Augmented Minds

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Developments in technologies such as AI and social networks are making possible augmented minds that are part-human, part-technological. These challenge current assumptions about privacy. In this panel, law and technology experts will discuss privacy and legal issues of augmented minds, using zombies, cyborgs and vampires as metaphors. As part of the discussion, the audience will be asked to suggest parallels from stories about these creatures that are applicable to the issues raised.


  • Andrea Matwyshyn: Assistant Professor, Wharton School of Law at University of Pennsylvania. Moderator.
  • Wiebke Abel: Research Associate, AHRC/SCRIPT at University of Edinburgh.
  • Shawn Harmon: Research Fellow, AHRC/SCRIPT & ESRC InnoGen at University of Edinburgh.
  • Lilian Edwards: Professor of Internet Law, Sheffield University.
  • Miranda Mowbray: Researcher, Automated Infrastructure Lab at Hewlett Packard.
  • Judith Rauhofer: Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire.
  • Caroline Wilson: Lecturer, University of Southampton School of Law.

Detailed Description

The convergence of AI, nanotech, and molecular biology (both natural and synthetic) are allowing for technologies which make the human body an integral part of the internet of things. These technologies challenge current legal, ethical and social assumptions about privacy and identity. At the same time, the interfaces to some online social networks allow automated avatars to interact directly with human users. These avatars may have capabilities beyond those of unaugmented human users, and create privacy challenges. Moreover, it may be useful to consider an online social network itself as an augmented mind, including both its technological components and the collective knowledge of its users. There have been some glaring mismatches between the capabilities of these augmented minds and users privacy assumptions.

In all these cases, technological advances are enabling the creation of augmented minds which challenge current legal and technological positions on privacy protection.

There is already a literature that discusses practical and ethical issues of augmented minds. However, it is not in the fields of law or computer science, but of folklore and science fiction. Zombies, cyborgs and vampires are creatures of human-like aspect with more-than-human powers, and in some cases less-than-human moral responsibility. In this session we will discuss privacy issues of augmented minds, from both a legal and a technological point of view, using these creatures as metaphors.

Wiebke and Shawn will outline some legal and ethical challenges that newly evolving cutting-edge technologies such as implantable ICTs and brain-computer interfaces make to concepts of privacy and identity. These technologies potentially allow the creation of zombAIs, brains that are part-human, part-AI.

Lilian will talk about succession to digital assets, in particular focusing on recent Facebook changes promoting post-death memorialisation, and what they saw about privacy and choice for the deceased versus rights for heirs and families. A possible first stage to zombAIs is post-death avatarization in social networks, as an alternative to passing on assets to heirs.

Miranda will discuss Twitter cyborgs, which are automated or partly-automated Twitter accounts designed to send large volumes of Twitter messages, typically for marketing purposes. Twitter cyborgs can be disruptive even when their marketing is opt-in only. There are implications for privacy safeguards in online social networks populated by a mixture of cyborgs and unaugmented human users.

Caroline will discuss the extent of the patent/web standards 'problem' and will critically consider, post-OOXML, whether the current web standard/patent legal policy debate accurately captures the real patent issues for web standards, with particular reference to issues of data privacy.

Judith will look at individual attitudes to privacy and transparency taking the various methods of "mind-reading" in vampire stories like the Twilight saga and True blood as a starting point. She will analyse these attitudes in the context of the ethical complexities that arise from forms of voluntary and enforced "transparency" on social media and the way in which knowledge and disclosure of information by one person affects the individuals to whom that information relates.

Andrea will moderate as well as raise questions about the legal and privacy implications of the emergence of the "corporate cyborg" -- today's corporation which simultaneously strives to be progressively more internally mechanized, yet externally human.

We will then take questions from the audience and ask them to join the discussion. In particular, we will encourage audience members to think of parts of stories about zombies, cyborgs or vampires that may give an insight into the technological and legal issues raised.