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)
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
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