Distinguishing between military and civilian applications of scientific research and technology development has become increasingly difficult. A more nuanced framework is needed to guide research.
Research and technologies designed to generate benefits for civilians that can also be used for military purposes are termed “dual use.” The concept of dual use frames and informs debates about how such research and technologies should be understood and regulated. But the emergence of neuroscience-based technologies, combined with the dissolution of any simple distinction between civilian and military domains, requires us to reconsider this binary concept.
Not only has neuroscience research contributed to the development and use of technology and weapons for national security, but a variety of factors have blurred the very issue of whether a technological application is military or civilian. These factors include the rise of asymmetric warfare, the erosion of clear differentiation between states of war abroad and defense against threats “at home,” and the use of military forces for homeland security. It is increasingly difficult to disentangle the relative contributions made by researchers undertaking basic studies in traditional universities from those made by researchers working in projects specifically organized or funded by military or defense sources. Amid such complexity, the binary world implied by “dual use” can often obscure rather than clarify which particular uses of science and technology are potentially problematic or objectionable.
To help in clarifying matters, we argue that policy makers and regulators need to identify and focus on specific harmful or undesirable uses in the following four domains: political, security, intelligence, and military (PSIM). We consider the ways that research justified in terms of socially constructive applications—in the European Human Brain Project, the US BRAIN initiative, and other brain projects and related areas of neuroscience—can also provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be applied in these four domains. If those who fund, develop, or regulate research and development (R&D) in neuroscience, neurotechnology, and neurorobotics fail to move away from the dual-use framework, they may be unable to govern its diffusion.
Mahfoud, Tara, Christine Aicardi, Saheli Datta, and Nikolas Rose. “The Limits of Dual Use.” Issues in Science and Technology 34, no. 4 (Summer 2018).