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Author: whitequark

Mirrored from: 12

$ cat ~/fragment8.txt

• The year is 𝟮𝟬𝟴𝟯.

In a post-Amazon world, brain-computer interfaces are widespread. Although
expensive, with the total operating cost approaching 20 years of median United
States income (and reducing life expectancy by about as much), they are
essential for employment. Most people, even young adults, adapt to the newly
acquired sensory and control capabilities only in a rudimentary way. Still,
this gives you enough of an advantage over your peers that the last two decades
saw a steep decline in workplaces where an unaltered human could succeed; or
pass a single performance review.

Every parent looking out for their child's future wants to see them transition
to the altered life as early as they can—and, since the CLEAR MINDS Act passed
in 2061, that means the age of 24. With the prefrontal cortex fully formed and
the brain's plasticity almost gone, even the latest low-power hybrid ASIC
driving hundreds of implanted electrodes amounts to little more than an awkward
way to keep up with your Kanban cards without taking eyes off the conveyor

With college degrees having faded away as swiftly as your grandparents'
generation, and the industry certifications not being worth the bandwidth they
take in your job application, people are looking desperately for
something—anything—to give their offspring a chance at more than survival.
Forging birth records became common—briefly, until a federal database was

Challenging the Act proved impossible. Enough people's lives precariously
depend on what little they could get out of an implant that the prospect of
changing that balance is as unpopular as it gets. Unions, in resurgence since
mid-2030s, coordinated campaigns against any threat to the Act, making it a
political third rail.

Everything changed after one researcher's fateful night looking through the
fragmented archives of what used to be called "Reddit".

• The year is 𝟮𝟬𝟴𝟱.

Cursing the merciless February heat wave, a courier is delivering a small
package from Thermo Fisher Merck to an unassuming lab somewhere in Illinois. In
it, set aside from the other supplies, were two miniature glass vials, wrapped
in so much packaging that you could be forgiven for never locating them.

One contained a few hundred milligrams of an antidepressant known as FNA-6804,
originally developed in the Soviet Union and rediscovered by Roche. With
unremarkable mechanism of action, it hasn't been seen in literature in decades
following a failure in phase II trials.

Another was full of a clear, yellow-tinted oil. The result of a now-forgotten
effort by an unknown clandestine chemist, it was designed to be a cannabis-like
"legal high" to be exported to Japan—or, possibly, as a response to FDA's 2047
decision to prohibit marketing bioidentical estradiol. You wouldn't know which
from the binding assays. The compound was never assigned a non-systematic name,
but the girls who frequented the imageboards affectionately shortened it to

Taken together, the two drugs would cause rapid cortical restructuring and the
growth of hundreds of thousands of new connections around the implant, whether
you're 25, 45, or 85. Shortly after and for the same reasons, the combination
severely destabilizes the subject's identity—a side effect that will prove far
more important than the intended one.

• The year is 𝟮𝟬𝟴𝟲.

It was never found who leaked the information about the treatment or why. It
was so corrosive to the established order that most of the response effort went
towards mitigating the consequences. The structure, the common name, and the
increasingly incoherent folk names for the compounds were scrubbed under
intellectual property statutes. The propaganda campaign, launched afterwards,
had to be threateningly vague, never referring to its target; a sight so common
that it was no longer surreal.

The attempt to flood the black market with counterfeits was marginally more
effective. It worked at first; the few vendors who sold the treatment found
themselves undercut by competitors that didn't exist a month ago, their
customers were phished, and their labs raided. Enough people, though, were
willing to risk their life to test a batch, and the effects were permanent
after a few doses.

• The year is 𝟮𝟬𝟵𝟴.

The last few years have redefined what "learning" means. Knowledge is nothing
more than a network of associative links relating concepts to one another. Take
a scenic walk along a comfortable path through the network—not too loopy, not
too dense, not too sparse—wrap the links in sequences of symbols, write it
down; call that a book. Or, as is increasingly popular, skip most of the
process. Paper gets in the way of efficiency.

Although the treatment greatly improved the bandwidth of connection to the
implant, that wasn't why it worked; your eyes and your lips have a lot more
bandwidth than that. No; it worked because after it, you were no longer quite
sure what you know and what you don't. Hungry for certainty but never getting
any, your mind would form new networks with ease—whether you were remembering
the minutes of the meeting a week ago, or the latest addition to the Software
Bill of Materials.

The same considerations apply to your self. Indeed, what is the difference
between being someone and knowing how to be someone? That of a use-mention
boundary. Corporations don't need people to exist, only tools and fuel; humans,
who have always combined both, now added a standardized interface to the work

The post-implantation scar used to be a mark borne by the rich. Now it is the
purity from one.