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One day a small meteorite impact occurred somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, and moments later a mysterious green glow sweeps across the globe at an amazing speed.

All of a sudden everyone can hear voices and screams from somebody they didn't know, most would suffer from a severe mental breakdown but some managed to survive the agonizing ordeal. It was soon discovered that this is caused by a certain part of the brain somehow had gained the ability to send and pickup thoughts, the range is infinite and speed almost instantly.

It seems the "antenna" cannot be turned off or disrupted by any means, but it is proven that our brain can suppress and to a certain degree even mute out incoming thoughts at will! Soon meditation courses and gurus starts popping out of nowhere, businesses beginning to show sign of recovery all except telecom that are still left in the wreck as millions flock to terminate their lines.

I'm wondering is there any glimpse of hope for the telecommunications industry? This ability is active, passive, always on, so you can't pick a single or group of known targets to do private messaging or group chats!

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    $\begingroup$ "the ability to send and pickup thoughts" This is far too vague. Can they hear what others are hearing, see what they are seeing? Can they feel someone else's pain? Can they hear others' internal dialogs (all in different languages?). What precisely do you mean by a thought? What exactly gets transmitted? $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ I barely use my phone to phone people at all. I doubt they'd be affected very much at all $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ There are people with no internal monologue. There are people with no ability to visualize images. Some people have neither and think in pure concepts. Some people are able to imagine smells and taste etc. Some are not. Does the receiver have to have the corresponding neural ability in order to receive the type of thought leading to incompatible pairs OR are the minds of aphantasiacs suddenly flooded with images they never experienced before? $\endgroup$
    – BagiM
    Feb 25 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Telecom is more than talking to people. I think it would be very difficult to transfer a spreadsheet or a database over telepathy... $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Feb 25 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ "most would suffer from a severe mental breakdown but some managed to survive the agonizing ordeal." - This sounds like a major portion of humanity is now insane or dead? The pressing question: How did all the other businesses recover? How does basic infrastructure still work with at least 50% of the workforce going insane one day ? $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Feb 26 at 11:05

20 Answers 20

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you can't pick a single or group of known targets to do private messaging or group chats!

This ability is pretty useless for communication. It's like entering a cafeteria during lunch time, what you hear is just the garbled overlapping of hundreds of speeches with just a couple of intelligible words here and there.

With a phone call or video call you will still be able to have a proper communication, be it private or business related.

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    $\begingroup$ There's also the internet which still is provided by the telephone companies. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Feb 24 at 8:49
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They will still be needed for communicating things that must be recorded

Many phone conversations in our world must take place on recorded lines for legal reasons. People cannot transfer images or spreadsheets telepathically, or if they can, writing them down would be very tedious and difficult.

In short, telecoms will be necessary for any situation where human memory isn't sufficient. Which in our data-driven world, is a lot.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to add other recordings: People leave voice messages and text because that leaves the reception up to the leisure of the recipient, and can be replayed ('Listen, about our meeting tomorrow: you'll find the place easy, if go to Islington, and take a left on Thurm, after the blue building. Don't go far, there's good parking to be had right there, and then you continue on foot.... 'etc) There is definitely some of my daily communicating that would be made better by telepathy, but most of it woudl suffer. $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Feb 24 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ And here's my answer on some why's of what makes the Internet indispensable - worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/196756/7021 $\endgroup$
    – brichins
    Feb 26 at 0:36
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With the internet.

That's pretty much where all telcos are making their money these days anyway. It used to be that the phone network carried your internet during the dialup days, but today it's the opposite: the internet carries the phone network.

Even if no one ever has a reason to call each other or send private messages, it's highly unlikely that there will suddenly be no need for financial transactions, cat videos, gaming, logistics, etc...

The telcos might take a little hit in their profits, but they won't go out of business by any stretch.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes! Person-to-person realtime comms is a tiny fragment of overall net usage. Unless telepaths can locate and tune into the mind of anyone anywhere, and effortlessly share only the thoughts they WANT to, and record the connection, I don't see even that tiny fragment being affected. The industries that MIGHT be hit would be those relying on incomplete understanding. It's hard to remain ignorant if those who know better can easily give access to that knowledge. But then I thought the same of the internet :( $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ And here's my answer on some why's of what makes the Internet indispensable - worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/196756/7021 $\endgroup$
    – brichins
    Feb 26 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ There will always be a need for cat videos! $\endgroup$
    – Dave Rager
    Feb 26 at 16:12
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You haven't defined what a thought is, and it is very important

If by thoughts you mean internal dialog, then you will hear tens, hundreds or thousands of people talking at full volume all the time depending on the range you specify. Peoples' internal dialogs are in their own language so even if you could separate all this mess you still would not understand what everyone was 'saying'. It will be like experiencing the worst possible psychotic experience ever. No-one will be able to discover "that this is caused by a certain part of the brain". They will be too busy jumping off bridges or high building to escape the mental torment.

However ...

Thoughts are not just internal dialog. They involve mental pictures, feelings, sounds and so on. We mix direct experience - I see the thing I want on a high shelf with internal dialog "I need to climb up somehow" plus seeing a chair and in our imagination moving the chair and standing on it, followed by the action. Some people are very visual and may skip the internal dialog for this 'thought'.

Suppose you had a window into every part of another person's consciousness (even one person). You would see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel (including any pain they are suffering). You simply would no longer know whether you were you or them.

If you do this with multiple people, you don't want to work in a hospital. You will feel the physical pain and mental distress of every single patient in there - and so will all of them! It will be constant unbearable torture.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a frequent theme in literature when telepathy comes up. The first priority for a telepath is learning how to silence the voices in their head, or the first priority for someone rescuing a telepath from the mental hospital they've been consigned to as a result of those voices. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Feb 24 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham - That makes for a good conspiracy theory, i.e. People with psychoses are all telepaths, ulp! $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 23:11
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bandwidth and signal to noise ratio.

First, how do i, as software developer and telepathic person on the same time, can send my customer few megabytes of source codes and compiled golang byte code binary application file of 10mb (that looks like realy random content)?

Something like this:

enter image description here

it can be quite dramatic, since receiving person should somehow record it. So, speed will be few words per second. Its ok for tweet messages, but its quite slow for anything bigger. For 10mb binary file it will be weeks to send it via telepathy. And there can be a lot of transmission errors - due to distractions or receiver's handwriting issues.

Second issue - is noise to signal ratio. If i, as telepathic person, can hear people around me thinking, how can i concentrate on my software development work? How can i distinguish person i want to telepathically talk too from chorus of other persons thoughts?

I think telecom companies will thrive, because they have to provide internet to secluded places, where software developers works

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Privacy

I've never given my boss my personal phone number, they only have my email address. For the same reason, I wouldn't be too happy if I heard them directly inside my head at 9PM as I'm watching TV, asking if I've finished the presentation for next week's meeting. In the same way, I doubt that any administrative workers would like to deal with customer's files after work hours.

I could easily see this becoming a matter of keeping your work out of your personal life. A lot of businesses would still need high quality e-mail, video conference and instant messaging services. It may not be in the same form as what currently exists, but it would be needed.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes! imagine putting an add in the paper about a flat - a hundred people in your head clamoring for details on the view? That's still the purview of throwaway email adresses.... $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Feb 24 at 18:59
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Server bandwidth

The official videoclip for Psy's Oppa Gangnam Style was probably the very first thing to break the internet. It reached 1 billion views in December 21, 2012. I've just checked it again (thanks for making me go there BTW, that song always makes my day), and it was released in... July 15, 2012.

If all the views were spread evenly through time, that would mean... Carry the three... Approximately 6,287,660 views and a half per day, according to my browser's console:

var start    = new Date(2012, 6, 15); // The month is not wrong, months in Javascript are zero-based.
var end      = new Date(2012, 11, 21);
var msInADay = 60 * 60 * 24 * 1000;
var views    = 1000000000;

views / ((end - start) / msInADay)
// output was 6287660.466334818

Can you imagine picturing that whole 4:12 video in your mind, audio and video, six million times a day, 24/7 for six months? After all, everyone has to see it from beginning to end on their own time, and they also need to be able to pause, comment and share.

Better leave that job in the hands of machines for the while being.

