Across several different domains of social life, the internet has instigated a process of ‘dematerialisation’. Books, bank statements and even money, to name just a few of the objects affected, seem to be slipping away, to be replaced by virtualised variants.
But what about the individual human self? It might be supposed that the physical body is an absolute sine-qua-non of human agency. Yet it may be that we are at the threshold of a new era in which virtual avatars of the self will be able to take over an increasingly large number of the tasks our bodily selves once handled. These might include marriage, inheritance, investment decisions, and service in official roles. The implications for our conception of personhood in this tech-mediated age are profound.
Justin E. H. Smith-Ruiu is the author of The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is; Against the Algorithm: Human Freedom in a Data-Driven Age and Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason.