The future of the mind

What are the promises and risks of digitalization for our brains? To answer this question, The Future of the Mind symposium at the Donders Institute explored the intersection of behavioral and neuroscience, artificial intelligence, ethics, economy, philosophy, and law.

This post is also available in Dutch.

We live in an increasingly digital society: we communicate via social media, track our health using apps, and work remotely. What are the promises and risks of this digitalization for brain function? And how do neurosciences interact with politics and law to improve (mental) well-being? These questions were central to the symposium “The Future of the Mind” at the Donders Institute (DI), organized by the Radboud Healthy Brain initiative.

The world in our hands: pros and cons of social media

Almost everybody owns a smartphone. It allows us to keep in touch with our friends at all times. But Sander Schimmelpenninck and Kees Verhoeven raise concerns over social media’s unchecked spread of hate speech and misinformation, prompting calls for legislative action. But we shouldn’t fall into a ‘technology panic’ and doom all new technology, says Rogier Kievit, researcher at the DI. Research in a very large adolescent sample shows minimal negative effects of technology on well-being compared to other factors. In LGBTQ youths, social media use has even shown positive effects. Kievit advocates for thorough scientific analysis of the (dis)advantages of social media, including quantitative and qualitative methods involving affected individuals such as teenagers.

How chatbots change our social world

Large language models like ChatGPT are increasingly popular. In the symposium, Peter Hagoort (founding director of the Donders Insitute) argues they will fundamentally change our social world. ChatGPT “talks” just like another human, with motives and promises, but doesn’t experience any consequences in our social world. So do we treat it completely separately from humans or do we integrate it into our social constructs? Tamar Sharon (co-director of iHub, Radboud center for research on digitalisation and society) showed that responses of a medical chatbot were rated higher than those of doctors in terms of both quality and empathy by patients. This illustrates the misattribution of human characteristics but also the potential of AI technology to free up doctors’ time while keeping patients happy*.

Brain-inspired technology

The program also delved into brain-inspired technology, such as brain-computer interfaces. Karin Roelofs, researcher at the DI, uses biofeedback to train police officers to regulate their heart rate under stress. She emphasizes the need for multidisciplinary collaboration, including scientists, ethicists, lawyers, policymakers, and users, to further improve the algorithms. Beyond research, consumer-targeted brain-computer interfaces like Neuralink are a hot topic. As Andre Janssen (professor in private law) suggests, with the era of brain-computer interfaces come unprecedented legal issues, including topics like ethics, human rights, and data protection.

How neuroscience can shape public policy

All talks at the symposium emphasized how fundamental and applied research together with a multidisciplinary approach is crucial for the future of the mind. Emily Murphy’s keynote introduced the concept of collective cognitive capital, bridging neuroscience and law for public policy. The central question to this concept is how we can use behavior and brain science to improve law and public policy and ultimately, human flourishing. Research must deepen our understanding of underlying mechanisms, while active discourse between disciplines remains crucial.

The Future of the Mind explored the complex discussions at the intersection of behavioral and neuroscience, artificial intelligence, ethics, economy, philosophy, and law. Engaging in this discourse is crucial as Pim Haselager, AI philosopher, emphasizes: “Technology is like a river. You cannot stop it at the border, it will come anyway, but you can regulate it”.

Want to attend future events? Follow the Donders Insitute on social media to stay up to date!

*This specific study did not assess medical accuracy in the chatbot versus human doctors.


Author: Helena Olraun

Buddy: Viola Hollestein

Editor: Elena Markantonakis

Translation: Lucas Geelen

Editor translation: Maartje Koot

Featured image by Pixabay via

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