A watchdog analyst warns that companies may use brain-monitoring tech to hire or surveil employees in the future.
The Information Commissioner’s Office warns of potential discrimination if neuro technology is misused. Employers may monitor workers brains!
The first report on “neurodata” explores hypothetical future uses, including workplace monitoring, as companies like Neuralink seek to connect computers with human brains.
According to the ICO’s Stephen Almond, there is rapid growth in investments and patents in neurotech. The healthcare sector already uses it under strict regulations. Gert-Jan Oskam was able to walk again with electronic brain implants after a cycling accident 12 years ago. Commercial interest in the technology is also increasing, as seen with Neuralink winning permission for human trials of its implantable brain-computer interface and reportedly being worth $5bn (£4bn) despite not having a commercial product yet.
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The emergence of Artificial Intelligence is bringing new possibilities, including the ability to decipher sentences and words from brain scans which could potentially help patients with locked-in syndrome who are conscious but cannot move or speak. However, the report mainly focuses on hypothetical examples that explore issues raised by neurodata in future technologies.
According to ICO’s predictions, workplaces might routinely deploy neurotechnology for safety, productivity and recruitment purposes within four to five years as employee tracking expands. Helmets or safety equipment may measure employees’ attention and focus in high-risk environments while bosses can assess how individuals react to workplace stress using it.
Wearable brain monitoring devices may also be used in education for measuring students’ concentration levels and stress levels over time. The concept of “neuromarketing” has already been tested in limited use cases where consumers’ responses are measured using medical devices that track brain activity; however, there is significant debate about its merits.
In the future, non-invasive devices capable of reading responses may be used at home to tailor consumer preferences. Even headphones enabled with neurotechnology might gather data used for targeted advertising – an admittedly far-fetched example mentioned in the report.
Gaming and entertainment sectors are also starting to leverage this technology – some games and drones are already controlled by devices that take readings from the brain. However, if not developed carefully this technology could lead to discrimination concerns as warned by ICO.
Mr. Almond warned that the technology could be biased and provide incorrect answers when analyzing certain groups, which may lead to discrimination against individuals with more neurodivergent characteristics by their bosses.
Furthermore, the use of this technology also raises concerns around consent as it might uncover conditions that one is unaware of since neurodata is subconsciously generated. People have no direct control over what specific information gets revealed through such technologies, thus making it difficult for them to give informed consent in advance of processing personal data.
“If you don’t know what the technology is going to reveal about you, can you really consent in advance to the processing of that personal data about you?” Mr. Almond questioned. Once released into open access, people will have relatively lower control over their sensitive information.
The ICO aims to create new guidelines on handling neurodata by 2025 while taking these issues into account.
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