New technologies and challenges for personal identity

19th November 2019

Coincidentally I found a picture of my soccer team when I was about 12 years old. Apart from nostalgia, I wonder how I am the same, having changed both physically and personally over the years. My identity, my “self” is in the coordinates of time and space. The photo has its date and space is the soccer field. In addition, this photo evokes a series of memories linked to this event. Another day I found some boxes with photos in a second-hand market. I look at them and they don’t evoke anything. Their time and space do not interest me. They are anonymous people to me.

As humans we need a personal identity. Each in its own way we have an identity. A complex phenomenon that distinguishes us from all other mammals. Although my two dogs have a name and when I call them, they come to me, they have no identity. You can be a dog without a name. The fact is that identity is a recent phenomenon. For thousands of years the mass was what was preponderant. Social identity begins due to economic imperatives, with state administration ‘categorising’ individuals from birth until death, and at all the stages in between. Individuality is born in the shadow of the administration and especially the state.

There is an identity of mine  (self), which  I do not fully control, is  unconscious, my  body which is and works autonomously,    through  my  physiology, my  hormones or the biochemistry of my  brain. Also experiences that are no longer in my active memory.   There is  another  identity  of mine that is  totally   subjective, I think I  am in a certain way,  surely  I  deceive  myself with thinking that I have  more  talent  and more skills than I really  have. It’s like that. Another identity is as others perceive me, which I rarely confirm, out of fear or ignorance. Another identity is what I would want to be. These  identities  converge  and  diverge  depending on  the  moments  or  stages of my life. Without a   doubt my identities relate in a different way to my environment. When  I stand by a   football    match,   I’m with my professional team, or my wife and  I  make  a weekend getaway   my self is deployed   in different ways.   I’m the same, but my identity is a plot with my surroundings. It is a dynamic network with a permanent feed-back.  When in a person this dynamic system is blocked, transient or permanent mental disorders may occur.

The impact of the new technologies in personal identity

In recent decades, the omnipresence of  information  and  communication technologies  and  digitization  together with the  growing  development  in  our  society of  biotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, automation  and  robotics and other innovations have  a  direct impact on  our  (self)  identity that we still do not know of its  scope. Especially  when  the personal ecosystem that  has    totally  different dimensions of  space  and  time  than humanity    has had    for  thousands  of  years,  especially  when the world of  virtuality  explodes  in our  hands and dizzying  changes  in  our  society lead  us  to a  certain  delirium  of the  self.

We must bear in mind that the creation of personal identity arises when there is an “exit from the usual self” by image or by emotion, to invent oneself.  It’s action. It is an effort to restore self-esteem and to achieve   some social recognition.  If there is no self-esteem, you can fall into   depression, if there is no social recognition,   irritation, anger and self-despair arise.  The drama is that       self-invention for the imaginary is a luxury that not everyone can achieve.

Identity is a key element in our human activities.  Threats    to our identity, whether by hackers or human errors   can destabilize us.  Multiple episodes of “theft” of data create insecurity    and feeling helpless.  In      turn, technologies allow us to use different identities in different contexts. The problem arises when   we get lost in these multiple identities   and we don’t really know who we are. Cases of bullying or “sexting” can traumatize for long periods.   Also  the difficulties in  “erasing”  our online   activities,  create  distortions in  our external image with impact on  our  own  perception  and self-esteem.

Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality

For previous generations,   the world is divided into real and virtual, in new generations there is only one world in which the virtual and the real are mixed without too many distinctions. The exponential increase in online gaming,   virtual  social spaces  and the  rapid  circulation  of  our  information  through  social networks,   are  changing  the  perception  of  ourselves    and often    an extreme  dependence on  the  responses  of  others,  measuring  our  reality with the number of “likes” or  positive comments.  If it happens otherwise it increases my insecurity. Especially the space of the reflective self dwarfs and is replaced    by the opinion of others.

We are faced with  the  phenomenon  that  experts  call  “the  generation  that  achieves  with technologies  “to be alone,  never  to get lost,  never  forget  “, with a  permanent connectivity that generates the “exoself”  that  needs to instantly share any  experience  or  event with others,  without  having  time  to  analyze  and  deepen. 

Identity and privacy.

Our multiple  physical  or  virtual activities  generate a large amount of data,  from  the purchase in the  supermarket, online  shopping,  the use of email,  our  communication  by  social networks, etc. Together  with  our  ease   in  accepting  any legal text  that  appears in the window of  our  electronic devices, they  make  it easy  to trace that in  some  way  defines  how  we  behave . The progress of the “Learning    machine”  allows  a  traceability  of  our activities, the use of  Smart  Watches facilitates  the  traceability  of  our physical activity  and  part  of  our   vital data.

Medicine and   personalized health are not only    about health but also about the expression of social identities.  This function    is increasingly    prominent   as preventive processes, diagnostics and improvement of precision medicine    grow.  Eating  healthily  and              exercising,  or not, are  decisions  that  people  make not only because of  their health effects but also to maintain a certain social identity.  Diagnostic medicine    (and genomics) is expanding the medicalization of the concept of the self. Medicine is   also increasingly focusing   on the social identity and expression of our personality.

Robotics, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence call the door to our personal identity. 

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that they throw the door to the ground. They’re already    in our lives one way or another. Its growth is exponential, and our daily perception is negligible. In  reality,  its  impact is  more  complex,  as  it  involves  a  series  of  changes that will affect  our  identity in one way or  another. Beyond    catastrophic forecasts,    with no basis but   intuition  often,  the  truth is that  as the world of  work  is  automated,  there is  a  sense  that  our  work  as  humans  will  undergo remarkable changes in the coming decades.   For  thousands  of   years, humans    have  based  our  identity  largely    on  our role in the  exercise of a  job,  whether  in  hunting, agriculture, industry or services    and  arts. The concept of work will be changed gradually, but irreversibly.  The  question  is  how  we  prepare to face this  new  paradigm, as well as the management of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in everyday life,   or  to know  how to protect  our personal identity,  or even    better as  we leverage  these  technologies to better  structure  our  identity  and  have  a  better  quality of life.

A separate mention is what we call human cyborgs. Although  there is a lot of  fantasy, the  truth  is that  already   today,  many  parts of  our  body  can  be  replaced and functions of  our  organs  can  be  outsourced  or  incorporated. Organ  transplantation     is   already  a  classic,   prosthetics, insulin pump,  hemodialysis,  improved vision  with chips  implanted  in the  brain, or exoskeleton  for  patients  with modular lesions etc., are few  examples. In the  near future there will be  more  technologies  that will improve    certain physical limitations    through embedded  chips  in the  body  or  nanotechnological elements  that will be able to circulate through  our  body  reporting  the  status  of  certain  physiological processes.

However, the challenge is not so much  in the  “body”  realm but  in the  chemicals    that  can  increase  our  ability to  process  information,  our  memory or diminishing  our  need to sleep in  others. The problem is whether   it is  ethical  or  lawful  that  substances  or  molecules  that  can  improve a particular  neurological  disease, can  be  used  in    “normal”  individuals who  wish to  improve their cognitive abilities. 

All of this poses a dilemma at the level of personal identity.  To what extent can physical changes or cognitive “enhancers”    alter our personal identity? 

We live in a multigenerational society with a high life expectancy

  A   longer   lifespan leads  to  changes in the way  people  view  their  identity  as  older people, as well  as  greater  diversity  in the way  identity aspects   related to   age  and  cultural      expectations.  Intergenerational conflicts  can  erupt  if social norms  and institutions do not  adapt to a  generational, culturally and  technologically diverse society. 

New  technologies  can  accentuate  the  vulnerability  of   certain    groups:  people  who  are  outside identity systems,   people  who  need  certain  forms  of  privacy,  people unable to handle the  growing  complexity  of  identity,  people  who are  victims of identity  theft  and  people  with  persistently  ruined reputations.  Developing  methods  for   identity rehabilitation  could  be  important  to  reduce  the  risk  of vulnerable groups. 

By way of conclusion.

Humanity has been evolving for thousands of years, slowly or frantically over the past two   centuries. I am  convinced that   a  bright  future  opens up with  new  technologies,  as long  as  we are  able to   face  a  number  of  challenges,  some  of  them  posed in a shallow way in this article. To do this we need to modernize our   governance structures.  From   local to global and international. We are  using   governance  structures  that  are  rusty, that  ignore  the  complexity  of  reality and that  have enormous difficulties in preparing  necessary strategies and actions  to  ten  or  twenty years of view  .  Threats and challenges to our personal identity are not technological problems, they are political problems.


Author’s notes.

In psychology, personal  identity is  linked to  our  experience  of being  someone  (a “central self”)  and  our  sense of being a particular person with a  past,  future  and  various  attributes  (a “narrative self”).   Narrative  identity  is    built gradually  throughout life and  plays  an  important role  both  to live a meaningful life and fit into  a social context.  Both  types  of  self  can  be  affected  or  modified in   different   ways:  meditation,  certain  drugs  and  Cotard’s delirium  (1)  can  change the sense of the central  self,     while  amnesia  and false memories    can transform the  narrative Self.  The deliberate modification  of the  self,  using  internal  and  external  means is an  important part of human life and adapts  new  technologies  quickly  (2). In fact, it can often be a driver of new technologies:  cosmetics, plastic surgery, social networks, etc.

Psychological identity is complemented by social identity.  Social  identity  involves aspects such  as  different    people (social roles) that   people take  in  different  contexts,  how  people   identify  with group identities    (also sexual,   gender  and  cultural identities)  and  how  they are  used  in  various  forms  of  expression  and  affiliation.

People maintain a rich structure of social identities, often keeping them separate. Each of these identities has attributes, roles, and norms within   their social contexts (3).

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES OF INFORMATION

  1. A rare neuropsychiatric disorder where the affected person believes that he or she is dead or does not exist.
  2. Robert J. Weber, the Created Self, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
  3. Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 132
  4. How Does Technology Influence Our Identities? How Does Technology Influence Our Identities?
  5. The Future of Identity https://www.nickbostrom.com/views/identity.pdf
  6. How Social Media Shapes Our Identity. The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/how-social-media-shapes-our-identity

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