The iPlug

by Bruin Fisher

Item: Single sheet of paper, scanprinted both sides. Text below.
Location: Hidden within hollow wall panel, room divider in timber hut built in upper branches of three trees near centre of Brackenhurst Forest.
Source: Mental probe of sedition suspect revealed existence and location.
Date of Discovery: 2087.9.11
Outcome: Suspect convicted of grand sedition, executed 2087.9.13

We finally got it right towards the end of the year, 2056 as far as I remember. We were so excited. Our team had been working together with teams around the world, on the Open Source Knowledge Base, and the Koreans made a breakthrough on synapse interfaces which enabled us in Cambridge to solve our last problem and we knew, we just knew, that we were close to something which would change the world.

Our sponsors were the entertainment industry and we knew we would set that world alight, but even then I think we had an inkling that it would go beyond that. I remember a few conversations in the canteen, when we all assumed we were about to become wealthy. We never realised just how far it would go, though.

The development work progressed very quickly from there and we soon had a working prototype. It was such a simple concept, and a logical development, really, but it had taken decades to crack the problems that we'd faced. But now for the first time we had an extra way for human beings to communicate with the outside world. Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch – all these are inputs and we have just one output, Speech, unless you count manual systems such as gestures, writing, typing. The development of computer games had been held up for years by the limitation of these interfaces for controlling the new games, and we'd overcome it. For the first time we could interface the digital world directly with the human cerebral cortex. It's all done with radio frequency EMR so no physical connection is necessary, and since the system tunes to the body's own electrical frequencies no implant or any other body modification is needed. And it's full duplex, and fingerprinted, so the iPlug can configure to an individual player and lock to him or her, without interfering with other people in range.

In no time at all Nantindo and Pineapple had built iPlug into their next generation consoles. Multisoft initially boycotted it, saying it wouldn't catch on, but when their market share plummeted they rethought and put it on their Zbox. Their implementation didn't work as well as the one Pineapple had used, and we discovered they'd patched the software to hook into Winnux 7 more intimately, and there was one of those interminable court cases while that was sorted out.

The Nantindo and Pineapple machines blew the market apart with pundits arguing over which was best. What nobody argued about was that both were a class apart from anything that had come before. The gaming experience was indistinguishable from reality. The programmers had outdone themselves with games that made the best of the new interface and gamers could explore uncharted jungle with all the smells, the heat, even the pain. The regulators got involved and insisted on a switch to disable pain and the Aspic brigade bleated rabidly about the harm that would be done to a whole generation of children, scaremongering with no actual evidence to back their warning claims. Maybe this time we should have listened to them even though they were on the wrong track. I don't know.

At the same time as the first games consoles with iPlug were in development, the medical and aviation industries were taking notice, and quickly we saw training simulators which didn't require a pod on hydraulic rams. iPlug gave a trainee the experience of flying an aircraft or spaceship without any actual movement. And then the first sensory prosthesis hit the market and changed the lives of blind and deaf people forever. The first ever driving licence issued to a blind person made headline news worldwide and we swelled with pride. I remember thinking I'd achieved something great, making a real change for the better in people's lives.

One of the things that took us longest to get right was the bidirectional nature of iPlug. It's input/output, but it's not symmetrical so it's a bit like the old tty interfaces, consisting of a keyboard for input and a screen or something for output. What goes in is sensory information, analogous to ears, eyes, taste buds. What comes out is, well, basically, thoughts. And of course the open source community couldn't and didn't leave it alone. It wasn't long before somebody had worked out how to network an iPlug. It turned out that TCP/IP was the most suitable protocol – who'd have thought. The first time two iPlugs were hooked into the same network the community really got buzzing. It enabled two people to pass their thoughts to each other, and iPlug Telepathy Beta II became the fastest download ever to achieve one million hits.

But that was the beginning of the end. The military picked up on it and produced a unit that would enable a soldier, or a spy, to 'read' the thoughts of any one person in range. This device was classified and I have no idea to what extent it was ever deployed, but somehow the open source community knew of its existence and in no time at all an improved version of the military unit was freely available. The hardware was initially expensive but then Lokia and Erikcom both incorporated an iPlug in their Com. units and suddenly everybody had one. And the problem became that you can't prevent anyone from reading your thoughts. The human mind isn't password protected or encrypted and so far nobody has found a way to change that.

