Neural Devices Will Change Humankind: What Legal Issues Will Follow?

Vol. 8 No. 3

Stephen S. Wu, a partner in the Silicon Valley law firm Cooke Kobrick & Wu LLP, practices in the areas of information technology and intellectual property litigation and transactions, and served as the 2010–2011 Chair of the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law. Marc Goodman is the founder of the Future Crimes Institute and has worked globally with Interpol, NATO, and the United Nations on emerging technosecurity threats. He serves as Chair for Policy, Law & Ethics at Singularity University and participates in several committees of the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law.

Though it is not widely known, brain implants and other neural devices have been successfully used for several years to treat neurological disease and brain injuries. In the future, these devices hold the promise of enhancing our quality of life and ultimately expanding the functionality of our minds. For instance, neuroprosthetic devices will interface with the nervous system to control prosthetic limbs. Moreover, new brain-computer interfaces and devices may someday duplicate some or all of the functionality of the human brain.

Some futurists and artificial intelligence experts envision credible scenarios in which synthetic brains will, within this century, extend the functionality of our own brains to the point where they will rival and then surpass the power of an organic human brain. At the same time, humans seem to have no limitations when it comes to finding ways to attack the computerized devices that others have invented. Attackers have successfully compromised computers, mobile phones, ATMs, telephone networks, and even networked power grids. If neural devices fulfill the promise of treatment, and enhance our quality of lives and functionality—which appears likely, given the preliminary clinical success demonstrated from neuroprosthetics—their use and adoption will likely grow in the future. When this happens, inevitably, a wide variety of legal, security, and public policy concerns will follow.

We will begin this article with an overview of brain implants and neural devices and their likely uses in the future. We will then discuss the legal issues that will arise from the intersection among neural devices, information security, cybercrime, and the law. Finally, we will close with our thoughts on how lawyers will deal with these new legal issues

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