Nita Farahany argues that we need to establish a new human right of Cognitive Liberty in order to address the threats of Neurotech like VR, AR, BCIs, & non-invasive neural interfaces in her new book Battle for the Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology (releasing on March 14th). Cognitive Liberty is a umbrella term that includes a complex of other human rights including mental privacy, freedom of thought, and self-determination, but clearly defining this novel concept of cognitive liberty will hopefully provide a pathway for creating the philosophical, legal, and ethical foundations to create viable regulations around these new forms of sensitive brain data, physiological data, and biometric data as well as the inferences that can be made from it.
Farahany’s book is a tour de force of scholarship that is not only catching everyone up on the last decade’s worth of neurotechnology research and enterprise industry developments, and it was actually Meta’s acquisition of CTRL-Labs & their wrist-based EMG interface into VR and AR (see my previous coverage in episodes #814 & #987) that was a catalyst for her to write this book as we’re on the threshold of these neurotechnologies starting to be deployed at a much broader consumer scale. She does a comprehensive audit of both the promises and perils of these neurotech applications across multiple contexts in order to develop of the novel concept of a new human right of Cognitive Liberty and it’s associated rights in order to address the threats from these technologies.
I started this series on XR Privacy after attending the Stanford Cyberpolicy Center’s gathering on Existing Law and Extended Reality organized by Brittan Heller (who also coined the term “biometric psychography”), and the talk that I gave there focused on XR privacy because aside from the NeuroRights approach, there hasn’t been many folks who have comprehensively combined all of the philosophical, legal, and technological components — up until Farahany’s book Battle for the Brain, which fills a much needed gap at the right moment in trying to address some of these issues that I’ve been covering for many years and arguing that new regulation is needed to fill the gaps in covering the privacy threats from immersive XR and neuro-technologies.
I was able to sit down with Farahany and explore the full spectrum of her human rights approach of Cognitive Liberty with mental privacy, freedom of thought, self-determination, the next steps in getting this adopted and diffused throughout different human rights organizations, joint biometrics scoping efforts by the American Law Institute and European Law Institute, and the various regulatory bodies around the world. We also talk about her process of researching the emerging technologies of neurotech with such rigor and depth while keeping up to speed on the wide range of developments and potential moral dilemmas, while simultaneously pushing the edge of philosophical and legal understanding on the topic. In this series on XR privacy, I’ve covered how there still remain many gaps in the GDPR and AI Act as well as other EU regulations when it comes to dealing with XR data and the types of biometric inferences that can be made, and I feel like Farahany’s human rights approach with defining Cognitive Liberty as she has may be one of the most effective tools in closing some of these gaps so that we don’t sleepwalk into a dystopia of Surveillance Capitalism 2.0: Brain Data Edition.
If you’ll be at SXSW, then come check out my talk on the Ultimate Potential of VR: Promises and Perils on Sunday, March 12 at 4p where I’ll no doubt be giving Farahany’s concept of Cognitive Liberty a shout out.
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