There’s been much ado about censorship in the news as of late, with a number of social media platforms (rightfully, as should go without saying) choosing to ban violence-promoting conspiracy theorists and white supremacists.
Censorship online has been a topic of interest for far longer than the previous weeks’ news cycles, however, with the web’s very foundations being censored down to the keyword level in countries like China, sometimes with help from familiar tech giants themselves. Models such as these go well beyond the banning of particular accounts, effectively banishing discourse about or research on topics the government deems contrary to its own views or goals.
The ramifications of this approach are self-evident; what I’d like to explore in this post instead is how much more damaging widespread, foundational censorship could become in a world that has integrated a brain-computer interface like EMPATHY, the titular technology of the EMPATHY series.
Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant
A prime example of ironic process theory, “don’t think of a pink elephant” is a phrase commonly associated with the notion that when told to not think of a thing, one can’t help but, however briefly, think about that very thing.
Imagine, however, a world where the brain-computer interface has achieved broad implementation. Were countries like China (or any government determined to maintain control of its citizenry) to censor content in a way similar to how it currently regulates the internet, might the powers that be have the ability to prevent one from having subversive thoughts entirely? Might they be able to maintain the oppression and manipulation of their citizens through the manipulation of thought processes via an interface that might have been originally designed to liberate them?
It’s a terrifying thought, to be certain, but how does it figure into the EMPATHY series?
In the series’ first book, Imminent Dawn, the brain-computer interface’s version of the internet, the cerenet, is censored while EMPATHY recipients are on the compound. The alleged goal in doing so is to keep them from passing information about the human trial’s results to the outside of the secretive research complex.
An unintended consequence of this, however, is that it sows mistrust between the study’s subjects and those that are conducting the research. If they’re already censoring the cerenet, what else might the compound’s powers that be be keeping from those locked on the compound?
Geography is Key
Based on what’s been presented so far, it’s obvious that censorship can have geographical limitations. This is featured in the EMPATHY series as well; Human/Etech, the company behind the EMPATHY nanochip, is prohibited from selling or otherwise making their technology available outside the North American Union.
This prohibitive action on the part of the Union government is, in their view, intended to keep their geopolitical rivals, namely the Asian Federation, from using the technology in a weaponized form against the Union.
But why would Human/Etech acquiesce to this command, especially considering its creator’s stated goal in developing the technology was to increase internet access and build actual empathy between all people?
Because his planned research study comes up something short of ethical. In what way, you ask? How do the censorship and the mistrust it breeds play themselves out over the course of the novel and the series? You’ll have to wait until January 2019 to find out.