by genetics, nurture, and our own decisions. It’s still controversial, especially when we examine themes like IQ and genetic predisposition to intelligence. The session on genetics will discuss recent discoveries in sociogenomics.

What will the session on deep brain stimulation cover?

This session was born out of disagreement between some neuroethicists and clinicians over whether DBS does (or could) cause changes to patients’ personalities or sense of self. Various claims have been made in the neuroethics literature about DBS, which targets very specific areas of the brain, altering states like mood, desires, behavior, and even personal values. Many clinicians say they haven’t seen any problematic changes. Interventions are complicated for psychiatric patients whose personalities are already affected by their illness. On this panel, we will try to set out the clinical evidence and clarify what we mean by personality changes so we can accurately assess any changes, and any significant implications for the patient’s autonomy and their treatment decisions.

What is the role of neuroethics in neurotechnology?

Neuroethics gives us the tools to assess the likely consequences of various types of technology (perhaps drugs or devices that promise cognitive benefits) on people’s wellbeing and freedom, as well as whether the benefits of new technologies are distributed fairly, or at least not unjustly. There is a role for neuroethics in regulation, to ensure people are purchasing devices and other pieces of technology that do what they say they do and are safe to use. But neuroethics has a role to play beyond consumer protection: it also addresses whether access to a given neurotechnology should be promoted or even subsidized.

What parts of the annual meeting are you excited about?

All of it! I’m excited to listen to the panel sessions and lectures, of course, but I’m also very excited about the posters presentations. I’ve been part of the group who reviewed the abstracts and some of the topics are highly innovative. It will be good to hear more from those people who have submitted those abstracts.

Why should people attend the INS Annual Meeting?

The INS Annual Meeting is genuinely interdisciplinary, so it will appeal not only to people in neuroscience, sociology, philosophy or law, but it will also provide them with a forum to discuss ideas and topics with people from other disciplines. They will be able to talk directly to a range of people about topics that require an interdisciplinary approach to address the challenging issues we face.


Online registration available until October 25.