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Nita Farahany | Legal Scholar & Ethicist | Director of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

At the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence lies a wealth of opportunity for business, labour, and society at large. Yet along with progress comes a host of ethical dilemmas. As a leading scholar and neuro-ethicist who has advised the United States Congress, Nita Farahany considers what our neurological information is worth, and the  implications of making it available to corporations, workplaces, and government.

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. The Founding Director of Duke Science & Society, Chair of the Duke MA in Bioethics & Science Policy, and principal investigator of SLAPLAB, Farahany is at the forefront of the technology and ethics of wearable devices that use our biological and neurological data. Like devices that inform people with epilepsy when they’re about to have a seizure, these “mind-reading” technologies will change everything from medicine, to marketing, to the processes of justice, to entertainment. The same zap that can save a drowsy driver can also be used in the workplace to increase safety measures; an EEG headset can tell businesses whether their customers really love what they’re looking at—as IKEA did recently. 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 employers must build employee trust when adopting new technologies in the workplace. If we want to make the most of it, says Farahany, transparency is vital.


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 documentary I Am Human, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. President Obama also appointed Farahany to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, where she served for seven years. She is the President-Elect and a  Board member of the International Neuroethics Society, and co-founder and co-editor-in-chief andof 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.

Speech Topics

Technology That Reads Minds Motivation, Not Regulation in the Workplace
As a summer law associate, Nita Farahany was advised to “never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the cover of The New York Times.” But what if that advice extended to not even thinking about anything that you wouldn’t want splashed all over page one? In this cutting-edge, compelling talk, Farahany shows audiences why we must ask these questions, as consumer EEGs and neurofeedback devices are becoming increasingly available and utilized in the workplace. What does this mean for society? Not just tracking what employees’ hands are doing, but what their mental and emotional experiences throughout the day are like? Farahany argues that this type of usage will significantly decrease morale, creativity, and the ability to experiment—all the things that are essential to innovation and happiness. We can integrate devices into the workplace, but with limits in place. What rights does an individual have? We must decide what we as a society want our livelihoods and our lives to look like. We must recognize that employee productivity is also about respecting the individual, celebrating the autonomy of our employees and ourselves, not just for the individual, but for our societies.  If we want workplace productivity, we need to figure out ways to motivate, not just regulate, says Farahany.