Podcast: Professor Nita Farahany on “Neuroscience, Ethics and National Security”

At our 24th Annual National Security Law Conference we were honored to have Duke Law’s own Prof. Nita Farahany give us a truly awesome presentation about “Neuroscience, Ethics and National Security’.” You can now watch (or listen to) this ‘absolutely-don’t-miss-this-one’ talk here.

Prof. Farahany is not just any law professor, she enjoys a global reputation as one of the top experts in the field of brain science and the law.

The Duke Chronical recently reported that she’s “presented her work to a wide range of audiences, including a speech to the World Economic Forum and a November 2018 TED Talk titled ‘When technology can read minds, how will we protect our privacy?’”

Moreover, as I say in my introduction of her, Nita has a gift of being able to translate these highly technical matters into a presentation accessible and understandable by everyone.

Nita explains that she is going to talk about “all of the scary ways in which the brain can be hacked and tracked and used for what we ultimately want to use it for, which is its best purposes.”

The national security implications of all this are pretty obvious, and she makes the vitally important point that in the “coming age of technology, artificial intelligence, [and] machine learning, it just turns out we can do a whole lot more with what’s between your ears than we ever could before.”  She observes that science is allowing us to improve the brain in new ways, and suggests we may see even more dramatic developments in the future – and possibly much sooner than later.

In her talk she describes “monitoring the brain in a way that you didn’t think possible, brain to brain communication like telepathy, [and] decoding brain activity into speech.” She explains how brain activity sensors can now be miniaturized and embedded “into a baseball cap, into a helmet that a person is wearing on the field, or even in a simple tattoo that can be applied to the scalp.” She notes that this isn’t science fiction:

Is that ever going to happen? It already is. It already is. Advances in brain science have already led to, at the very least, the Chinese military integrating it into all of these helmets to track in real time what’s happening on the field, track in real time performance as people are doing exercises and military exercises, to track in real time whether a person is stressed, concentrating, focused.  

This just a small sampling of the many topics she covered.  She closes by posing some very serious and interesting questions to ponder:

Is it still you if your brain is being hacked, and tracked, and changed? Are you able to still flourish as you as you conceive of yourself today in a world in which there is significant brain monitoring, significant brain interrogation, and brain modulation?

And the last question…is to just think about what it means for military personnel …to have [their] brains hacked, brains tracked, brains changed. Can you consent to it? What does that consent look like?

Do you get to keep your enhancements after you leave the service? What does it look like when you return to civilian life? What are the side effects or the unintended consequences, long term, of enhancements?

Invest an hour of your time watching (or listening to) this podcast and, believe me, you won’t regret it. Again, it’s available here.

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