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The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology

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A new dawn of brain tracking and hacking is coming. Will you be prepared for what comes next?

Imagine a world where your brain can be interrogated to learn your political beliefs, your thoughts can be used as evidence of a crime, and your own feelings can be held against you. A world where people who suffer from epilepsy receive alerts moments before a seizure, and the average person can peer into their own mind to eliminate painful memories or cure addictions.

Neuroscience has already made all of this possible today, and neurotechnology will soon become the “universal controller” for all of our interactions with technology. This can benefit humanity immensely, but without safeguards, it can seriously threaten our fundamental human rights to privacy, freedom of thought, and self-determination.

From one of the world’s foremost experts on the ethics of neuroscience, The Battle for Your Brain offers a path forward to navigate the complex legal and ethical dilemmas that will fundamentally impact our freedom to understand, shape, and define ourselves.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published March 14, 2023

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Nita A. Farahany

4 books16 followers

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5 stars
19 (51%)
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15 (40%)
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3 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Angie Boyter.
1,885 reviews50 followers
February 26, 2023
4++ (5 for content)
Fascinating, informative, … and scary!
The title of this book is very appropriate. There are MANY battles for our brains discussed in this book, and the information is both fascinating and scary. Many of the initiatives involve advancing our ability to provide medical treatment or to help people function after debilitating strokes or accidents, and there are already some impressive devices in use or development. For example, a South Korean biomedical company has an electroencephalogram (EEG) device that can detect early cognitive impairment that should allow better treatment for a number of neuropsychiatric diseases. The same research, though, can provide ways to invade our minds. Big Brother can use many techniques for purposes that we may consider ethical or an invasion of liberty. There are EEG headsets that are one step up from lie detector tests to see if someone is lying during a criminal investigation. Employers could require employees in occupations like pilots or truck drivers to wear such devices to measure their alertness. Is the protection of the public worth the invasion of an employee’s mind? The State Grid Corporation of China already uses EEG sensors to measure employees’ fatigue and other brain wave activities. There is also neuromarketing, a blend of neuroscience with consumer research that uses physiological and brain measurements to inform marketing, pricing, and product development. These are done now using willing subjects, but in the future companies may be able to collect information about us from devices we have for another purpose much as social media does today using our posts.The term “battle” is also appropriate in another realm, war. Both China and the US and no doubt other countries have efforts in various defense-related fields involving the brain.
I absolutely loved the dedication to this book, “To Mom and Dad, for always believing in me, even when they think that I have no idea what I’m talking about”. However, clearly Nita Farahany DOES know what she is talking about, despite her parents’ reservations. She is a professor of law at Duke University specializing in the legal, social, and ethical implications of emerging technology and has served on a number of distinguished commissions, such as President Obama’s Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. On a more mundane but very relevant level, she also wears a headband containing electrodes that detect her brain waves and send them to an app on her smartphone to help her use neurofeedback to control her migraine headaches.
Despite her credentials, Farahany does not rely on her own knowledge and opinions alone, and there is a wealth of discussion of the works and opinions of other experts, including some of my favorites like Francis Fukuyama and Michael Sandel. All the positions of others are respectfully reported even when the author does not agree with them.
Like many books that cover a lot of ground on subjects that will be fairly new to most readers, the first part of The Battle for Your Brain is less than fully clear at times and, perhaps because of the breadth of the subject, can sometimes be a little repetitive. If you find this, let me assure you that things get better, and it DEFINITELY is worth it.
This book is worth reading simply for the fascinating descriptions of techniques and tools being developed or already in use involving our brains, but a lot of this work can be use for good or ill . Farahany is overall a champion for neurorights and cognitive liberty. She ends the book with a call for action to protect ourselves and future humanity, while at the same time making the most of the wonderful possibilities offered by neuroscience and neurotechnology. Read this book, and I am confident you will agree.
I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from NetGalley.
PS Great fodder for a thoughtful book group. I will be recommending it to the Sunday Philosophers!
Profile Image for Alina Kukin.
6 reviews
March 28, 2023
The basis of this book was particularly intriguing, so I pre-ordered it and was really looking forward to reading it. Several of the topics/devices/data discussed in the book were, in fact, fascinating and thought proving (e.g. role of neurotechnology in politics, marketing, mental health….and the potential dangers of it, with a call to action for demanding our right to cognitive liberty). I did not like the writing style, though, as the book was repetitive and poorly organized. The chapters were not always cohesive, and the writing jumped around topics significantly. This made reading it not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be, despite the interesting content.
November 22, 2022
Farahany's book is the rare work of a rare academic--applied, prescient, and timely. This work will long be looked at as a first clarion call for the right to cognitive liberty and clearly setting the stage for one of the largest fights for the next decades--aptly titled The Battle for Your Brain.

