How to Think About Freedom of Thought (and Opinion) in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

68 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2023 Last revised: 1 Nov 2023

See all articles by Sue Anne Teo

Sue Anne Teo

University of Copenhagen; Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law


How to think about freedom of thought (and opinion) in the age of AIThe freedoms of thought (and opinion) are considered as absolute rights within the human rights law framework. Though found in separate provisions within the human rights instruments, the content and contours of these freedoms are largely interchangeable and overlap. The freedom of thought (and opinion) consists of three elements, namely, that thoughts and opinions can be kept private; thoughts cannot be manipulated with; and that one should not be punished for one’s own thoughts. However, artificial intelligence (AI) driven systems increasingly deployed within online platforms facilitate the granular targeting and tailoring of choice architectures to the particularities of each individual, according to what is revealed or inferred by the AI system. This can enable platforms to shape the horizons of possibilities at scale for many individuals at once, enabling the power to modulate thoughts, expressions and actions. Drawing from literature on moral ethics and specifically the nascent field of the ethics of online manipulation, the aim of the article is to theorise the concept of manipulation and punishment in the context of the affordances of AI systems and examine when and how it impacts or breaches the freedoms of thought and opinion. The article argues that manipulation has to be conceived of as an objective concept, without hinging upon the eventuation of subjective effects on individuals, in order for the right to have practical meaning and import in the age of AI. Further, the term punishment has to be re-conceptualised to go beyond state sanctioned actions to include harms to autonomy conditions. This engages the fundamental concept of human dignity that lies as the normative foundation of the human rights framework. As novel material affordances increasingly structure and modulate the conditions for human interaction and communication, the focus of human rights protection has to shift from negative to positive obligations in order to ensure that conditions of possibilities for the freedoms of thought and opinion can take hold and be exercised in the first place. It concludes by proposing three steps that can be taken in order to afford autonomy conditions in line with the respect for these freedoms.

Keywords: freedom of thought, autonomy, human dignity, freedom of opinion, human rights, internatinal human rights law

Suggested Citation

Teo, Sue Anne, How to Think About Freedom of Thought (and Opinion) in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Available at SSRN: or

Sue Anne Teo (Contact Author)

University of Copenhagen ( email )

Karen Blixens Plads 16

Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law ( email )


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