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Several time travellers from the 2050s arrive in a single-use time machine and disappear into society. They have 30s years of future knowledge, the clothes on their backs, and a backpack of future tech each.

They didn't have a lot of planning time before jumping (world was about to end so only have an hour to gather everything they'll need for the trip to 2020).

They arrive back in 2020 small town America and, using the tech they grabbed at a moments notice, are able to take control of anyone from "the past".

It can be any level of mind control; from "I just blacked out, I have no idea what I just did, and why is there blood on my hands?" to "I'm walking this way. HELP I can't stop walking this way!" to "subtly manipulate mental state to influence choices, inception style", or anything in between.

Taking over someone's mind is wireless, painless, and completely undetectable to any of the clueless people observing.

What has happened in the future to make this kind of mind control tech so common that the average person on the street in 2050 can easily mind control other humans?

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    $\begingroup$ How are you going to evaluate the answers? You are giving no evaluation metric $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 19 '20 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ The best one? most powerful and most plausible to occur? $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '20 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ VTC'd for being opinion-based; any number of reasons can be conceived, there's not enough information to provide the best answer. $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Nov 19 '20 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Someone discovered they could make a lot of money by selling it? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Nov 19 '20 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ Simple, advertisers had a technological breakthrough! $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '20 at 23:41

10 Answers 10

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Hijacked Medical Nanotech

One of your time travellers boosted a medical storehouse, grabbed himself a box full of remote-programmable medical nanobots, and a portable controlling computer for them. In the future these are not much prone to misuse, and everyone knows them, their signals are easily detected, and the controlling computers are serial numbered and tracked. But here in the past, no-one knows of them, or what to look for. The controlling signal would seem to be just another cellphone or wireless transmission.

Normally these are used by doctors to perform internal surgeries, repair microstructures, and yes to override nerve impulses.
Capable of binding to major and minor nerve cells, and either suppress the signal, or impose their own. Can do very small-scale local surgeries, chemical cleanup, etc. Can trigger hormones, for example trigger adrenaline output.

Dispensable as a mist, but more efficient to inject them into the patient.
Requires a very fancy computer to control them for complex tasks, meaning the controller has to have the computer, and be pretty close to the controlled person. One, or few at most, simultaneous control for full body takeover, but simpler instructions like "disable all non-autonomous nerves"(instant coma), or "locate and seal blood leakage points"(stop bleeding) can be pre-programmed without active control.

Your travellers will have a limited, non-replaceable number of uses of the nanobots, as they cannot be retrieved from a host and manufacturing new ones is way out of tech.

Potentially subject to being disabled by a strong EMP, or maybe electric shock? Plus of course they rely on the one controlling computer. Misplace that, and lose control.

Feel free to use as few or many of these added details as seems appropriate. The scenario does lend to some really juicy storytelling!

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    $\begingroup$ Plus people in the future have their own counter-intrusion nanotechnology. Norton made a killing on the last update... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Nov 19 '20 at 17:46
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Lots of ways this could happen:

  • Total reverse of equality regarding some group of humans, eg the return of slavery. Could be by race, by gender, or wealth.
    • Poor people are literally owned by the rich who remote control them? (Eg "factory drones")
  • We've created perfect AI-companions that are indistinguishable from humans down to the cellular level (Eg Human Form Cylons, or Stepford Wives) and need a way to control them.
    • Could also include "Dollhouse" like "rent a human for whatever you want" service. There's definitely an adult market for this.
  • Low-end jobs are performed by an AI but in a human body. I go into my job at McDonalds, walk up to the deep fryer. Connect to the company AI, and then my body spends the next 8 hours cooking fries, but my mind is exploring a fun world in VR.
  • Or 2020 humans don't know how to work the neural interface to 2050 tech. This is the one I think is the most interesting and the one I'll go into detail about.

I have a related work-in-progress (see I have a superpower that no-one can say “no” to me. How can I get informed consent?) so actually have a few ideas on how innocent tech can be misused to give mind control.

2020's humans are so technologically illeterate with 2050's tech it ends up controlling us.

From your question you've implied that the mind control tech only works on past-people, it doesn't work on their fellow 2050-ers. This can mean it may not nescicarily have "Mind control device" written on the packaging, it could be a device that's been hacked, misused, or perhaps its so complicated us past-people are guarenteed to get bitten by the tech.

We can fail dismally at using tech a little advanced for us: My grandma had her mobile phone for 6 months before she realised it opened up to reveal a big touch screen and mini keyboard and had all this "hidden" functionality. All she had observed was that she could enter a number and it would call it, and that people could call her by entering her number. She never realised that there was this whole computer hidden in this tiny device. She never found the display with the help to guide her to use the extra functionality to realise it was there - basically if you never see the buttons, you never know you can press them.

So in your world, by 2050, mobile phones have evolved into a direct neural interface with a HUD display overlaid over the feed from the retina. We can walk down the street watching TikTok videos picture-in-picture with the real world with no glasses or contacts. The phone hardware of 2050 is a tiny nano-tech thing (way smaller than us idiots (limited to 2020's understanding of physics) believe is possible) that sits just below the skin, links directly into your brain wirelessly, and allows incredible connectively directly into the brain. Looking something up on the wikipedia app is mearly a few specific thoughts away. Installation is quick and painless - just remove the spec of dust from the packaging with your finger, and tap behind your ear to start the install, wait 5 minutes for the install to complete, and then turn your HUD on by simply thinking "HUD ON" to see the status of the powerful supercomputer the size of a grain of dust now in your head, tightly integrated with everything.

Just like why my grandma never thought to try splitting her phone in half randomly, nobody thinks "HUD ON" randomly. One day someone walks up to you, talks to you for a bit to break the ice, and points out "oh you have a makeup smudge - not there - not there - here let me get it for you", and then 5 minutes later they can take over your entire brain.

So you just need to think of a reason why your various levels of mind control would exist as "apps" on this hardware; I have:

  • Take control of body (but they know it's happening) using a "remote assistance" app.

    • This is used for everything from students cheating in exams, to actors when the need to perform a skill they don't know (stunt double is in the actors body), to soldiers when they need specialist skills they don't have ("Control - I need a bomb defuser skill - now!")
    • Its extreamly convient. Just consent to a professional taking over your body in the HUD interface.
      • Politicians just let their speech writer give the speech without having to bother learning it.
    • You can exit at any time by showing the hud and mentally clicking on the "disconnect remote user" button, so its totally failsafe - if you know the exit button exists.
    • Your time travellers just pre-authorise a device to "auto accept connections again from this user without prompting" before you install it in your victim.
    • Could also have medical uses - knowing exactly the pain someone is in, how strong, what type, where, etc, could be invaluable. Allowing an authorised paramedic to connect to someone without consent could be important in starting treatment of an unconsious or seizing patient. So just bring back the paramedic's override code too.
  • Total control - blacked out no memory:

    • Control as per above.
    • To erase memory - There may be all sorts of apps:
      • "Get over your ex" app, or a
      • "Forget about your bad night" app.
      • Maybe even a "Help get over PTSD by forgetting the most triggering things of your bad experience" app.
      • But I'd suggest a "Juror" app, cause it allows someone else to make you forget something:
    • When someone in a courtroom mentions something inadmisable it can taint the jury. In 2020 the judge has to instruct the jury to "disregard that statement", or, if it's really bad, declare a mistrial. Mistrails are expensive. Wouldn't it be nice if we could remove that statement from their memories instead of declaring a mistrial?
    • Jurours may of also been tainted by media coverage of cases. In 2020 we often address this by moving the case to an adjacent town. Wouldn't it be easier to just ensure that the Jurours have litterally no prior knowledge of the case by wiping it from their minds?
    • Jurors consent to a single authorised user being able to disconnect memories from their mind for the purpose of a fair trial.
    • The process is heavily auditeded and logged, after the trial is over, you can use the HUD to re-link everything that was removed back into active memory.
  • Subtle control - manipulate and coerce. There are a few ways to do this:

    • One is litterally a reminder app that at pre-arranged time(s) it litterally pops a thought into your head. Most people use it in 2050 to pop thoughts into their head like "it's 2:30pm. Time to go pick the kids up from school." You can use it to inject hourly thoughts of "I'm unhappy being a CEO, I should sell my fathers company to those nice men I just met and retire rich to be happy again. Its what dad would've wanted". Being unaware of the tech creating the thoughts, the victim would probably confuse it with his own thoughts.
    • Another is behavior modifying apps, which would totally be a thing (Eg People would be installing diet apps that manipulate them into not being hungry, or exercise apps that motivate them to go for runs. They'd install things to stop them swearing at work, etc.). Orthodox religions opposed to divorce may make a "Good Spouse" app, used to make both partners be perfect for each other and stop doing those annoying habbits, or be more attentive to the others needs. Configured correctly in advance, you could turn a random person into a loyal servant using this.
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    $\begingroup$ +1 @ash you never cease to amaze, and terrify me $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Nov 19 '20 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ I have to agree with @Topcode; this is a really good answer. Also, relative to your statement that "Politicians just let their speech writer give the speech without having to bother learning it", isn't that already what Joe Biden does? $\endgroup$
    – The Daleks
    Nov 20 '20 at 13:29
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An arms race between ads and ad-blockers.

Don't call them mind control. They're ads. Perhaps memetically enhanced, subliminal advertising, but still advertising. And if you can't see the difference between that and mind control, some expensive lawyers and PR flacks are going to write a nice cease-and-desist letter. Citing all the precedents from 2025 onwards why this is protected speech.

Besides, nobody goes out these days without an adblocker in their VR glasses. So why worry? Enjoy and consume!

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Addiction

Larry Niven suggested a similar technology in his Ringworld books. The technology was called a "Droud" and the concept has become known as the wirehead:

Wirehead is a term first used in works of science fiction to refer to various kinds of interaction between human beings and technology, or to a person who makes use of such technology. In its most common usage, the "wirehead" concept refers to technologies involving electrical wiring that is implanted in or otherwise connected to a human brain and used to deliver safe amounts of electricity either to the whole brain or to more specific areas of the brain, often the so-called "pleasure centers" or reward circuitry.

Though the concept of "wireheading" originated in science fiction, electrical brain stimulation and related technologies have long been studied in neuroscience and psychiatry and are routinely used in therapeutic and research settings. Usage of the science fiction term has since expanded to include these real-world applications. (Source)

In your case we can use either a technological solution (nanotech or cybernetics) or a biological solution (a programmable virus). The "how" isn't as important as the consequence: control.

Why is it easy to access? For the same reason Cocaine, Heroin, and (until recently) Marijuana are easy to access: there's a thriving "drug" trade in this tech because the ability to control the brain is the ability to control emotional responses.

And not just the simple ones like the pleasure/reward center of the brain. Your tech is able to let people feel anything they want: elation, confidence, happiness, painlessness... As a medical technology it's used in almost every surgical procedure because a happy and pain-free patient will heal faster. It's used in psychiatry as the perfect antidepressant. It's an obvious transfer to addictive behavior and follows patterns for pharmaceuticals today.

That a person's every action can be controlled is nothing more than a side-effect of what the technology's original purpose. Obviously, if you have precise control over the emotional condition of the brain, it's trivial to have motor control, too.

Conclusion: Your travelers are really nothing more than futuristic drug dealers running from the law — and they decided that running to the past where they'd have to rough-it for the rest of their lives was a fair trade for living in a time where it's technologically impossible to detect their criminal behavior. Well... until someone like Abby Sciuto and her Electron Microscope show up....

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In 2050 year, citizens have cybernetics implants, while non citizen with reduced rights - don't. And every citizen can go to hardware store and buy non-citizens control device, that uses psy-waves emitter build from handwavium.

It can control non citizens using this proprientary psy-ware:

  1. "Puppet subroutine" - AI, that performs direct control of spinal cord functions, which result in override of body controls, while non-citizen consequence is not affected : "I'm walking this way. HELP I can't stop walking this way!". This psy-ware turned to be very effective against fiery, but peaceful civil protests - non citizens simply walk away and scatter. Single device can easily control few dozens of non citizens this way.

  2. "Avatar subroutine" - citizen controls non citizen body fully, like its his/her body. Non citizen consequence is sleeping. So, non citizen can only say: "I just blacked out, I have no idea what I just did, and why is there blood on my hands?" This subroutine was used in cases, like repairing leak on nuclear station - sending citizen to fix it can be lethal for him/her, while sending robot can be expensive, and sending non citizen is cheap and robust. Remotely controlled non citizen can perform nearly 95% effective as highly trained as nuclear power plant maintenance engineer citizen, until pain from radiation burns prevents citizen from controlling non citizen properly.

  3. Happy Worker subroutine - human Resource motivation assistant, which "subtly manipulate mental state to influence choices, inception style", this device turned to be very useful after Robot's Life Matter protests of 2040 year, when hiring non-citizen human worker was cheaper, than hiring Artificial Cybernetic Citizens. Because non citizens din't had lobby from CEO AI's that controlled Facebook/Google/Microsoft congromerate. Happy Worker subroutine is very effective to turn non citizen workers into selfish mindless consumers of things they don't need, so they are motivated to work on jobs they hate, and non citizens things self education is boring, so, they don't have any distractions.

Unfortunately, people in 2020 haven't invented implants of Citizenship yet, so they cannot protect themselves from psy-waves emitters. And, non citizen control device perceives them as valid mind control targets.

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Mind control of others for the "average" joe

I can see two reasons how it would work.

mind control of lesser animals

Mind control of animals is a favourite way to pass the time or to do work. You can control apes for their strength or flexibility while able to hold items. Dogs for their noses. Horses for racing each other or any of the sports, competitions or labour you can think of with full or semi-control of animals. Due to evolution or cybernetics the brains in the future are secured or not compatible.

Mind control of others

Either because in the hierarchy it is acceptable or forced to control those below you.

Otherwise it might just be a work ethos. You supply your time right now for money. Why not in a controlled fashion? Maybe because you don't want to remember menial labour. Maybe because someone can better control quality of work or pass on her/his idea better to you. Maybe even control multiple people as a multiple man.

You can go even further. While you control a "willing body" to work on a project, someone else is controlling your body and keeping it in shape. You don't have the pain of doing the sports or meditation you might not like, while still being healthy at the end of the day. Services, work and relaxation all around mind control.

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There's actually a few ways to make use of this. Let's assume that mind control is a potential byproduct rather than the main use. Also there would likely be some kind of limiter build into the people themselves that guards against certain unconsentory actions like murder or wetting yourself in public that is implanted into everyone to remedy the more serious potential of these products.

  • Teaching.

When you look at people and see them do things, your brain activates neurons associated with those activities. This is especially handy for children who still need to learn certain motions. This helps them learn to walk, talk, use facial expressions, manipulate objects and more.

A teacher can now use the mind "control" unit to place inputs into someone else's mind. Especially for the plasticity of children's minds this can be a great way to encourage certain pathways in the brain to develop. A mathematic genius will guide children through mathematics in their own minds. Others teach balance, manipulation, writing etc. It won't be a 1:1 ratio of conference so you won't be creating automatic geniuses by having a genius teach it, but it will still be a great help.

  • Better sharing of emotions and knowledge.

One of the biggest problems with humans is how well they understand each other. From a family feud to entire wars could be avoided if we only understood the other party better. Using this technology is useful to get parties to better understand the other side and take in more information.

It's also a boon in other ways. Imagine having a romantic getaway and being able to feel and understand everything going on in your partner all the time. Another alternative is helping people with beating addictions by having them share in the successes and feelings of someone else to help them get perspectives on their own life and be less pressured into using more of their addiction.

  • Biological workforce control.

We are making headway in fields like genetic modification and 3D printing biological tissue's. It's likely we'll at some point be able to 3D print entire living creatures designed for specific purposes as alternatives to the increasing demand on computerized resources with all that entails. Bodies are easily recyclable and use alternative fuel sources to those in use today. This can be for entertainment, like being able to see the world with the smell of dogs or be able to perceive additional colors, or being able to do certain work like heavylifting or working at depth in the sea.

Making fully functional brains can be annoying. Not all knowledge can just be printed into it and those brains have to be able to understand human instruction while also having the intuition and capability to fulfill the tasks. So rather than build fully-functioning brains you could just build a rudimentary brain for controlling the body and have a human bring the intelligence and input.

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Disembodied Humanity

By the year 2050 digital consciousness has become ubiquitous. Outside of small groups of bio-Luddites and discontents, anyone who has the means has uploaded their consciousness to the Cloud. Having one's consciousness reside in a biological body is seen as inconvenient, and an unnecessary risk and expense. Who wants to risk death without a backup? Who wants to spend money on sustenance when CPU cycles are so cheap?

However, many of the digitals still want to occasionally inhabit a body, for entertainment, nostalgia, or reproduction - the finer details of early brain development haven't been quite worked out. Bio-food and bio-sex are some of the more popular attractions afforded to the middle and upper classes.

There is fierce competition in the Body-as-a-Service space. Most providers offer a free usage tier that lets one use a random body for a few hours per month at no cost. For a reasonable price, at a moment's notice, one can rent an unused body from a BaaS provider, billed per second of usage. For a higher fee, one can acquire a dedicated body. For a truly outrageous fee, in some of the less discriminating jurisdictions, one can get a disposable body, for purposes better left unsaid.

Of course, these bodies need maintenance. Contractors take care of the less pleasant aspects of sustaining a biological body. With a few clicks, anyone, even bio-people, can sign up to a body-tasking platform and earn a few bucks to perform hygiene and medical procedures, exercise, and so on. The platform is popular in some of the poorer countries where many bio-people reside.

A bio-workforce is also required to perform ad-hoc physical tasks which have proved difficult to automate, requiring more or less specialized skills.

The fruit of continuous efforts to lower the barriers to entry to body-sharing, by 2050 no implant is needed anymore to participate. One can simply sign-up and agree to some Terms of Service and receive their free body-sharing device by drone shipment.

After some incidents in the mid 40's, members of the main BaaS consortium have agreed to provide free brain-lock implants to bodies that are still the primary residence of a conscious mind, to avoid unfortunate mishaps.

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  • $\begingroup$ And I thought mine was dark. Nice! +1 $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 20 '20 at 4:15
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Raid a mental hospital

Mind control is routinely used in the future to forbid people with serious mental issues from engaging in dangerous activities. Psychopaths are forbidden to kill or injury people, for instance. People may even voluntarily undergo it in order to stop unwanted habits, or engage in new ones. More subtle uses help people with milder mental issues.

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What made the internet great and drove some of it's tech advancement? How do you get creepy stuff into average joe's household? The answer is sex!

Any you don't need it in every household, you just need it in the household of one of the time-travelers.

So at least one of the time travellers was into mind control sex games and has the necessary equipment at home.

Or if you don't want to give him that as a weird character trait, then perhaps this kind of mind control sex has become common. Perhaps partners do mind battle and there is tech to enhance the respective parts of the brain, making it easy for any time-traveler to overcome the brain of an un-enhanced 2020 person though they would struggle with just overpowering another person from the future.

Now in the future that tech for some reason only works on willing partners, but in 2020 that protection fails. Perhaps because everyone in the future is so teched up in general with direct mind internet that they have a natural firewall to prevent it from usage without that being switched off. Or because the devices are bound to a central server that manages usage, but that can be easily circumvented in 2020, e.g. because no one notices the tinkering alarm it would send to the cyber-tinkering department's email) or misuse is highly punishable or a combination thereoff.

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