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Jared Genser discusses the human rights implications of neurotechnologies at the Center’s Annual Lecture on Human Rights

Co-Faculty Director Kiyo Tsutsui with Jared Genser during the Q&A

In the Stanford Center's 2024 Annual Lecture on Human Rights on May 14, famed international human rights lawyer Jared Genser explored a daunting new arena where technological advancement stands to both challenge and promote human rights: our own minds.  

Jared Genser serves as Managing Director of Perseus Strategies, a public interest law firm; Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect to the Organization of American States; and outside General Counsel to the Neurorights Foundation. Referred to by the New York Times as “The Extractor” for his work freeing political prisoners worldwide, he has served as pro-bono counsel to five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates–Aung San Suu Kyi, Liu Xiaobo, Alex Bialiatski, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel. 

Genser began his lecture by providing an overview of neurotechnologies – devices that seek to record or alter the activity of the brain and the wider nervous system – and why they are developing so quickly. He noted that investments, led by the United States and China, have fueled this growth. More than $33 billion has already been invested in neurotech companies to develop products that address particular health needs–such as a wearable brain computer interface for paraplegics–as well as more consumer-focused products for at-home wellness and entertainment purposes. Genser also noted that generative AI has rapidly accelerated the development of neurotechnologies, pointing to an example out of the University of Sydney. In December 2023, researchers announced that they had created a wearable neurotech helmet powered by EEG and generative AI that could decode silent human thoughts and convert them to text/voice with 40-60% accuracy. As this accuracy increases, Genser stressed, we will begin to see just how exciting, but also threatening, neurotechnology could be. 

Genser then presented the concept of “neurorights,” which stems from the desire to expand international legal frameworks for human rights to protect the brain. These include the right to mental privacy (controlling the contents of your brain); personal identity (prohibiting tech from disrupting sense of self); free will (making decisions without external influence); protection from bias; and fair access to mental augmentation (by regulating the use of mental enhancement neurotechnologies based on the principle of justice and equality of access). 

Genser explained the importance of formalizing these neurorights by reviewing several nightmare scenarios of how neurotechnologies might be used: thought to text implantable devices could be used for interrogation of a political prisoner by a dictator; neurotechnologies that address milder forms of chronic pain by turning off misfiring neurons could also activate neurons, inflicting the greatest pain known to humans simply by forcing them to wear a helmet; chips that disrupt impulses could be used to disrupt sexual urges to “cure” LBTQ people. 

Genser concluded by emphasizing that we are at a critical juncture where action must be taken in order to pre-empt these potential worst case scenarios, and hopefully advance positive applications of these products. He suggested that companies and investors should develop a code of conduct for the responsible development and use of neural data that is consistent with global privacy standards. Genser also emphasized the role of multilateral organizations and national and local governments in implementing laws and policies protecting these rights. Genser pointed to Chile as the first country to create a constitutional amendment on the right to mental privacy, while Colorado is the first U.S. state to extend privacy protections to neural data. Time will tell if others will follow suit. 

A recording of the lecture is available at the following link: