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Neurotechnology and the law

Neurotechnology and the law

Neide Lemos


Reading time: three minutes

The rise of artificial intelligence in the legal profession has reached a new wavelength.

What’s neurotechnology?

Neurotechnologies are brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that are connected to the brain to understand, enhance, improve and alter neural activity. It involves the direct integration of technologies to interact with the human nervous system in real time. These components can be computers and other pieces of engineering that can send continuous electric pulse generators into different parts of our brains.

This type of technology has allowed us to control more of what the brain does and how it can influence human behaviour to help us to regulate different mental states. It’s one area that can benefit our understanding of how our brain functions. Neurotechnologies are already being used as therapeutic treatments in health settings for brain-related illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and dementia.

Neurotechnology in the legal profession

Technology in the legal industry is more gripping than ever before. Neurotechnology in the legal profession works to monitor and record neural activity or to find ways to influence neural activity using computers or other technical devices (ie, electrodes, microchips and implants). The report, commissioned by the Law Society of England and Wales ‘Neurotechnology, Law and the Legal Profession' by Dr Allan McCay examines the implications and opportunities of neurotechnology that arise from the adoption of brain-monitoring in the legal profession.

Neurotechnology is likely to impact the legal profession by shifting from billable hours to billable units of attention. So, what does this mean? Instead of being billed for tasks you complete, such as drafting email letters and court documents, with neurotechnology, clients are more likely to prefer that you bill for your units of concentration and cognitive abilities. One positive is that it can improve work efficiency by stimulating the brain to use models to control and optimise the neural system – a way to improve workplace performance.

Neurotechnology in legal practice

Neurotechnology can also have an impact on how we assess cases to facilitate and effect a just legal system. The report looks at the complex impact of technology in practice areas, such as consumer protection and common law. For example, in criminal law, it can be used to monitor criminal behaviour to confirm or invalidate the relevant conduct of the criminal act.

Ethical considerations

There are several ethical implications that have been identified in the ‘Neurotechnology, Law and the Legal Profession’ report:

  • Human rights implications such as the manipulation of an individual’s behaviour.
  • Privacy and brain data – with the increase of data protection laws, it’s expected that your brain data and privacy is protected to an extent. The possibility of the use of augmented technologies in the legal profession has raised questions around the right to mental privacy.
  • Discrimination – having to bill ‘units of attention’ will cause issues of discrimination where individuals have differing levels of mental capabilities.

What next?

Overall, neurotechnologies are likely to have a positive effect on society and the legal profession. The next step is to find out how to minimise or eradicate the implications that arise when moving towards a neurotechnological-based legal profession. Regulating the use of neurotechnology is likely to reduce these concerns but can equally be viewed as problematic, as it’s not yet clear exactly who will regulate the use of neurotech and whether it inhibits innovation. What can be said is that this is an area of law that’s worth monitoring.