Mental Work: Cognitive Revolution Symposium

Join us to explore the ethical, social, and security questions around the convergence of natural and artificial intelligence.

Graphic design elements by Joël Boucheteil.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
Pier 17, Suite 800, San Francisco, California 94111 United States


May 19, 2018 from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)

The Cognitive Revolution Symposium takes the Mental Work art-science exhibition as a starting point for reflection on the emergent future of human-machine interaction, focusing on promoting a culture of responsibility within the communities at the forefront of this revolution. 

Our lives have become increasingly intertwined with machines. Two decades ago, computers were limited to our desks. Smartphones have brought them into our hands, smartwatches onto our wrists, and smart speakers into our homes. Today, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) challenge us to consider an even more intimate interaction with machines: directly via brain activity. In combination with AI, this next step in computing creates a deepening convergence between natural and artificial intelligence.

BCI and other neurotechnologies hold the potential to revolutionize the treatment of many neurological conditions, enhance mental and physical abilities, and change the way we work. But the same advances could unintentionally increase social inequalities, and provide corporations, governments, hackers, and terrorists with novel ways to breach and manipulate people’s mental processes. The progress of the field puts into question our idea of individual agency, the sanctity of one’s private mental life, and other basic human attributes.

While it might take years for BCI and other neurotechnologies to gain widespread adoption, research in corporate and academic labs is accelerating quickly, and AI is already commonplace. Now is the time to develop ways to inspire reflection and exchange among scientists and engineers on the ethical and socially responsible use of their technologies, while addressing their inherent dual-use nature.

In this view, the symposium aims to convene experts from BCI research, AI, neuroscience, ethics, international security, policy, social science, human rights, education, design, and communication, with a twofold objective:

  • Identifying and prioritizing ethical, social, and security dilemmas around the Cognitive Revolution
  • Envisioning strategies to promote a culture of responsibility around those dilemmas


09:00am — doors open
09.15am — gallery tour
09:30am — introduction
09:45am — scientific & technology trends
11:00am — break
11:15am — ethical & social implications
12:30am — lunch at Pier 17
1:30pm — security implications
2:45pm — toward formal & informal educational methods
4:45pm — drinks at pier 17


José del R. Millán, EPFL

Dr. José del R. MillánJosé del R. Millán joined the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2009 to help establish the Center for Neuroprosthetics. He holds the Defitech Foundation Chair and directs the Brain-Machine Interface Laboratory. He received a PhD in computer science from the Technical University of Catalonia, Barcelona, in 1992. Previously, he was a research scientist at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra (Italy) and a senior researcher at the Idiap Research Institute in Martigny (Switzerland). He has also been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Berkeley and Stanford as well as at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley. Dr. Millán has made several seminal contributions to the field of brain-machine interfaces (BMI), especially based on electroencephalogram (EEG) signals. Most of his achievements revolve around the design of brain-controlled robots. He has received several recognitions for these seminal and pioneering achievements, notably the IEEE-SMC Nobert Wiener Award in 2011 and elevation to IEEE Fellow in 2017. During the last years Dr. Millán is prioritizing the translation of BMI to end-users suffering from motor disabilities. As an example of this endeavor, his team won the first Cybathlon BMI race in October 2016. In parallel, he is designing BMI technology to offer new interaction modalities for able-bodied people.

Mary Lou Jepsen, Openwater

Before founding Openwater, Mary Lou Jepsen was an engineering executive at Facebook, Oculus, Google and Intel. She has founded four startups, including One Laptop per Child where she was CTO, chief architect and delivered to mass production the $100 laptop. She has been a professor at both MITs: MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. She is an inventor of over 200 published or issued patents, and has shipped billions of dollars worth of consumer electronics at the edge of what physics allows. She has been recognized with many awards including TIME magazine’s “Time 100” as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and as a CNN top 10 thinker.

Marcello Ienca, ETH Zurich

Marcello Ienca is research fellow at the Health Ethics & Policy Lab, Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. His research focuses on the ethics and governance of biomedical data, ethically aligned artificial intelligence (AI) and responsible innovation for emerging technologies at the human-machine interface. Prior to joining ETH, Dr. Ienca has obtained MSc, MA and PhD degrees from the Humboldt University of Berlin, KU Leuven (Erasmus Mundus Consortium) and the University of Basel. He has published extensively on the ELSI of neurotechnology and AI, big data trends in biomedicine, ethical design in robotics, data ethics, dual-use, digital health and cognitive assistance for people with intellectual disabilities. He has advocated the development of neuro-specific rights for the era of neurotechnology and big data. Ienca has received several awards for social responsibility in science and technology such as the Prize Pato de Carvalho (Portugal), the Sonia Lupien Award (Canada) and the Paul Schotsmans Prize from the European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics (EACME). He has authored +20 scientific articles in peer-review journals, several book chapters and is a frequent contributor to Scientific American. His research has been featured in popular media such as The Guardian, The Times, Die Welt, El Clarin and others. He is a representative to the board of the International Neuroethics Society.

