Emerging neurotechnologies: Trends, relevance and prospects

Vidya N. Nukala, PhD and William E. Halal, PhD

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2010; 1:G36-53

Neurotechnologies are at the forefront of converging technologies because of their potential to restore and enhance normal brain function. Some dual-use neurotechnologies are used to assess the structure and function of the brain, others are interventional. These applications can diagnose and treat neurological conditions, and/or alter emotions, decision-making and productivity. Additionally, neurotechnologies may determine and define what it means to be human as we know it. Currently, an inventory of neurotechnological advancements is lacking, despite discussions of the current and future developments and the ensuing ethical issues. This paper aims to elucidate the range and pace of neurotechnologic innovation and their applications for future policy. Using the ‘scanning’ technique to assess the latest developments published on the internet, online databases were searched utilizing English key words for verified, authentic sources of data in the field of neurotechnology, yielding results from original scientific literature, media publications and reports. The most recent neurotechnological developments found were broadly categorized into - 1) Monitoring and Imaging; 2) Modeling and Reverse Engineering; 3) Brain-Machine Interfaces and Prosthetics/Orthotics; 4) Neuromics; and 5) Psychopharmacology. The impact of neurotechnologies is being increasingly felt - beyond medicine - in business, law, sports, arts and entertainment, national defense and even religion, and is laden with both promise and (potential) peril. This paper 1) attempts to establishe a ‘baseline’ against which to compare future advances in the field by providing depiction of current state-of-the-art neurotechnologies, and 2) raises ethical and policy questions that warrant further investigation.


Key words: neurotechnologies, neuroethics, scanning techniques, forecasting, technology convergence, policy implications.