A polymath herself, Farahany integrates peer-reviewed academia with popular culture, and philosophy with children's cartoons and video games, from the fringes of the Internet to the decisions before the halls of power. Her work breathlessly and seamlessly shifts from military, commercial, foreign policy, marketing, and academic impacts of the changing landscape of neuroscience. She does not dumb down the science but puts it in context with the lived world.

As a business leader, this book gives me pause. I run a company that employs over 300 pilots with a strong commitment to safety. This book rightly questions simple decisions I've considered--whether to adopt health and biometric tracking of our pilots to ensure even higher safety. After reading this book, the answer is much more complicated than I considered.

As a quantitative self-focused on my health, who tracks and uploads my biometrics daily, this book examines the benefits and pitfalls of expanding that tracking to my mind.

And as a concerned citizen, this work reinforces that policymakers must rapidly establish norms as larger tech companies race to not just control our clicks but our thoughts.
Profile Image for Jeff.
1,208 reviews102 followers
October 1, 2022
Well Documented Examination And Discussion. This book is, quite simply, one of the best documented books I've ever come across - 48% of the text of the ARC I read months before publication was documentation. Within the narrative itself, Farahany does a great job of using the principles espoused in John Stuart Mill's 1859 book On Liberty as a recurring touch point on the need for liberty of the mind and brain - the last bastion of true privacy left in this increasingly interconnected world of multiple overlapping surveillance systems. Farahany does an excellent job of showing both the biological and the social side of what is happening when, and the various implications it can have for everything from criminal prosecution to employment, and many other topics as well. Written from a decidedly libertarian, pro-freedom perspective, this is absolutely a book that everyone will need to read and contemplate. Very much recommended.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Burton.
98 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2022
While a fairly large percentage of those who engage regularly with technology are convinced they don’t need to worry about the fact their every move is being noted and preserved because they aren’t doing anything interesting, a smaller one understands the long-range potential of the various ways our devices are spying on us.
The extent to which our lives are no longer our own should concern everyone, but it doesn’t. Given the potential next stage of technological intrusion, it’s time to fix that. For example, there are apps available now for use in monitoring sleep that should really make sensible people nervous.
“Consumers can see graphic displays of their brain wave activity in real time—delta (dreamless sleep), theta (deep relaxation, daydreaming, inwardly focused), alpha (very relaxed, taking a break, meditating), beta (aroused, engaged, stressed), and gamma (concentrating) waves—as well as patterns of blood flow in their brains and even the bioelectric changes in their muscles.”

At the moment, we’re assured that information is only stored locally, but bear in mind we’ve heard that song before.
Dr. Farahany is trying to get a jump on that next stage of that constant surveillance by alerting us to the ways the technology boffins are slowly but steadily advancing into the last bastion of our privacy—our minds.
“We must establish the right to cognitive liberty—to protect our freedom of thought and rumination, mental privacy, and self-determination over our brains and mental experiences.”

Already, she tells us, eager technophiles are experimenting with peripherals that allow them to play games using only their thoughts, or rather the micro-muscular movements triggered by their thoughts. It’s still early days, after all. And they do so totally oblivious to the kind of date being harvested while they’re having fun, data that will be used to create the next generation of brain monitors disguised as tools and toys.
“Unbeknownst to the gamers, the researchers were able to steal information from their brains by measuring their unconscious brain responses that signaled recognition to stimuli, including a PIN code for one gamer’s credit card and their home address.”

