UB Distinguished Speakers Series: Nicholas Thompson & Nita Farahany

AI and the Future of Everything: In Conversation with a Technologist and a Neuroethicist

portrait of Nicholas Thompson & Nita Farahany.

November 16, 2023
7 p.m.

Center for the Arts
Mainstage Theatre

Tickets: $30, $40, $50
$5 UB Student tickets available at UBCFA Ticket Office

Nicholas Thompson
CEO of The Atlantic | Former Editor-in-Chief of WIRED

Nicholas Thompson has occupied the most prestigious positions in the world of tech writing and journalism—staking out a bold, optimistic vision for what our future will look like. Thompson currently serves as CEO of The Atlantic, leading the team to National Magazine Award wins for unprecedented coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, new perspectives on 9/11, the rise of global autocratic power, the case to return the national parks to Native American tribes and the hypocrisy behind high-class education in America. His years of experience covering tech makes him a leading analytical voice in the field, where he uncovers how each new development in the world of tech will impact us all.

How will the world’s dominant tech corporations—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft—interact with citizens, help write policy and redefine privacy and security? How will artificial intelligence and robotics change our devices, the way we work, earn a living, fight wars, solve problems—our very selves? No matter the subject—design, culture, media, tech, ethics or our digital future—he’s more than ready to break the news with big ideas and fearless takes.

As the editor-in-chief of WIRED, Thompson broke massive stories about Facebook’s hidden flaws, cyber-warfare, the Robert Mueller investigation and numerous other topics. His groundbreaking investigative reporting on Facebook was a finalist for a 2020 Loeb Award, and he oversaw work that won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Magazine Award and has even led to Oscar-winning films.

At The New Yorker, Thompson served as editor of the magazine’s digital platforms, breaking new ground with stories about his friendship with Joseph Stalin’s daughter, how our lives are forever changed by the consumer drone industry, and arson amid the election cycle. His work at The New Yorker is defined by his fearless leadership and unwavering commitment to quality stories: The main strategy for growing audience is to publish more, better stories. The stories we’re prouder of, the stories we put more effort into, attract more readers.

He’s also the author of the critically acclaimed biography “The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War”—a fascinating double biography that follows two rivals and friends from the beginning of the Cold War to its end. The New York Times said that the book was “brimming with fascinating revelations about the men and the harrowing events they steered through.”

Thompson is a former senior editor at Legal Affairs and a former contributor at CBS. With a massive and vigilant following on social media, he’s one of LinkedIn’s most-followed individuals. He earned the 21st Century Leader Award from The National Committee on American Foreign Policy, was a Future Tense Fellow at the New America Foundation and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thompson is also an accomplished runner and is currently the American record holder for men over age 45 in the 50k. He is also ranked in the top ten marathoners in the world for his age group. He can show you how the lessons he’s learned from running are also applicable to business, and every other field. The discipline and grit put into this solo sport is undeniably influential on productivity, creativity and purpose. To Thompson, running is not a matter of physical talent, but a matter of mental strength.


Nita Farahany
Author of “The Battle for Your Brain” | Legal Scholar & Ethicist | Director of The Duke Initiative for Science & Society

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, and they’re only getting more sophisticated. Nita Farahany is at the forefront of the technology and ethics of wearable AI devices that use our biological and neurological data. An internationally acclaimed thought leader who bridges law, ethics and technology to champion ethical progress in science and technology, she says these “mind-reading” neuroscience and AI technologies will revolutionize everything. The same zap that can save a drowsy driver can also be used in the workplace to increase safety measures or tell businesses whether their customers really love what they’re looking at.

Farahany leads audiences on an optimistic, but cautionary, tour through the future of AI programs, like ChatGPT, and neurotechnology. She goes over the necessary regulations and shifts that need to be implemented with this rapidly developing technology, including how employers must build employee trust when adopting new technologies in the workplace. If we want to make the most out of AI and neurotech, transparency is vital. 

Farahany's talks break down AI and neurotech to diverse academic, legal, corporate and public sector audiences. Her impactful insights have reverberated on stages from TED and the World Economic Forum to the Aspen Ideas Festival and beyond. She consistently shapes public discourse and policy on neuroscience, artificial intelligence and societal impacts through her rigorous scholarship, and influential public engagements with academics, policymakers and corporations.

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. As an ethics consultant, her expertise is sought by corporations and governments worldwide. Her contributions have been recognized through election to prestigious bodies including the American Law Institute, the Uniform Laws Commission and the AAAS.

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 book “The Battle for Your Brain: Defending Your Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology.” She spearheads research on futurism, law and ethical implications of emerging technologies for society—offering a roadmap for cognitive freedom in our increasingly interconnected world.