Technologies like biometrics, cognitive enhancement, and surveillance are advancing like never before. And while they come with incredible benefits—like increased productivity and enhanced performance—they also pose a threat to ethics and privacy as we know it. When the World Economic Forum, the United States Court of Appeals, and the United States Congress need to know the risks, they ask Nita Farahany: a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of emerging technologies. The Founding Director of Duke Science & Society, Chair of the Duke MA in Bioethics & Science Policy, and principal investigator of SLAPLAB, Farahany’s talks explore how these technological advances are scary, and amazing: she helps companies to get ahead of these issues, maximizing social benefits—while minimizing social harm.
You’re driving home after a long day, desperate to stay awake. Suddenly, a mild zap from your headrest bolts you upright, alert. You’re safe—no caffeine required. This kind of revolutionary device is already in action, says Nita Farahany, and they’re only getting more sophisticated. Farahany is at the forefront of the technology and ethics of wearable devices that, like a Fitbit for your brain, are using our biological and neurological data to enhance minds and bodies. Like devices that inform people with epilepsy when they’re about to have a seizure, or allow a paraplegic to type using their thoughts, these “mind-reading” technologies will change everything from medicine, to marketing, to the processes of justice, to entertainment. With the possibility of us all becoming almost supernaturally legible, Farahany leads audiences on an optimistic, but cautionary, tour through the future of the technologies that can read our brain data as they would a Google Map, including how we can make the most of it, and what is at stake if we misuse it.
Farahany is a frequent commentator for national media and radio shows and has presented her work to audiences like the World Economic Forum, Aspen Ideas Festival, TED, the US Congress, and more. She is frequently cited by publications and programs like The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC, CBS News, and more. Farahany also appears in the new documentary I Am Human, which will have its world premiere this spring at the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, where she served until 2017. She is the President-Elect and a Board member of the International Neuroethics Society and co-editor-in-chief and co-founder of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences. Farahany received her AB in genetics, cell, and developmental biology at Dartmouth College, a JD and MA from Duke University, as well as a PhD in philosophy. She also holds an ALM in biology from Harvard University. Previously, Farahany was the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights at Stanford Law School.