Predicting the future of brain-computer interface technologies: the risky business of irresponsible speculation in news media
Pham, C and Gilbert, F, Predicting the future of brain-computer interface technologies: the risky business of irresponsible speculation in news media, Bioethica Forum, 12, (1/2) pp. 15-28. ISSN 1662-6001 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Discussion of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) in news media is increasing. We use FACTIVA to review content of English-speaking news media portrayal of BCIs, between 01 January 2000 and 31 December 2017. Out of 3866 articles, we found 70.6% of this sample (n = 2729) discussed BCIs in a future-focused and speculative manner; 51.6% (n = 1996) depict BCIs positively, and 25.3% (n = 977) with overly positive narratives. By comparison, we observed only 2.7% discussing ethical issues explicitly (n = 106) and 12.7% of articles discussing risks associated with BCIs (n = 489). A one-way ANOVA analysis yielded no statistical difference between populations of articles depicting BCIs positively, speculatively, and negligently (neglecting ethics and risk) on a significance standard of p < 0.05, suggesting that if an article depicts the technology positively, it will also be speculative and neglect risk analysis. Given news media is identified as having significant impact on influencing public perception and acceptance of medical technologies, we hypothesize that positively biased narratives surrounding BCIs, which make speculative promises about their uses while failing to address risks and ethical issues, can create serious problems related to informed consent, among other things. We argue it is imperative for scientists to accurately represent the benefits and limitations of their research, and for the news media to balance its discussion of BCIs, to make it more likely that the public is aware and considerate of BCI-associated risks – a goal which may be complicated by increasingly frequent press coverage of private BCI projects.