Well, I hear you thinking, I just won’t use any of that stuff. The problem is, corporations are already using it to monitor worker productivity, or in the trucking industry to determine when a driver has been on the road too long and showing signs of fatigue.
“[N]eurotech may become a requirement in modern workplaces and schools: no wristband, no job.”

Those who consider this farfetched are reminded there are currently multiple lawsuits pending brought by people, including healthcare professionals, who objected to being ordered to accept an experimental "vaccine" and were summarily fired. And still can't get their jobs back despite the growing evidence the treatment they refused is ineffective for the purpose advertised.
The problem, as is so often the case with questions like this is: Where do we draw the line between technological invasion and service to humanity? After all, Dr. Farahany notes, it’s hard to oppose something that can prevent accidents by ensuring workers are too tired to work safely.
“From Australia to the Americas and parts of Africa, more than five thousand companies worldwide in mining, construction, trucking, aviation, railway, and other industries use SmartCap [currently available monitoring technology] to ensure that their employees are wide awake.”

Then there are the medical applications.
However, along about Chapter 5, Dr. Farahany gives away that while her theme purports to be protecting the privacy of our thoughts, she's still more than a little enthralled by the idea of enhancing the human body using technology. You know—creating what in science fiction used to be called “cyborgs”. After all, just because using chemical enhancements in athletic competitions is illegal should preclude our using technological ones to improve our mental performance. And if one person uses it, won’t everyone who wants to be competitive need to accept those same enhancements?
“Better brain functioning can make us more successful at work, enhance our earning potential, reduce our likelihood of experiencing social and economic difficulties, and improve our overall health.”

I’ve seldom read a better example of free-market capitalist reasoning for screwing around with our bodies and minds.
Nevertheless, as an alert to what’s waiting in the wings to be introduced into our society, this books does what needs doing; and the explanation of the basics needed to protect ourselves from government and corporate overreach are worth the time to read about them. Although Dr. Farahany occasionally falls into full academic jargon mode, for the most part the book is reader-friendly, and the message is important enough to wade through the more technical stuff.
I would certainly recommend this to both technophiles and technophobes, on the grounds it’s better to know and not need than to need and not know. I don't share Dr. Farahany's enthusiasm for technological enhancements for reasons biological and ethical, in that a neoliberal free-market economy guarantees those who can afford it will be those who already have more advantages than they need. Still, the book addresses an important issue not enough of us are thinking about.
28 reviews
October 1, 2022
This is a masterful book that everyone must read. As Ms. Farahany convincingly proves, soon every employer is going to require that we all wear wristbands or headbands that will allow these firms to completely read our minds. Yes, they will be able to know one's every unspoken thought and they could use this information to our detriment. As Farahany clearly points out the time to assure our freedom from this unwarranted intrusion is now.
124 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2023
I read this book as a pre-release e-book obtained through NetGalley, provided by the publisher.

This is an eye-opening expose of how neurotechnology is advancing and being applied. It’s both exciting and alarming. Some of the uses and the experimental uses are well beyond anything we could do a decade ago. Much of the science fiction is now being done and documented by researchers, corporations, and governments. Some of it can help improve lives, some of it can improve capacities for a surveillance State or corporation far beyond any Orwellian dreams. Some of it can be used to improve lives of the disabled, some of it can be used to change genetic functions, some can be used to augment functions of human bodies. Some can even be used to extend human life span – or effectively make the consciousness immortal in the foreseeable future.

The questions of how or when or by whom these should be used or forbidden, who gets to see and store the data of what is actually INSIDE our brains, what controls or rights should be in place has not kept pace with the technology developing it. The book illustrates some of the important consequences, as well as how we can learn from past technologies and rules surrounding them.
Profile Image for Tomasz Onyszko.
44 reviews59 followers
March 19, 2023
I picked it from the recommendation of a friend - the book is good, so maybe it should even get 4 stars, but I have mixed feelings about it thus only 3.

