p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

Greetings, humans. Open your ports and prepare to receive transmission.

This message is being delivered straight to your neocortex through a sophisticated system of circuits and software and electrons and light. I make arcane passes of my hands, and ideas appear in your mind.

Oh, you still have free will. After all, you signed up to get this newsletter. Using a magical pseudonym, “name@universal.location”, you agreed to a bunch of mystifying terms that you didn’t even read. You initiated a new network in your neurons, a custom brain pattern for thinking about SCIOPS and cognitive security. You opened a portal to whatever part of my brain makes these words appear. You made that choice, but now we are connected. We influence each other’s behavior.

“But Max,” you think (I think), “I sign Terms & Conditions all day. If your rudimentary unit of entertainment is actually a magical compact, what about my Neftlix subscription? What about my Insta (and fifteen finstas)? What about that space-anarchy podcast I listen to religiously?”

Exactly, dear human reader. Those, too, are cables burrowing through your skull into your gray meat.

We can’t escape the cybernetic nature of society. As hive monkeys, we each are somehow a part of the larger construct, whether we like it or not. But the information explosion is overwhelming our collective processing capacity.

In the last hundred years, the techniques for controlling human behavior have been rationalized, tested, and refined. The tools of ritual – sex, drugs, singing, pretending to believe in things – are a rock in a sock compared to the torture knives of propaganda, advertising, and notifications.

The factory, the school, the church: these were the Modern institutions of human programming. They operated on human power: as you learned the rituals, you also learned to teach those rituals to others, and to shun those who would not perform them. It was a pyramid scheme, and it built no small amount of pyramids.

But now we’ve automated the process. The internet as we know it is a product of the advertising machine. The space communism envisioned by the early hackers was hijacked by the urges of dark wizards. The smartphone is the most refined behavior-control machine yet invented, and the tech industry is fueled by the stolen choices of its users. They don’t sell your attention – they sell your behavior. They sell you .

So we’ve built a world-spanning, indestructible network of slot machines that spy on you and control your habits. How could that go wrong?

For the moment, let’s ignore the blatant tire-fire that is The News These Days. Let’s consider a hypothetical (I hope) scenario where a combination of dark magic and current technology could spiral completely out of human control.

Take that Nitflex subscription. Nefltix recently reported disappointing metrics for new subscribers. Their business model, right now, depends on constantly acquiring new subscribers and getting them addicted to binge-watching shows – especially shows that are produced by and exclusive to Netfilx Inc. So this drop in the new-eyeballs rate is our jump-off into speculation:

As they get more nervous about their revenue stream, the Niltfex execs decide to squeeze the current subscribers more. They’ll raise their prices slowly but consistently, hoping that customers won’t feel the gradual gouging. Like boiling frogs in a pot.

What if people do notice? How to keep them from canceling their subscriptions?

Simple: get them addicted to Netlfix exclusives. The more “engaging” the “product” is, the more “users” will get “hooked”. Like cigarette smokers, the cost will never be enough to make them quit.

We already know that Nefitlx uses software to generate custom trailers, engineered to your personality profile. If you watch a lot of rom-coms, say, and you’re watching a trailer for an action flick, the algorithm will pick the most romantic scenes and splice them together into a bespoke ad just for you. You might watch the whole movie, lose two hours of your life, be exposed to a hundred product placements and be left feeling hungry for the sort of movie you thought you were getting. You’ll dive back into the infinite list of movies without ever leaving the couch.

So once the bigshots have decided that the app needs to be more addictive, the developers and designers turn that knob to 11. The vast neural nets behind their predictive profiling are finally given a task worthy of their powers. These unintelligible algorithms design whole films and series, producing perfectly addictive plots to be fleshed out by human writers and directors and actors. The more that people watch, the more money the company makes, the more they can afford to produce new shows.

Soon, the difference between a show and an advertisement dissolves completely. As the algorithms generate an infinite amount of engineered content, the entire economy pivots to the production and consumption of films. You work for Netfilx now. Everyone you know pretty much works for Nteflix, or a subsidiary. You spend 60 hours a week making sure the self-driving cameras don’t encounter any obstacles on set. The rest of the time, well… you watch Netlifx. You can barely afford your subscription on your shit salary.

Meanwhile, all the scientists and engineers that were supposed to be fixing the fossil-fuel problem are too busy being interviewed for endless documentaries on the theme of 1 Weird Way We’re All Going To Die , and they forget to actually do their work. We hit peak oil without building enough solar panels. We unleash a monstrous amount of carbon dioxide to power our hi-def home projectors, crashing the climate and scattering billions of refugees across the planet.

As the planet heats up, people retreat into underground bunkers. They dig tunnels to run cables, protect their exposed satellite dishes with armed heavies. They build hopeful soundstages in lava tunnels. They wire their new smart-caves with all the surround-sound systems they can scavenge from the surface.

The people hide, and survive, and wait.

On a screen somewhere, a loading widget spins, lonely and sad, silently apologizing to a burning planet.

### Whoops! Something went wrong.

There was a problem communicating with Netfilx. Please try again later.

Thanks for watching.

– Max


###### SCIOPS is a weekly newsletter about cognitive security. Feel free to forward it to anyone you think would like it, or share it on your social-tracking profile. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .

If you have thoughts, questions, or criticism, just respond to this email. Or, contact me securely at permafuture@protonmail.com

If you’re seeing this for the first time, make sure to sign up for more cyberpunk weirdness in your inbox every week.

If you want your regular life back again, you can unsubscribe from this newsletter. I can’t guarantee that will help. But you can try it.

######