The future of identity

We need to understand that humans exist because they have an identity. This personal website ( is, without my awareness, also to build my identity. In politics, identity plays a crucial role in building public trust. A reputation that is made for a long time can be shattered instantly by poor performance and possibly by slander. Therefore, the game by using media to build identity is vital now. Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg wrote the argument below. I agree with their opinion that the fear of humans to death is due to a fear of losing identity.

Having a personal identity – being someone, with a past and a future – and having a set of social identities – being someone to other people – is an important part of the human condition. Limitations to this ability are fearsome threats to most people. It can be argued that our fear of death is actually a fear of identity loss. Many people regard as the worst part of Alzheimer’s disease the gradual loss of narrative identity of the sufferer. Loss of reputation has motivated people to murder and suicide. People are willing to undergo major trials – whether participating in Big Brother on TV, study for a Ph.D., or undergo gender reassignment surgery - in order to gain an identity that is meaningful to them. 

Future technology is unlikely to change this over the next 15 years. Even with truly radical future technologies it is unlikely that humans will want to use them if they involve unwanted changes to their identity. Instead, people will be interested in technologies they think will enhance their identities: broaden their social network and burnish their reputations, amplify personality traits they feel are valuable, and allow them to do things they consider to be expressive of their “true selves”. 

This is in line with the growth of self-expression values found by the World Values Survey: as societies become better-off, the emphasis shifts from economic and physical security to subjective well-being, self-expression, and quality of life. We should therefore expect growing interest in technologies and institutions that help manage, manipulate, and protect our identities. At the same, time rising expectations and demands will also make many people more critical of existing institutions, finding them unfit to meet their needs. Allowing public participation and maintaining trust is increasingly necessary not only for public institutions but for enterprises and technologies. 

Future public policy will need to take into account some of these expansions of personal identity: in a world with technologically enhanced identities, people are likely to be as fiercely protective of their digital assets, online reputations, “exoselves”, and biomedical enhancements as they are of physical possessions and bodily integrity today. While there is a trend towards a high degree of openness about personal information, especially among younger generations, the desire is still to maintain control over this information. People may freely share much of their lives, but strongly react to attempts to exploit it or manipulate it in ways they do not approve. Technology amplifies the many very human inconsistencies in how we treat our identities.

Reference: Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg, Report, Commissioned by the UK’s Government Office for Science, 2011 [PDF]

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Hadi Nur

This blog is mainly written for my own purposes. There has never been any claim that this is an original work.