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Distance of communication causing higher energy burn

As you might be aware, for Electromagnetic transmission, intensity is inversely proportional to square of distance. Assuming 2 people who want to talk are far away, and that the telepathic transmission is happening via EM waves, you will find people spending a lot of energy in just transmitting their messages across larger distance for maintaining a sufficient intensity. So far, this energy comes from regular ATP cycles.

Thus, beyond a few 10's of meters, the utility of telepathic communication can itself go down tremendously. Interestingly, this same range is serviceable by speech, so what you will find is that telepathy will generally be helpful only when people have some degree of proximity, so that speech is replaced by telepathy. Or the telepathic agents is a super sender (can sustain transmission over long distance - all hail another biological miracle).

Thus, phone/email/SMS/chat/internet will all still remain relevant, where telephone companies can continue operating, so that individuals don't simply burn out from all that transmission and reception.

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Telecoms and social media companies would sponsor some unscrupulous researchers to claim that telepathy is dangerous, because "you never know who's listening to your mind."

Those scientists would suggest using mind protectors, which are thought-insulating hats. Going out without them would be like walking naked on the street. Fashion brands would design all kinds of fancy designs.

Telecoms would send lobbyists to the governments to make mind protectors mandatory to prevent communists and other enemies to listen to our thoughts. That way, Telecoms believe that they will prevent people from using telepathy.

Eventually, a venture capitalist will find a loop hole in the new laws, convincing people that "telepathy is the natural thing to do, because freedom!" Taking advantage of the situation, the VC would start harvesting those thoughts, selling them to big corporations.

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  • $\begingroup$ OP already said people have the ability to suppress their telepathy at will. $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Feb 24 at 23:08
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Exactly as they do now:

  • Storing and delivering content,
  • Enabling asynchronous communication, and especially by
  • Doing both over long distances instantly.

Those are significant aspects of almost all communication mediums across all of modern civilization. Live person-to-person speech is one of the only ways to communicate that has neither, and telepathy would have the same restriction.

Stored Content

Nearly everything about civilization requires storing information for later consumption by others. Contracts, blueprints, love letters, international treaties, movies... If you ever want access to something after the moment of its creation, it has to be recorded. The internet allows storage and retrieval from anywhere in the world with a data connection.

Enabling asynchronous communication

This is one of the reasons texting and chat apps have killed the phone call. Whether you're unavailable or just want to put something off, time-shifting something from when it was sent to when you prefer to consume it is huge. Eliminating the synchronous requirement is not only convenient for both parties, it enables someone to interact with a vastly larger number of people in many more ways. A huge number of things in modern life depends on this ability.

Over long distances instantly

Interacting with people beyond the range of our voice is vital to the modern world. One of the key aspects of the industrial revolution was increasing the speed and range of both communication and travel; it's what lifted the world beyond Middle Age technology and standard of living. Being able to travel to another city/country/continent quickly and inexpensively resulted in a huge increase in economic activity, and help drive the rise of the middle class and a host of other changes. There's no way to maintain anything near the current living standards without retaining this ability.

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Who is using their telephone only for verbal, person-to-person communication these days?

Sounds like your superpower is only competition for pre-1980 telephones and landlines.

Most people use their telephone or land line for much much more than just "live" voice calls.

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Same way the telegram survived for years into the SMS era.

Adding something that the newer experience couldn't provide. In this case it may not be the Kissogram, or the Strippergram, which ran with the personal delivery that texts couldn't provide ...

I don't know what this will ultimately be, but it's something peculiar to our present day communications systems like the Internet that doesn't occur with direct telepathy.

Therefore, it will probably involve cats...

Another important feature that can be offered by telecoms systems is end-to-end encryption : you can be reasonably sure that nobody below the government level is listening in, and only your intended recipient can see the message.

That would be difficult to arrange via telepathy (as in Cixin Liu's "Three Body Problem" where a telepathic culture had no concept of cheating or lying or dissembling because "think" and "say" were the same concept).

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I think you would need to be able to turn the telepathy off because NOBODY could bear to have everybody in the world shouting at you twenty-four seven. The answer is simple, imagine twenty people shouting at you at once. Could you make out what any of them are saying? No. So global telepathy would be that scenario magnified a billion times.

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You want to keep your thoughts private.

Maybe you need to contact your boss, but you think they are a complete idiot and a monkey could do a better job than they do. Well, if your where communicating telepathically then your boss will learn quite quickly what you really think about them. If your only communicating over a phone call then they would not find out.

There are a whole range of thoughts from finding someone attractive to utterly despising them, that you would prefer them not to know. By talking, perhaps only, over a telephone then the other person won't find out what you think.

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Ignorance (is a bliss). People will simply learn to ignore the "other voices" in their heads (or go mad). They will just mute it all. As such, you communication will never go through to them. Think of it like selective blindness for everything that looks like an Advertisement. Phone, on the other hand (or email, or letter), is something that allows person to decide whether they want to pick it up, even see who is contacting them.

"Hello, mr Adams. I represent Nirvana Day LLC and would like to offer you a solution for screaming voices in your head. We can offer you a dedicated team of Buddhist specialists will fill your thoughts with meditational mantras all day long. What's best, the service is free and only requires Your agreement to listen to personally targetted adv-" [cue phone drop]

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There is always the method introduced in Australia, which seems from first glance to be Rupert Murdoch controlling a bought-for politician. Find a way to Tax the new communication medium for perceived losses suffered by the "old school" communication platforms. A penny for your thoughts

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They change business models. Two stagecoach companies still exist today, they're just not stagecoach companies any more. Both Wells Fargo and Adams Express became financial institutions; Wells Fargo is a bank and Adams Express is a closed-end fund (similar to a mutual fund).

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A lot of it could do with the range of telepathy. Can an individual communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world on their own or do they need the help of a third party to establish long distance telepathic bonds? Also how do they filter out all the psychic noise coming from all the minds around them? You mention the ability to mute thoughts at will, but what if you are in an extremely crowded area, is it simple to mute that many thoughts? Maybe one idea is that telecom companies provide filtering service that mutes certain thought waves not targeted at an individual.

Think about how communication works today (as well as in the past). Historically circuit switching was used (nowadays we're moving away from circuit switching to packet switching but knowing the difference isn't necessary). Basically, everyone has a phone, but you can't just pick up your phone and start talking to your friend. Instead, you need to dial a number and then a connection has to be established, then the conversation can begin.

In internet routing, when your router wants to communicate with another router it doesn't magically connect to that router. Instead, it broadcasts a signal to other routers nearby asking them where the router you want to communicate with is. When that signal reaches a neighboring router, if it doesn't know where the router you are seeking is, it likewise broadcasts a signal to all its neighboring routers. This broadcasting process continues until the router you seek is found and then a connection is established and communication can begin.

So maybe think of a telepath service in much the same way as this routing process. You need to know where the individual you want to telepathically communicate with is at the current moment. So a telecom company could be responsible for locating the individual you want to talk to is and then establishing a telepathic connection between your two heads allowing communication over potentially great distances. This way you aren't just broadcasting telepathic messages to everyone around you, you just communicate directly with the person you sought. The telecom companies would have to be there to facilitate this communication.

This could also raise some interesting, additional concepts such as an individual's right to privacy vs. having companies that can locate them wherever they are at any moment.

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All replies I've read are very interesting and smart. I'll give you another hint about how 'communication media' can survive a 'free for all' situation. As, de facto, communication is already a 'free for all' situation, but most stuff you pay for is about magnitude and nature of the data. Now figure out people learning a new meta-language that can transfer multiple concepts at once, using visualization. You'll be trained for, collecting such important skill as much people learned morse code in the past. Entrepreneurs will pay companies that host such "human data servers" to communicate large mass of data to their commercial partners.

I'll leave to you the social implications of transmitting sensible data thru a people mind (maybe they'll use a kinda 'image cryptography'), or what happen when an individual dream.

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Telepathic is instantaneous - that is a problem. How do you contact someone in another timezone +-.12h? Wake them up? Ask if they are awake (yeah , sure ... now)?

What about asynchronous contact - whatsapp & co excel in that - send a message, will be picked up and read eventually and answered (yeah I know, sometimes you answer immediately - but you are not forced to do that).

Sometimes you can put stuff into text messages that you would be too emberassed to do over phone, face-to-face or heaven help mind-to-mind.

And lastely - telephatic sharing of cat videos, internet memes and animated gifs suck.

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