More human than human

” . . my concern goes to the development of humans as special weapons. Here is a virtually unlimited field which a few powers are now developing.” –Paul Muad’dib in DUNE MESSIAH

One of the aspects of THE MIRRORED HEAVENS that’s gotten a fair amount of attention is how spymasters rewrite their agents’ memories (a dynamic that’s made all the more complex by two of those agents believing themselves to have once been romantically linked). In that sense, the book ended up being a cross between James Bond and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: people looked at me like I was crazy—or at least, I seem to *recall* them looking at me like I was crazy—but my agent (er, literary not espionage) smelt opportunity, and here we are as a result of her astuteness.

At any rate, turns out the Pentagon is on the memory trail, too. Wired’s Danger Room reported earlier this week on how the U.S. military believes itself to be locked in a “brain race”, in which the victory will go to the side that manages to produce the most enhanced soldiers. To be sure, the Pentagon has been adamant that its goal here is simply one of helping the troops to “be all they can be.” So, for example, eliminating the need for sleep=worthy stretch goal. Increasing alertness to razor-sharp precision=worthy stretch goal. So far, so good.

But, as Wired notes, the documents (available here) also reveal more ambitious goals. And more specific anxieties. The brain-computer interface is one such focus: some of this involves tapping the subconscious in battlefield situations, some of it focuses on investigating the advantages that a more seamless man-machine interface might yield. This wouldn’t just mean stuff like thought-controlled MiG jets piloted by Clint Eastwood, which is obviously what we all want to see, but also (though the report doesn’t mention it), implants that essentially enable telepathy. The latter of which appears in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS on a more-or-less routine basis.

And then there’s the possibility to fuck with memory, either via an interface or via drugs. The report is very carefully worded: this is yet one more thing that our nefarious adversaries might get up to at some point, and thus more thing we’ll have to watch very closely, blahblahblah. But anyone who’s studied the CIA’s track record with MK-ULTRA (which centered around the effort to use LSD as a mind-control agent), knows that governments love this kind of stuff the way pigs love shit. Indeed, the report goes on to talk (in the context of a brain-computer interface) about the potential for “remote guidance or control of a human being.” They don’t specifically link this to memory, but it doesn’t take much to draw the connection.

To be clear: none of this is right around the corner. But all of it raises critical questions. For now, I’ll content myself with just one. We’re rapidly approaching the point where certain types of soldiers will be way more than just “professional soldiers.” They’ll be engineered. (And we haven’t even started talking about the can of worms that genetics might open.) Are such soldiers ever going to be capable of re-entering society in a civilian role? Will they simply become part of the growing legion of private mercenaries that now support our public-funded armies? Or will they never leave in the first place? Maybe they won’t want to.

Maybe the idea will never occur to them.

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