Bioethics Blogs

Technologies of the extended mind: Implications for privacy of thought

by Peter Reiner, PhD

Dr. Reiner is Professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics, at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Reiner began his academic career studying the cellular and molecular physiology of the brain, and in 1998, Dr. Reiner became President and CEO of Active Pass Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery company that he founded to tackle the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon returning to academic life in 2004, Dr. Reiner refocused his scholarly work in the area of neuroethics. He is also an AJOB Neuroscience board member.

Louis Brandeis in his law office, 1890.
In 1890, Samuel Warren and his law partner Louis Brandeis 
published what has become one of the most influential essays in the history of US law. Entitled The Right to Privacy [1], the article is notable for outlining the legal principles that protect privacy of thought. But it is not just their suggestions about privacy that are illuminating – it is their insight into the ways that law has changed over historical time scales that makes the paper such a classic. In very early times, they write, “the law gave a remedy only for physical interference with life and property…[and] liberty meant freedom from actual restraint.” Over time, as society began to recognize the value of the inner life of individuals, the right to life came to mean the right to enjoy life; protection of corporeal property expanded to include the products of the mind, such as literature and art, trademarks and copyrights. In a passage that resonates remarkably well with the modern experience, they point out that the time was nigh for the law to respond to changes in technology.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.