Who Owns Your Memories – You or Your iPhone?

My family at Kew Gardens, 2010

Who owns your memories? You’d think that would be you. But in a short interview with Claudia Dreifus at the New York Times, neuroethicist Matthew Liao notes that to the extent our devices are serving as outsourced personal memory banks, you may be sharing ownership with, say, Facebook:

Lately, you’ve been writing about this question: Do people own their memories? Most of us think, “Of course we do.” Why are you bringing this up?

Because there are some new technologies coming where we may be able to enhance cognition and memory with implanted chips. Right now, if you work for a company, when you quit, your boss can take away your computer, your phone, but not your memory.

Now, when we come to a point when an employee gets computer chip enhancements of their memory, who will own it?  Will the chip manufacturer own it as Facebook owns the data you upload on their products at present?

Even today, some people claim that our iPhones are really just extensions of our minds. If that’s true, we already lack ownership of that data. Will a corporate employer own the chip and everything on it? Can employers selectively take those memories away? Could they force you to take propranolol as a condition of employment so that you don’t give away what they define as corporate secrets?

I keep up with the somewhat overblown neuro-ethicist beat pretty well, and most of what I read (including in this interview) is fairly hard-trodden. This one popped out at me as new, and — within the forward-looking realm of neuroethics — possibly more consequential than some of the other material.

Studying Ethical Questions as the Brain’s Black Box Is Unlocked.

Image by David Dobbs, copyright 2010. Every single right imaginable reserved.

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