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Digital Society Initiative


Muriel Leuenberger, Dr.

  • Meaning in Life | Virtual Reality | Generative AI
Rämistrasse 69, 8001 Zürich

Research project

In the DSI Bridge Postdoc Fellowship, I investigate the risks and opportunities virtual reality technology (VR) and generative AI present for meaning in life. In the last four decades, philosophers have increasingly emphasized that, contrary to a widely held philosophical position, humans are not only motivated either by self-interest or moral demands but additionally, by a pursuit of meaning in life. Digital technologies such as VR and generative AI can contribute to a meaningful life or make our lives less meaningful. The research project focuses on the impact of VR and GenAI on meaning we may achieve through relationships, creating art and playing games. Can we build a meaningful relationship with an AI companion or with a person we only met in VR? Is writing a poem with ChatGPT meaningful? Can the new forms of agency available in VR gameplay contribute to meaning in life? The impact of novel technologies on meaning in life has largely been neglected so far even though particularly in VR and generative AI, raise novel, philosophically interesting and pressing questions. This project provides a conceptual and normative analysis of how VR and generative AI contribute to or disrupt meaning in life.

Academic career

In my previous research at the University of Zurich and at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical ethics, I have worked on how digital technologies (notably health and activity trackers, algorithmic profiling and AI companions) impact identity. In 2021, I received my PhD in Philosophy at the University of Basel. In my thesis, I have analyzed the concept of authenticity and whether using a neurointervention can compromise or promote authenticity. I received an MA in Philosophy of Science and Technology from the Technical University of Munich and a BS in Nanoscience (an interdisciplinary program in physics, chemistry, and biology) from the University of Basel.