Actually from that point, the catastrophe developed rather slowly. Like a lot of other features on their Com. units people mostly ignored the iPlug unless they were particularly interested. And among those who did, older people found them difficult to use. It was just too confusing trying to make sense of other people's thought processes. Psychiatrists and other mental health workers were sent on training courses, and afterwards some of them found iPlug Telepathy a useful diagnostic tool, but it was the younger generation who really picked it up, and things changed in schools. Every school lost teachers as children lodged complaints of inappropriate behaviour against them. One teacher got very upset when a pupil told his wife about his affair with another teacher, and then the pupil reported to the Education Authority that the teacher had imagined caning the boy's bare bottom and accused him of being a pervert. The teacher was sacked and appealed against the dismissal, but the Authority upheld the decision. The floodgates opened as kids joined in the game.

It was the US Federation that first introduced an iPlug-enabled surveillance system to replace the outmoded security cameras that were still in use then. In no time at all every shop, every bank, every cafe and every bar was equipped with the new units and the government was recording not only the movements of individuals but also their thoughts. AI readers were used to scan the stream of data and for the first time it became possible to arrest a criminal before he committed a crime. And the first iPlug suicides were reported. It turned out that people can't cope without at least some privacy. Some people need more than others, but all of us need to be able to think in private.

There. I've thought it. And written it down, too. It'll be only a matter of time, now. It doesn't matter – I've done all I wanted to do. I hope some day this will be found where I'm going to hide it, and my side of the story will be told. I hope there are people then, willing to hear it, people who have learned that might isn't always right and that compassion and care are important in any society. For the time being, the iPlug has put paid to such things.

The newly iPlug-enabled youth became the experienced iPlug-enabled young adults, and became policemen and lawyers and teachers and all the local authority-figures whose job is to uphold the law and keep the peace. But living without privacy does something to your mind and people have become vicious, aggressive, selfish and brutal. Everyone knows everyone else's shameful secrets, and the respect that was once accorded to the bank manager, and the doctor, and the priest, and the judge no longer exists. Respect has become synonymous with fear, so the man who wants to be respected despite all his foibles and failings being public knowledge will engender fear in any way he can.

A couple of interesting discoveries have been made. It turns out that everyone is insecure, everyone has unrealistically low self-esteem, everyone is unhappy with their body and almost everyone would prefer to hide all these facts. That's obvious now to anyone iPlug-enabled, but before 2056 nobody knew it. Strange to think that.

I remember reading a thesis that suggested that the reason that law and order broke down so quickly is that people began seeing everyone as criminals. Because all of us occasionally have thoughts about doing things wrong, we're not all that different from those who act on those thoughts. If your view of the world is mostly brought to you through your iPlug, you are likely to see thoughts as tantamount to actions. And if you see everyone as a criminal, law seems irrelevant. So the cities descended into anarchy very quickly until the Homeland Security people got up to speed and began arresting and executing people wholesale.

The thesis didn't go far enough. The truth is that what we did with iPlug has destroyed humanity. The young people today have grown up knowing that a wrong thought will get them punished. The only logical response to that is to train yourself to think only acceptable thoughts. And the twin results of that are the complete destruction of creativity, and a government that devotes its time to ruling on what is acceptable and what isn't. And now the people are little more than robots.

I've survived this far, using my knowledge of the working of the iPlug. It has a limited range, our first units worked up to just over a metre but they've improved that and the range of most of the units around now is three metres. I live up a tree. I have a wooden tree-house, with rope ladder access, and I pull the ladder up when I'm home. I can't be reached by iPlug from the ground and I believe I've escaped detection so far. I may be the only person alive who can think with impunity. But my days are numbered. New research has resulted in a focused iPlug you can point at someone. Its forward range is about ten times its range in other directions. I can no longer hide. So before I'm taken, I'm recording this testament and I'm going to hide it where I hope it will be found years hence, but not until then.

If you are the reader I hope you are, you will know what to do with this. It is the truth as far as I remember it, and I hope it will give you an understanding of how the world became the place it is, and maybe an inkling of what it could return to if the iPlug were gone. Somehow you must destroy it before it destroys the human race. It's too late for me. I hoped, but it wasn't to be. You must do it.

All the development documents that still exist are with this statement. Use them well.

Only you can save the world.

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