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Identity is central to humans but then along comes technology

Identity is central in human activities. Having a functioning psychological and social identity is essential for wellbeing. Threats to identity are serious threats and often evoke strong reactions. Yet we have multiple, changing identities. Shifting between different social identities in different contexts (jobs, family, friends, etc.) is a necessary part of everyday life. Legal identities are essential for the functioning of modern societies. Increasingly, online identities serve not only to give us access to different resources but also to help us link our different social identities. Technologies that affect how our identities function can have important effects on the individual and on society.

Automation and robotics will have broad but diffuse impacts on various aspects of identity, mainly by gradually changing the nature of work and impacting labour markets. These effects will represent a continuation of long-term trends that have led to urbanization and to a remarkable growth of the service sectors of advanced economies. Both IT skills and people skills will be in demand on the labour market. Careers will become 5 more fluid, and it will be important for the country to have a work force that is adaptable and that can master new skills as need arises.

Medicine and personalized health are not only about health but also about the expression of social identities. This function will become increasingly prominent as preventive, diagnostic, and enhancement medicine grow in importance. Eating healthy and exercising – or not – are choices that people make not only because of health effects but also to maintain a certain social identity. Diagnostic medicine (and genomics) will expand the medicalization of self-conception. Enhancement medicine, too, is focused very much on social identity and self-expression rather than merely on health and biological capacity narrowly construed. It is paramount to consider these identity-related dimensions of medicine if we are to understand how and why people will be consuming health care resources in the future. Life extension may lead to new forms of age identities, where people no longer identify with traditional age groups.

Genomics raises many important identity-related issues; in fact, an entire report could be written on these issues alone. Some of the main issues include: (1) changes in self-conception as a result of knowledge about the personal genome and how it correlates with life outcomes; (2) general changes in conceptions of human nature and human identity as a result of better understanding genetic causation (advances in neuroscience also act in the same direction); (3) the possibility that genomics will reveal significant differences between ethnic groups (or differences that some will interpret to be significant) - this could have important implications for ethnic identity; (4) genetic privacy will become increasingly hard to safeguard, thanks to cheaper gene sequencing and methods such as PCR amplification that allow even a small sample (such as a skin flake or a hair follicle) to produce enough genetic information. This latter implication is especially worth highlighting. The medicalization of conception, embryo selection, and (over time) genetic modification will have important effects on individuals - most obviously on individuals who would not have come into existence were it not for these procedures, but also on parents whose reproductive lifespan is extended, and eventually on wider society. The more radical possibilities of genetic modification are unlikely to come into significant use within a 15-year timeframe; however, they may become extremely important over the longer term. Drug-use will continue to be a significant identity-related issue, and it may be joined by new concerns over novel pharmaceutical neuroagents. There are speculations that e.g. neuropeptides could be developed that could be distributed as aerosol and used for neurological manipulation.

Longer lifespans will lead to changes in how people regard their identity as aged people, as well as increased diversity in how age-related aspects of identity are managed and in cultural expectations. Intergenerational conflicts can erupt if institutions and social norms do not adapt to a generationally, culturally and technologically diverse society

New technologies may accentuate the vulnerability of certain groups: people who are outside identity systems, people who need certain forms of privacy, people unable to handle the growing complexity of identity, people who are victims of identity theft, and people with persistently ruined reputations. Developing methods for identity rehabilitation might be important in order to reduce the risk for vulnerable groups.


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