20 February 2013, 17.00 – 18.00

Public Keynote Lecture Winter School: Gabriel Curio (Berlin)

“Ethical issues of brain–computer interfaces: Fire by desire or fire by decision?”

‘To make matter move just by thinking about it’ – yesterday’s fiction has been turned into today's science through Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs). Here, we survey our experiences of operating the non-invasive EEG-based Berlin BCI (www.bbci.de) which combines insights into human cortical neurophysiology with Machine Learning algorithms to enable effective first-session performances of BCI-naïve subjects.

Based on the extraction of ‘thought-related’ EEG patterns, such as the lateralised Bereitschaftspotential preceding a limb-specific volitional motor act, the classical BCI approach aims to provide rehabilitative support by enabling paralysed patients to mentally operate devices like computer cursors, typewriters, gaming applications, and limb prostheses. Importantly, non-motor variants of non-invasive BCIs permit the single-trial and real-time detection also of cognitive processing, such as mental rotation, target detection, error monitoring, and sustained visual attention (or lapses thereof).

Critically, brain-computer interfacing might meet an ethical impasse where its operational success faces the fading of personal action responsibility when the latter becomes diffused over the ‘silico-neural synaptic cleft’ between an effective BCI and its user’s brain. And, moreover, what about the ‘dual use’ dilemma (beyond rehab) if military adepts dream of neuro-electric firing – ‘as fast as fleeting thoughts’?

We posit that any BCI, when operating at 'thought-speed' in real-time, requires a refined neural modelling of both, its user’s will and veto (however ‘free’ either one may be) in order to validate BCI-released actions as responsible acting. Thus, in pursuit of Libet’s legacy, BCI research is challenged to divide dawning desire from definite decision – and to do so with an accuracy which might prove as technically elusive as conceptually delusive.

All are welcome!



Berlin School of Mind and Brain
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Luisenstraße 56, Festsaal, 2nd floor
10117 Berlin


Annette winkelmann
mb-manager-please remove this text-@hu-berlin.de