Victor’s nervous. The world’s highest-ranking president is waiting for his lecture. “Sir, we have some error messages, but the most interesting one by far is this one.”
“Come on, tell me,” replies the president impatiently.
“Of all people who use a man-machine interface, exactly twelve fall out of line.”
“Out of line?”, echoes President Zabidar.
“They don’t allow access to their thoughts,” explains the young assistant, who finds his discovery rather frightening than being proud of it.
The President shrugs his shoulders because he is obviously unsure of the scope of the statements. “What exactly are you saying?”
“Our project is constantly being improved. But there seem to be users who not only feel our top secret concern, but even actively resist it.”
“We call him User 42 – based on Douglas Adam’s science fiction novel.”
But the president doesn’t want to know. He’s waving off.
“Like the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, User 42 suffers from progressive bulbar paralysis and is confined to a wheelchair,” explains Victor. “He was implanted with a human machine interface, an HMI. With his help he controls his wheelchair, his home environment, the household robot and of course his computer with voice output. However, our customers are not informed about our little secret experiment. When registering and setting up the system, the customer is asked to think about all possible life circumstances and objects, and of course we record the EEG, i.e. the brain current curves, in parallel. The resolution of the latter examination is significantly higher with a brain implant. This means that we can analyse the content of the thought processes much better. Customers do not know that we continuously record the EEG and compare it with what the person is doing simultaneously. Meanwhile we can differentiate the basic emotional states very well. Anger, fear, affection, disgust, inner peace and balance, sadness and even complex desires such as desire to buy can be captured wonderfully. It enables us, by comparing all further data, to create a personal profile that is unparalleled.”
“Fine,” the president interrupts. “But what’s different about User 42 from the rest of humanity?”
Victor makes a long sigh and walks around the desk before he continues. “User 42 initially allowed our activities as he initially had no desire but to set up the system to regain the freedom stolen from him by the disease. Little by little, however, we noticed that he was also emitting interference signals, which virtually erased the content of his thought processes. This behavior was mainly related to intellectual thought processes and emotional outbursts. If someone is angry ten times a day and then seems to have no feelings at all, something is wrong. Medication wasn’t the cause either. First, of course, we remotely tested the functionality of the implant, which worked perfectly. User 42 himself complained neither of malfunctions nor system errors. At some point we only received interference patterns without any statement. At the same time, the hidden cameras observed his actions. We often saw User 42 angrily catapult objects through the robot onto the wall without receiving the typical signals for this emotional quality. User 42 also has the habit of watching a porn movie every Monday at 10 pm. Where previously a hodgepodge of emotional clouds emerged, suddenly there was only noise.”
The President grins and is secretly happy that no one is able to read his frivolous thoughts, and certainly he would never voluntarily have an HMI installed, as it is already planned for prison inmates and psychiatric patients, for example.
Victor’s scratching his forehead. “Then came Day X.”
The president raises his eyebrows. “Day X?”
“User 42 sent us a concrete message via HMI and simultaneous WhatsApp. Very specific.”
“A message he communicated openly without feeling a single ounce of fear.”
The quote from User 42 appears on the projection screen. “You tried to read my mind and yet were unable to understand it a little. The game is over. Goodbye.”
Silence reigns in the conference room.
The president is visibly dissatisfied. “Where is User 42 now?”
“We don’t know,” and his voice sounds pitiful, “he disappeared before we could have sent lethal signals through the HMI.”
“Deadly messages via HMI?”, assures the president. “You can do that?”
Victor confirmes. “We mustn’t have developed the HMIs if these functions hadn’t been integrated, sir. That was the unpublished wish of the federal government..”
Of course the president is informed. After all, it was his idea and thus, so to speak, a prerequisite for the launch of the HMIs.
“Well. And how does the death warrant work at the push of a button?”
Victor’s pupils are dilating. He’s just a computer scientist, not an executioner. Or? “Laser coagulation, sir. The integrated laser is capable of destroying the nerve cells of the respiratory and circulatory center by heat.”
President Zabidar slips his huge teeth back and forth on his lower lip. The modern variant of the guillotine fascinates him. “How could User 42 have disappeared when the hidden cameras are recording everything?” he questions.
This is the question Victor was waiting for. “All cameras were deactivated when the message was sent. When the agents arrived at his house fifteen minutes later, all traces were vanished. He’s been lost for two days.”
“There is no question that the seals must and will find him,” answers the President. “We must regard all naturally occurring telepaths as potential enemies. What are you proposing, ladies and gentlemen?”
Even before anyone makes a statement, the assistant counters. “We can’t destroy them, sir.”
“Of course we can!”, the president slaps his fist on the table.
“No,” the assistant replies. “A legend from Sumerian times reports that every death of a righteous man is immediately compensated for by the birth of another righteous man.”
“What perception and knowledge tells you that it is the telepaths who are the righteous?”
Victor’s taking a deep breath. “The number of telepaths corresponds to the number of righteous.”
“This is not proof,” replied the president. “At best, a random correlation.”
“No, sir,” Victor replies. “There is another message.”
“Exactly at the moment User 42 wrote his message, the rest of the distinguished knighthood simultaneously cast a Sumerian spell.”
“Spell?” laughs Zabidar derisively.
“Which was used in the melting of tin and copper into bronze. From the fourth millennium BC. Impressive, isn’t it?”
But Zabidar doesn’t want to know. “What is this nonsense!”
Victor ignores the president’s outburst of emotion. “It’s symbolic, sir. Man and machine merge into a biological robot.”
“They added an attachment.”
“They demand to immediately stop the production of HMIs as long they can potentially be used as weapons. “The righteous know of the technology of the mind eater that automatically erases all deciphered thoughts and of the guillotine that kills in seconds.”
Zabidar shrugs his armpits. “So what! They can demand what they want. I don’t care.”
Victor takes another deep breath. “Sir, the righteous can log on to our HMIs and reprogram the system.”
“They’re getting ahead of us. They are able to read our minds, but we cannot read theirs.”
“You said to log in and reprogram. What happened?”
“The intruder needs no IP, no PC, and certainly no interface to log in. How this works is unclear. But once they’ve infiltrated the system, they can configure it as they please.”
“How do you know?”
Victor sighs: “User 06 and 07 were our first colleagues who voluntarily had a test version of the HMIs implanted.”
The President blushes with anger. “Are you saying… we lost two of our best agents?!”
Victor nods. “Yes, they’ve changed fronts.”
The president snorts. “This is a declaration of war!”
Imaginary laughter materializes on the projection screen. “We’ll never allow you fucking mind eaters to steal our freedom of thought!”