Jodi Halpern, UC Berkeley

Jodi Halpern M.D., Ph.D (Philosophy) is Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Berkeley Group for the Ethics and Regulation of Innovative Technologies. Her work brings together psychiatry, philosophy, affective forecasting and decision neuroscience. Her first book, From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice was called a “seminal work” by JAMA. Her upcoming book Remaking the Self in the Wake of Illness focuses on resiliency. Halpern’s current scholarship imagines how innovative technologies, including AI, VR and genetic engineering, change relationships in unexpected ways. She is also writing a book about this entitled Engineering Empathy. Halpern is invited to present this work internationally, including at the 2018 meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. See

Philip Reiner, Tech4GS

Philip Reiner is the Executive Director of Tech4GS, bringing decades of experience working with technology and security to lead the successful implementation of the Tech4GS mission. Since departing federal civil service in 2015, he managed a personal consulting business and served as an advisor on international security and business for both private and public clients, to include as the Director for Advisory, North America at AETOS Strategy & Advisory. Philip previously served as President Obama’s Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council, where he successfully led U.S. government efforts to revitalize the U.S.-India bilateral relationship, and served for almost four years at the NSC. His experience includes time in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon, where he received the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service; and for a number of years in Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems, to include working with the Electronic Warfare, Remote Sensing and Vision Systems business units. Philip obtained his Master’s degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Religions with a minor in History from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Jean-Marc Rickli, GCSP

Photo courtesy GCSPJean-Marc Rickli is head of global risks and resilience at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) in Geneva, Switzerland. He is a research fellow at King’s College London, a non-resident fellow in modern warfare and security at TRENDS Research and Advisory in Abu Dhabi. He is a senior advisor for the AI Initiative at the Future Society at Harvard Kennedy School and an expert on autonomous weapons systems for the United Nations and for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament and Research (UNIDIR). Prior to these appointments, Jean-Marc was an assistant professor at the Department of Defense Studies of King’s College London. Jean-Marc received his PhD and MPhil in International Relations from Oxford University, UK, where he was a Berrow scholar at Lincoln College.

Harshita Arora, BCI Hacker

Harshita Arora is a 16-year-old programmer, designer, and entrepreneur, who learned about brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) after a friend told her about them at a hackathon. She has been fascinated by BCI ever since and has spent days reading papers and articles on the topic, and talking to other researchers like MIT’s Ed Boyden. She has decided that her mission in life is to build a non-invasive BCI that enables customers to do cool things like decoding and transferring thoughts for communication as well as other human-augmentation applications. Harshita started coding when she was 13 years old. She was an Intern at Salesforce in Bangalore, where she worked on demo engineering projects in winter 2016. She got accepted at a startup incubator for high school hackers and entrepreneurs called MIT Launch, where she co-founded the Universeaty app. She then created Crypto Price Tracker, an iOS app that helps users track prices of 1000+ cryptocurrencies from over 19 exchanges, set price alerts, and manage their portfolio. Within 24 hours of launch, the app was #2 in Finance category on the App Store top charts for paid apps. It was featured on Product Hunt. It was viral on Reddit as well. It was covered in Inc, The Daily Beast, YourStory, The Times Of India, Bitcoin News, and many more media outlets. The app, which was recently featured on the App Store, got acquired by Redwood City Ventures in March 2018. After Crypto Price Tracker, she teamed up with her friend and created Food AI app—a food recognition app that can identify hundreds of types of food in an image and runs offline. The app was submitted for the Paradigm Challenge 2018. Her other intellectual interests include mathematics, biology (she once wanted to create a vaccine for Zika virus as a kid), economics, philosophy, and logic.

Michael Mitchell, Mental Work

Michael MitchellMichael Mitchell was born in New York State in 1979 and is a dramaturge and cultural producer living in Switzerland. Working at the crossroads of film, theater and installation, his his documentary film, Beyond Bernie: A Campaign of Their Own (2017) has been in competition in at several international film festivals (Visions du Réel, Locarno Film Festival, Karlovy Vary). In 2014, Mitchell launched the first communications agency dedicated to interactive multimedia science communication in Switzerland. As Director and Co-founder of Mental Work, he brought the conceptualization, the neuro-engineering and the production teams together to enable one of the largest public neuroscience experiments in history.

Benjamin Bollmann, swissnex San Francisco 

Benjamin Bollmann is Deputy CEO of swissnex San Francisco, where he develops initiatives to foster dialogue and collaboration around science, society, and wider issues facing us today. He launched the Crisis Code conference on humanitarian protection in cyberspace and Everyone a Humanitarian, an event series and physical space dedicated to the future of humanitarian response, with partners ranging from the ICRC and Wikimedia to Salesforce and Stanford. He has led interdisciplinary programs spanning from AI ethics to gene editing to tech diplomacy, has spoken at South By Southwest and other conferences, and is an Advisor to the Do No Digital Harm initiative. Before joining swissnex in June 2015, he worked as a journalist and curator at the intersection of science, technology, and design in Switzerland. Benjamin obtained his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his master’s in biomedical engineering from ETH Zurich. He also worked in neuroscience and machine learning research at MIT, focusing on brain mapping at nanoscale resolution.


The Cognitive Revolution Symposium is organized by the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP), ETH Zurich’s Health Ethics and Policy Lab, and swissnex San Francisco.  The swissnex San Francisco edition of Mental Work is made possible thanks to the generosity of the Bertarelli Foundation, which tackles some the biggest challenges in neuroscience and marine conservation. Based in Switzerland, it supports research at Harvard Medical School and Campus Biotech, a neuroscience center in Geneva established by the Bertarelli family, the Wyss Foundation, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the University of Geneva. Part of the Swiss Touch campaign, Mental Work receives additional support from technology partner Wearable Sensing and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.



Event Photos