The Ethics of Augmentation

This project explores the ethics of technologies aimed at augmenting human intelligence.

Humans have a long tradition of augmenting biological capacities through artifacts: running shoes improve our physical capacities, binoculars enhance our vision, and calculators boost our mathematical skills. But the technologies we use are rapidly becoming more sophisticated, more personalized, and even more invasive. Our ability to interface with technology is also expanding, from voice and facial recognition on our smartphones to virtual reality machines, wearable gadgets, and neurotechnologies. With these changes comes a new wave of ethical issues in need of addressing. This project is focused on the ethical questions around the augmentation of intelligence and currently has three strands.

Digital nudging

From apps that ‘nudge’ us to make better decisions to advertisements integrated into our social media feeds, nudging in the digital sphere creates new opportunities for influencing our decision-making. The strand explores the ethical questions raised by these opportunities — questions about data privacy, autonomy, consent, and how AI and data should (or should not) be used to nudge individuals and groups.

Cognitive extension

Our view of the mind can affect our norms and values including, for example, what psychological disorders we recognize, what kinds of treatments we provide, and how we assess people’s cognitive capacities. While most agree that human intelligence is mostly biological, many philosophers now argue that our cognitive capacities can be augmented and extended by the tools we use. This strand explores the ethical implications of this expanded picture of the mind.

Brain-computer interfaces 

Perhaps the most invasive way of augmenting our cognitive capacities is through technologies that bypass the skull and directly interface with the brain. These devices have the potential to drastically change our cognitive profiles, and even challenge our understanding of what it means to be human. This strand explores the ethical questions that these technologies raise.

Image credit


Karina Vold

Karina Vold

Associate Fellow (former Research Fellow, 2017 - 2020)