What is extended mind theory?
The extended mind theory was devised by David Chalmers and Andy Clark in the 90’s. The theory argued that the technology you use becomes part of your mind, thus extending our mind and ourselves into the world. The oxford bibliography defines it as the idea that ’even quite familiar human mental states can be realized, in part, by structures and processes located outside the human head’. Chalmers and Clark’s original piece became the ‘most cited philosophy paper of its decade’, and has, with the advent of smart phones and laptops, become of increasing societal relevance.
Karina Void describes how objects like smartphones and notepads ‘are often just as functionally essential to our cognition as the synapses firing in our heads’. The extension of mind is most explicit in the example of disabled people where pieces of technology, such as the blind man’s cane, become an extension of our limbs.
Are our phones an extension of our minds?
When the thesis was first introduced the central example was a notebook, today, the smart phone has given a far greater illustration to extended mind theory.
The monopolisation of mental functioning by the laptop or smart phone distinguishes it from technologies like a notebook and plays a role more akin to a blind man’s cane. Such is the level of aid provided to cognitive and bodily functioning, the laptop or phone has the ability capture an unprecedented level of thoughts and mental states. Every node and tone of thought can be found through communications on Facebook, WhatsApp, Hinge, G-Mail or Twitter as we connect with allies, trolls, colleagues or family. What’s more, dopamine cycles are wired to apps. The satisfaction we receive from texts, likes and retweets can be related to a platform equivalent of smoking or, as one ex-Facebook employee stressed, cocaine, as the irresistible partner stays attached to us at all times, through our pockets or on our pillow, as podcasts and audio books rock us to sleep.
David Chalmers supports the above saying the ‘iPhone is literally becoming part of your mind’, Void agrees, describing how ‘no other piece of hardware in history, not even your brain, contains the quality or quantitative of information held on your phone’. The emphasis on ‘your phone’ strikes an important distinction between the personal and public device. I would argue that personal phones and laptops are a more important mind extending technology then say a work computer. If the former were to get hacked, they’re mind, thoughts, and mental states would suffer, whereas the torment of the latter would less likely constitute an offense of mind. This difference is important because it emphasises the connection between value and the reliance on the product for the replacement or enhancement of cognitive functioning. Therefore, we can argue that personal IoT devices, mainly the phone and laptop, have greater value despite containing identical hardware as company equivalents.
What impact might this have on hacking and cyber stalking?
Andy Clark and Steve Chalmers argue that the extended mind theory had ethical consequences as destroying someone’s technology or surroundings would be as ‘damaging and reprehensible as a bodily attack’. This has ramifications for how we understand activities like phone hacking and cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking has been defined as ‘the use of online tools and technologies to either enable the stalking or complete stalking end to end’, including ‘information gathering, unsolicited messages, surveillance, unauthorised access to online accounts and spreading misinformation about the victim’. According to Rory Innes, the founder of the Cyber Helpline, the most common form of cyberstalking has been enabled through stalkerware which allows remote control access to a laptop or mobile phone. Alternatively, Hackers can download or create remote access tools, as happened when Jeff Bezos was hacked through a WhatsApp message from Mohammed bin Salaman.
If the laptop or phone is an extension of our minds, then it’s repeated non-consensual penetration, as happens in the event of cyberstalking, should be viewed as an act of violence like rape or assault. Given the phones monopolisation of cognitive functions it’s penetration should be viewed as one of societies’ most violent acts. The argument, in Thomas Kid’s book Cyberwar Will Not Take Place, that ‘no cyber offence has ever caused the loss of human life’ and ‘no cyber offense has ever injured a person’ removes the spectre of violence away from hacking, however, when we acknowledge the extent to which our mind functions through our phone the capacity for violence is unparalleled. To have remote access to a personal device can lead towards the surveillance, and in some cases colonisation, of thought patterns and states of mind. Visually this may not be as damaging as a knife or gun wound, but the psychological violence may in fact be worse due to a repetition of violence and capacity for manipulation. Furthermore, the capacity for domination and mind control is far more prevalent through hacking or cyberstalking than in threatening with a knife. Speaking on the Sam Harris podcast, Yuval Harari warned that technologies like smart phones and artificial intelligence provide 21st century democracy’s biggest challenge as for the first-time human beings can be hacked. In this context, the cyber stalking seems too kind a word – associating the activity with a form of curious voyeurism. Torture would be good for illustrating the entailing violence. Better yet mental slavery would represent the capacity for violence and manipulation enabled by the hacking human minds.
To accept the above would require legal changes. It is important to emphasise that these laws could only apply to personal devices where the mind’s dependence is far greater. The 1990 Computer Misuse Act has a maximum sentence of up to ten years. The maximum sentencing law from the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 has been doubled to ten years. Both charges fail to take account the violence associated with penetrating an individual’s laptop or phone. Void writes ‘if someone breaks your smartphone and wipes its contents, perhaps the perpetrator should be punished as they would be if they had caused a head trauma’. Therefore, extended mind theory suggests that charges of rape or assault could be applicable to cyberstalking. It is crucial to remember that violence associated with cyberstalking is generally repeated thus constituting type one assault lasting 26 months in prison. If the act of continually penetrating someone’s personal device was viewed in same terms of repeated rape, then the sentence could be up to 15 years. Given the advent of technologies that permit the hacking of humans through smart phones and big data technologies, it is likely that we will need to introduce new legislation that acknowledges conceptualises new languages associated with networked behaviours instead of attempting to fit illegal behaviour into bygone taxonomies.
The duality of the mind and IoT device may become one of the 21st centuries most important philosophical debates. I would argue that the phone has monopolised a series of thought and bodily functions that makes it the most significant piece of technology outside the body, and the piece of technology we rely on the most. The role it plays in governing our thoughts, and routines means that it demands the strictest level of legal protection. The event of hacking or cyberstalking should incorporate the level of violence associated with non-consensually penetrating someone’s mind, meaning that sentences similar to assault and rape could be considered alongside stalking. Bills need to be introduced that associate the hacking of IoT devices with the hacking of minds and subsequently discipline not just to prevent stalking but to deter slavery. It is necessary that society accepts and establishes that the hacking of an individual’s laptop or phone is one of societies cruellest acts.