What is it like to use a BCI? – insights from an interview study with brain-computer interface users

BMC Medical Ethics 21 (1):1-14 (2020)
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Abstract

Background The neurotechnology behind brain-computer interfaces raises various ethical questions. The ethical literature has pinpointed several issues concerning safety, autonomy, responsibility and accountability, psychosocial identity, consent, privacy and data security. This study aims to assess BCI users’ experiences, self-observations and attitudes in their own right and looks for social and ethical implications. Methods We conducted nine semi-structured interviews with BCI users, who used the technology for medical reasons. The transcribed interviews were analyzed according to the Grounded Theory coding method. Results BCI users perceive themselves as active operators of a technology that offers them social participation and impacts their self-definition. Each of these aspects bears its own opportunities and risks. BCIs can contribute to retaining or regaining human capabilities. At the same time, BCI use contains elements that challenge common experiences, for example when the technology is in conflict with the affective side of BCI users. The potential benefits of BCIs are regarded as outweighing the risks in that BCI use is considered to promote valuable qualities and capabilities. BCI users appreciate the opportunity to regain lost capabilities as well as to gain new ones. Conclusions BCI users appreciate the technology for various reasons. The technology is highly appreciated in cases where it is beneficial in terms of agency, participation and self-definitions. Rather than questioning human nature, the technology can retain and restore characteristics and abilities which enrich our lives.

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