Thoughts on Techno-Social Engineering of Humans and the Freedom to Be Off (or Free from Such Engineering)

17 Theoretical Inquiries in Law (2016, Forthcoming)

Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 470

22 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2015

Date Written: December 2, 2015


This essay, written for the Conference: The Constitution of Information: From Gutenberg to Snowden, focuses on a constitutional problem that largely goes unnoticed and unexamined by legal scholars — the problem of techno-social engineering of humans. After defining terms and explaining the nature of the problem, I aim to show how techno-social engineering of humans is easily ignored, as we perform constrained cost-benefit analyses of incremental steps without contemplating the path we are on. To accomplish this objective, I begin with two nonfiction stories, one involving techno-social engineering of children’s preferences and a second involving techno-social engineering of human emotions. The stories highlight incremental steps down a path, but neither involves crossing the Turing line, such that the humans become indistinguishable from machines. Then, through plausible yet still fictional extensions, I explore steps further down the path. The essay ends with a fact pattern familiar to every reader. It is also nonfiction. It explains how the electronic contracting environment we experience regularly online is an example of techno-social engineering of humans with the (un)intended consequence of nudging humans to behave like machines — perfectly rational, predictable, and ultimately programmable.

Keywords: techno-social engineering of humans, emotions, preferences

Suggested Citation

Frischmann, Brett M., Thoughts on Techno-Social Engineering of Humans and the Freedom to Be Off (or Free from Such Engineering) (December 2, 2015). 17 Theoretical Inquiries in Law (2016, Forthcoming); Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 470. Available at SSRN: or

Brett M. Frischmann (Contact Author)

Villanova University - School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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