Reclaiming Control: Extended Mindreading and the Tracking of Digital Footprints

Social Epistemology 36 (3):267-282 (2022)
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Abstract
It is well known that on the Internet, computer algorithms track our website browsing, clicks, and search history to infer our preferences, interests, and goals. The nature of this algorithmic tracking remains unclear, however. Does it involve what many cognitive scientists and philosophers call ‘mindreading’, i.e., an epistemic capacity to attribute mental states to people to predict, explain, or influence their actions? Here I argue that it does. This is because humans are in a particular way embedded in the process of algorithmic tracking. Specifically, if we endorse common conditions for extended cognition, then human mindreading (by website operators and users) is often literally extended into, that is, partly realized by, not merely causally coupled to, computer systems performing algorithmic tracking. The view that human mindreading extends outside the body into computers in this way has significant ethical advantages. It points to new conceptual ways to reclaim our autonomy and privacy in the face of increasing risks of computational control and online manipulation. These benefits speak in favor of endorsing the notion of extended mindreading.
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First archival date: 2021-12-10
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