The Silicon Soul
4 September 2003
Ten years on from the first Socio-Cranial Implant, the changes have been utterly remarkable. Like the industrial and internet revolutions, humankind has taken another great leap forward. I am proud to have been a part of this revolution, and hope that I can still help push forward while I am still (relatively) young.
And to think that all this began with a simple premise, posed to seven (one now sadly absent) friends: What if every person knew the morally correct choice in every possible circumstance, and would be punished fairly if they acted immorally? Dr. Webb, with his fascination with technologies subcutaneous, wireless and networked was able to immediately draw up the basic outline of what we have today: a small chip, implanted at the base of the brain, able to follow all the actions performed by a person. Each chip is able to communicate with the nearest two chips allowing information to be shared. In addition, the chip is able to cause in the person sensations ranging from a slight annoyance to incredible pain, but is not life-threatening. The chip does not exert any active control whatsoever on the person, it only can react to what the person does. It does not interfere with free will.
Armed with this idea, we presented to the boards of all the major semiconductor, pharmaceutical and communications corporations until we found a backer. With a powerful multinational corporation behind it, the idea took on a new momentum. In parallel with prototyping, testing and initial production, we lobbied and negotiated with governments to find a proper use for it. Neo-conservative governments snapped it up, and it rode a wave a public approval as the final solution to the paranoia that had become habitual. The first trial of volunteer criminals started - they would have the implant in exchange for an early release or suspended sentence - and the great leap forward had taken its first step.
But this was no sudden revolution. To start with, the chips were very simplistic in their judgements, and naturally it took some time for them to hone things like the level of appropriate punishment for particular actions. The monitoring station for the network showed an exponential increase in the time of activity over time as each chip received more information from the network and reported its experience back to the network. But as the process got slicker, the programme got expanded to include figures of authority such as police officers, judges and elected representatives. It was when the latter came on board that we started to see the acceleration of large scale changes.
First, though, a step back. One initial problem faced by the design teams was how to programme the chips. The physical size restrictions meant that we could not programme a complex set of rules, we needed a simple "first principle" to guide the judgements made by the chips and the network. We settled on the notion that the morally right act is the one which, if it were applied to every circumstance, would give the most benefit to the human species as a whole in the long term. We then left it up to the chips to work out the complex parts such as what exactly constitutes benefit for mankind etc. We felt that any interference from people was more likely to pollute the system than help it. After all, mankind had managed to dilute any coherent system that we could express, so it was better to leave it up to the chips to form their own based purely on the experiences of the hosts.
The first aim was met, in the sense that the system learnt effectively to give out just punishment for wrong actions. Those who had chips, in a kind of Pavlov response, learnt what the right and wrong things to do in situations were. But this early incarnation of the system was little more than sophisticated caning - corporal punishment for boys and girls who were naughty. But once the system spread away from simple criminal justice into the political system (in that anyone elected by the public got fitted with a chip) the revolution took its second major step.
First, more and more groups were required to be fitted. Teachers, owners of businesses and publicans were the first wave. Then gradually the random fittings were escalated. The aim was to have a majority of the population fitted, with the result expected to be that the rest of society would learn from and be influenced by their actions. The monitoring centre was expanded and new devices created to display "moral scores". One the most successful, one which has become almost ubiquitous on the high street, was a material which changed colour according to the "moral capital" of a particular establishment. For example, in a shop selling goods that are produced in an exploitative or non-sustainable way, the door will change shade to a deep red. Potential customers will see this and can see what degree of punishment they can expect from their chip if they buy from that shop. The personal actions of those in charge of the establishment would also affect the moral capital of the establishment.
What we witnessed though this growth period of the system is the political establishment building institutions around the system, to preserve it and enforce compliance. Of course, the chips themselves dealt out all punishment: those who did not have chips found themselves being suitably and appropriately punished by those implanted. Naturally, and excess punishment would be punished by the chips themselves, so justice is ensured.
Why then is the system now in crisis, when crime has been all but eradicated and sustainable economic policies taking root? One outcome from this system that was not anticipated by the system's original commercial backers was the drastic effect on the markets. Obviously, the only economic activity permitted by the system is sustainable, and so the energy crisis ensued. More critically for the critics of the system is the relative decline of the "developed" world. When the system was first designed, it was assumed that the economic status quo would be preserved by the system, as market forces as arguably morally neutral. Unfortunately, the chips seemed to determine that this is not necessarily the case, seeing the links between economic activity and society in a light untainted by modern human's structures of self-perception.
My view, as one of the originators of the system if that the chips no doubt have the clearest view of what is best for the overall species - un-blinkered as they are from the myopia of the individual's perception of self-worth. Not only that, but given that the changes have only been relatively gradual of over the last decade and that we still enjoy economic and civil liberties scupper the arguments that the system is killing the individual. What occurred is that humans are acting now with a better understanding of what is in our long-term best interests, and being judged as such.
In conclusion, I believe the results of the system can be viewed as a resounding success. We are on the road to achieved a global society that is inherently just and fair, and have avoided any sort of Orwellian nightmare by ensuring that free will is upheld as a key tenet. It is with these final words that I say the system should be retained, maintained, and inevitably further developed. This is apart from the fact that we can't simply remove all the chips. Because they won't let us.