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

The next step in technology at work is the collision of AI and neuroscience – computers and the inner workings of our brains. This offers countless opportunities for business, the labor force, and society at large. But 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 what it means to make 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 and Robinson O. Everett Distinguished Professor of Law & Philosophy, 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.


Nita A. Farahany is the Robinson O. Everett Distinguished Professor of Law & Philosophy and Founding Director of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. She is a widely published scholar on the ethics of emerging technologies, including the forthcoming book The Battle for Your Brain: Defending Your Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology. Farahany is a frequent commentator for national media and radio and has spoken at conferences worldwide including TED and the World Economic Forum. President Obama appointed Farahany to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, where she served for seven years. She currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke, as an elected member of the American Law Institute and on the Global Future Council on Frontier Risks for the World Economic Forum, among others. Farahany is a co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences and is on the Board of Advisors for Scientific American.

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.