For sure author is knowledgeable and the book is solid on its research and opinions in it.

This book feels like two books:

1/ First half is good - it focuses on the area of technology around the brain access and brain interfaces. It is touching the important topics around governance and implication of the technology. I expected that it will go deeper around it in the second half with proposal of some solutions or ideas, but ...

2/ The second part of the book seems like it is all over the place. Feels a bit like generic review of many different areas of cross section of technologies and brain research but not only. I've lost focus in this part as I couldn't grasp what is the intention here.

So all in all, it is giving a good overview of the field for someone who is new to it and points out the challenges and areas of research. It is not living up to my expectation of giving some ideas where it might head next.

Profile Image for Jan Dunlap.
Author 13 books53 followers
January 23, 2023
If you think that mind control is the stuff of science fiction, guess again! Not only is it already with us, but advertisers and employers are actively seeking to know what you think and how to control it.
The need for a clear awareness and protection of our cognitive liberty is the core of this book. Farahany takes real-world examples of how businesses are now using neurotechnology to improve employees' productivity and presents the challenge of defining the individual's rights to privacy of thought, along with a call to use neurotechnology ethically. Dream incubation, directed energy weapons, a 'brain war' combat style, and China's investment in military brain science are some of the topics covered by the author. The future is here, folks, and we need to be informed and protective of our rights to think freely!
I was supplied a pre-publication ecopy of this book from Net Galley for my honest review.
Profile Image for Amanda.
32 reviews
March 31, 2023
This book deals with an important topic, no doubt. I've been writing about cognitive liberty across almost two decades, so for me the most interesting part of the book were the newer examples of the neurotech and uses of it (things you don't see in your news feed). That being said, this is also the biggest downfall of the book; it's largely a snapshot in time of where we are now, less-so an attempt to develop/advance the philosophy and ethics of cognitive liberty to encompass where we could be headed. I would've given it five stars if I'd seen an attempt to stretch our current thinking into the future, but while the book did encourage us all to be thinking about our rights in this area, it didn't seem (to me) to be breaking any fundamentally new ground in that area.
1 review
March 6, 2023
Only our future is at stake. It is important we are deliberate here. Nita does a fine job of making tangible the substance of the techological trends, surfacing the issues (and there are many) and asks questions we should all be pondering. You didn't know you had to, and you may not like the delimmas - that's why this book is so important. She also shares her own views, helping you the reader develop your own viewpoint whether or not you agree. This is a timely book and will likely shape the debate. Well worth the read.
Profile Image for Gianna Himes.
34 reviews
March 15, 2023
In her new book ‘The Battle for Your Brain,’ Nita Farahany explores where we are at in present day and where we’re headed in regards to neurotechnology. Nita writes with conviction to bring awareness and provokes thought around entities such as employers, school systems, the government etc., tracking our thoughts, brain data and so much more. One of my biggest takeaways from this audiobook was that neurotechnology should be used to empower not control. If you’re curious about neurotechnology advancements and how this may effect our freedom of thought, give this a read.
3 reviews
March 6, 2023
This book completely freaked me out. I had seen the author's presentation on the topic and sought out the book to learn more. It didn't disappoint. The technology is so much closer than I knew and the examples were startling throughout. I was left hopeful about the path forward with the right to cognitive liberty Farahany lays out. This is a must read book. I feel like everyone should be reading this and talking about the "last bastion of freedom" that Farahany lays out. Our brains.
66 reviews3 followers
March 29, 2023
A necessary alarm bell for what's inevitably coming down the pipeline with the proliferation of AI and surveillance technology, but since the pandora's box is already open, the calls for regulation and enshrining cognitive liberty as a human right may be like building a dam out of toothpicks to stop a tsunami. It's hard to be optimistic, but you suffer twice as a pessimist, so I'll try to air on the side of optimism.
March 14, 2023
This is a provocative and timely take on our right to free thought. A recommended read for anyone that cares about the liberty and security of your mind.
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