Sort of a cross between Tobermory and Skynet

by John Holbo on November 29, 2010

Following up Henry’s post, let me do my part to not add much to the Wikileaks story. A while back I had an idea for a Wikileaks-extrapolated SF story …

In the not-too-distant future, our relations to computers/the internet have grown more intimate. Our machines respond directly to our thoughts, courtesy of implants. Now: it’s very dangerous to be driving your computerized car and have it respond like lightning to every stray death wish that flits across your mental monitor. So our mind-machine links, in this future world, are insulated and buffered in prudent ways. But: Google (or whoever) has figured out that internet searching goes much better if the machine can read you raw at every level and log all that stuff. People go along with it. Of course, privacy is assured. But: Julian Assange (Assange’s envatted brain, or whoever) stages a massive, Wikileaks-style intelligence release: Psycheleaks. Everyone get up one morning and finds, to their horror, that in the night have sprung up public ‘Psykis’, consisting of everyone’s logged-and-now-leaked thoughts – down to every last little Underground Man-style private fantasy. And the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel got to read the dreams earlier than everyone else, etc. Everyone pretty much knew what this stuff would be like, in broad outline. But it’s still embarrassing. And now no one can live without their implants. But Assange has cult followers everywhere, fanatically devoted to transparency …

Also, Twitter has become a meditative religion; syncretic amalgam of Buddhistic and Tantric notions and practices. The goal is to achieve complete mental-spiritual self-discipline. Some practitioners strive to post only the 140 characters of God’s true name, repeatedly – a variant of Amitabha (‘The Buddha of Infinite Tweet’) Buddhism. One guy almost sets the world record but accidentally tweets ‘world record!’ instead, breaking his streak. Twitric Buddhism maintains that the universe itself is the godhead’s twitter feed. The sexual side of Twitric ritual practice requires a Microsoft Kinect. In the wake of the Psycheleaks scandal, Twitter acquires many new devotees.

I release my story idea under a CC license. Or, more accurately, a CD license – that is, Cory Doctorow can use my idea for any commercial or non-commercial purpose. If he wanted to, that is.



Chris Bertram 11.29.10 at 9:03 am

_And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine …._


Colin Reid 11.29.10 at 10:36 am

It seems that sites like Facebook are encouraging people to shed old notions of privacy anyway. Thinking in full view is just the end-point of this progression. Also, never mind the cult of Wikileaks, Google would by then be the nexus of a hive mind.


Glen Tomkins 11.29.10 at 2:23 pm

Too much information

It goes almost without saying that this Psycheleaks project would dump too much information on the system to be at all useful. Everybody on the planet would have some random, disconnected bits of thought that would, taken out of context, be bizarre, embarrassing and fraught by the standards we are used to in a world where people are able to apply their filters.

The standards for what is embarrassing, bizarre and fraught would shift radically and overnight. To use the Psycheleaks information to build a picture tending to indict the thoughts of any particular individual as being really embarrassing, bizarre and fraught with menace under the new standards, you would have to sift through so much information on that person that it would be the same project of a lifetime that it is now for all of us with our own inner thoughts and impulses. We don’t have enough time to do this even for just ourselves, despite being objects of endless fascination to ourselves.

Sorry to prick anyone’s bubble, but the idea that anyone would bother to undertake this sifting of your mountain of random inner thoughts, no matter how fascinating you imagine yourself to be, is just nuts.


Ted Lemon 11.29.10 at 3:57 pm

You wish! :)


Ted Lemon 11.29.10 at 4:00 pm

Glen, actually I suspect the problem of sifting through any one person’s thoughts would be tractable for a motivated investigator with a fast CPU and a big hard drive. So actually this would be the perfect form of mutually-assured destruction: people will stop gossiping about each other, because everybody has dirt on everybody else, as long as they have the motivation to pursue it.


skidmarx 11.29.10 at 4:20 pm

Bob Shaw showed “slow glass” performing much the same task, initially in “Light of Other Days”, with the full implication that nothing we would do would ever be private again at the end of the subsequent novel “Other Days, Other Eyes”.
Isaac Asimov also did a story where the discovery of time-viewing is repeatedly suppressed because of the resulting end to privacy.


Glen Tomkins 11.29.10 at 4:55 pm


My point is that what anyone could possibly define as “dirt” would suddenly face a massive devaluation.

It would be trivially easy to find stray thoughts and impressions of any number of paraphilias, to take the most obvious example, in anyone’s head. Wouldn’t take much computing power applied to the information dump to get all sorts of such hits on anybody.

What would not be possible, even with massive computing power, would be compiling any sort of context that would let you go from random images and thoughts to actual deviant behavior, even really deviant thought. People are constantly sizing up others sexually, to name just one fount of the massive information overload in this department alone, making associations to all sorts of elements that wouldn’t really tell you what their true procilivities just of thought are, much less action . You would find stray sexual associations to children, say, in just about everyone, but would find no feasible way to sort out from this heap the few people with such mental impressions who actually are even remotely inclined to even really want to have sex with children, much less act on such desires.

Our minds are way too cluttered, there are way too many connections and associations lying about in the depths of some dimly lit ocean of mere potential, to tell the real and effective mental content from the random dross. This Psycheleaks would be like revealing the contents of dreams. No one would be thought one iota closer to patricide or incest for having dreams of killing their father and marrying their mother. The revelation of random thought content to the same effect would have no more impact.


Uri 11.29.10 at 8:39 pm

the idea that anyone would bother to undertake this sifting of your mountain of random inner thoughts, no matter how fascinating you imagine yourself to be, is just nuts.

Oh sure, PsycheRoulette is sure to be a terrible idea… What kind of sicko would find that titillating?

Oh, right, all of them.


Ken 11.29.10 at 9:14 pm

skidmarx, Damon Knight told the opposite story in “I See You”, where the device that lets anyone see any place or time becomes public. Society changes.

I doubt Psycheleaks, or rather the hypothetical technology on which it’s based, would work. Neuroscience seems to be showing that what we perceive as our thoughts is just the tip of what’s going on, and is often just an after-the-fact rationalization of what the rest of our minds have already decided to do. The monitors would pick up dozens of streams from each individual, most of which would not be verbal or even rational.

Which reminds me to find time to re-watch “Forbidden Planet.”


Theophylact 11.30.10 at 6:09 pm

T. L. Sherred‘s “E for Effort” anticipated Asimov by nearly a decade.


Keith 11.30.10 at 8:45 pm


Forbidden Planet is on my Holiday watchlist as well, partially in honor of the late Leslie Nielsen, but also because it’s just a damn fine movie. I also have a seed of an idea about how the Krell were undone but what was essentially Twitter becoming self aware and I want to check that in context.


mark 12.01.10 at 3:40 am

No way would something like this set a new “normal,” let alone overnight. Instead, anytime someone extracted an especially tidbit from someone else’s thought logs, you’d be *more* driven to condemn it. Because the only (imperfect) defense is to make your public persona the sort of person who would never think something like that.

We’ve essentially done this experiment in taking thoughts out of context repeatedly with cabinet nominees and politicians, and the result has not been the gradual realization that everyone has had some stupid idea at some point, but the empowering of people with a limited public record.


Paul 12.06.10 at 1:33 am

the trending topics would be interesting


Aaron 12.06.10 at 2:53 am

Despite the popularity among left-wing intelligentsia, the CC standard is rapidly eclipsed by the new CD standard. The quality of ideas varies, but the best estimate of the length of time it would take Cory Doctorow to actually WRITE all the story ideas he has been presented with is around 1.2 gigayears.

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