Brain-Computer Interfaces, Inclusive Innovation, and the Promise of Restoration: A Mixed-Methods Study with Rehabilitation Professionals
Over the last two decades, researchers have promised “neuroprosthetics” for use in physical rehabilitation and to treat patients with paralysis. Fulfilling this promise is not merely a technical challenge but is accompanied by consequential practical, ethical, and social implications that warrant sociological investigation and careful deliberation. In response, this paper explores how rehabilitation professionals evaluate the development and application of BCIs. It thereby also asks how the BCIs come to be seen as desirable or not, and implicitly, what types of persons, rights, and responsibilities are assumed in this discourse. To this end, we conducted a web-based survey (N=135) and follow-up interviews (N=15) with Canadian professionals in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. We find that rehabilitation professionals, like other publics, express hope and enthusiasm regarding the use of BCIs for assistive purposes. They envision BCI devices as powerful means to reintegrate patients and disabled people into social life but also express practical and ethical reservations about the technology, positioning themselves as uniquely qualified to inform responsible BCI design and implementation. These results further illustrate the nascent “co-production” of neural technologies and social order. More immediately, they also pose a serious challenge for implementing frameworks of responsible innovation; merely prescribing more inclusive technology development may not counteract technocratic processes and widely held ableist views about the need to augment certain bodies using technology.
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