Personhood and Identity: Finding oneself in modern times
Personhood-- the concrete definition of what it means to be a person is a question that has baffled philosophers and scientists for centuries. While the concept of personhood seems like one that is known, everyone has a different basis for the way in which they define it. This has been the center of the issue for constructing an objective definition of personhood. Two distinct, but also overlapping approaches regarding personhood are rooted from Naturalism vs Nihilism-- from the biological and philosophical/ethical bases of what it means to be human. What has been found, is that personhood is " the product of an evolved brain system that develops innately and projects itself automatically and irrepressibly onto the world whenever triggered by stimulus figures" (Farah et. Al 2007). This model meshes and encompasses both aspects of the ethical and philosophical, as well as biological, aspects which ultimately govern and distinguish personhood. The concept of personhood relies heavily upon the existence of brain networks that are triggered by "stimulus figures", which can be constituted by anything ranging from a smiley face, to recognizing contingent human behavior even when aware that the stimulus is not a person. Essentially, this principal exemplifies that humans tend to attribute human like qualities in order distinguish humanness from the absence of it, and this personhood is largely impacted by this innate brain model (Farah et. Al 2007). In the modern era, the prevalence of technology-- especially artificial intelligence-- blurs the line between natural human cognition and technology based on human behavior. The advancement of this type of technology ultimately aims to replicate the human experience and personhood, but can also have detrimental effects on the way people view personhood and distinguish their sense of self.
The question of how personhood is defined is articulated in the paper by Farah et. Al, and focuses on certain mechanisms of the brain which attribute personhood to how the brain represents " the appearance, actions and thoughts of of people in a distinct set of regions, different from those used to represent the appearance, movements and properties of other entities". Other mechanisms which aid in the perception of personhood is "the tendency of the person network to be triggered by certain stimulus features even when we are aware that the stimulus is not human". These characteristics of what it means to be human serve in brain systems which attribute human like characteristics to sometimes even inhuman objects-- further solidifying the ideal that perception of personhood is largely based on the human experience and looking for it in other aspects of the world. Neuroscience has functioned to show us that personhood is to a certain extent objective-- that it is constructed by our brain and projected onto the world around us.
Living in the modern era, the majority of the world is exposed to the effects of modern technology and social media in one way or another. Humans are constantly being influenced by technology and social media in one way or another; consciously or subconsciously. Ads, campaigns, products, and endorsements are constantly being fed to humans via social media-- the presence of artificial intelligence and technology that mimics human behavior is becoming almost indistinguishable from actual human behavior due to the current state and progress of technology. The progress of Artificial Intelligence may be beneficial in efforts to revolutionize the world as we know it, but many have reservations on this as it severely disrupts the perception of personhood and intensely blurs the distinctions attributed to personhood. According to an article by Dina Babushkina on the implications of AI, there has to be work done to "identify the risks that the modern technology creates for personhood and the concrete vulnerabilities of the agency in the light of the use of technology". She further states that there needs to be more research done on the possible harmful effects related to the rise of the influence of AI, and "the problem of hybridization of agency (human-technology hybrids) and to explore the disruptive potential of technology for the cognitive practices of a human". Ultimately-- researchers like Babushkina, among various others, are asking the questions regarding AI which need to be asked; is morphing technology and human nature more harmful to the human experience than it is beneficial?
In a world where technology is progressing faster than most can keep up to, its important for scientists to step in and understand how the influence of technology and AI on humans can cause a major disruption and shift in personhood-- in quantifying and understanding what it means to be human. Blurring the line between technology and the nature of being human can ultimately have far worse implications than benefits.
Babushkina, D., Votsis, A. Disruption, technology and the question of (artificial) identity. AI Ethics 2, 611–622 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-021-00110-y
Martha J. Farah & Andrea S. Heberlein (2007) Personhood andNeuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating?, The American Journal of Bioethics, 7:1, 37-48, DOI:10.1080/15265160601064199