If you watch superhero movies and storyboard the plot points, one of the main activities superheroes engage in (apart from fighting and showing-up-in-the-nick-of-time) is interrogation, like Batman giving someone a beatdown and shouting, "Where's the girl?!"

I was thinking how could this be enhanced by technology? In a cyberpunk world (AI, synthetic biology, supercomputing and social decay), how could someone with few ethical limitations find out where the baddie has the girl hidden?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This is a main plot element in the Altered Carbon series. With relatively simple equipment, it is possible to put someone completely inside a virtual environment. There they can be tortured, time accelerated, or otherwise coerced into revealing their secrets. The advantage of such a technique is that it leaves the victim physically unharmed, and depending on how advanced the technology is, it would be possible to make the victim forget being interrogated in the first place by simply deleting their memories. Is mind-uploading or full-dive VR a thing in your setting? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ "I'll break your iPhone 21! Noo noo plz nooo..." something like that I guess. What are limits of tech, and why direct access to memories/brain is not enough, idk seems q could benefit from clarification and mentioning ai's is not enough. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 21:10

3 Answers 3

  • Pull the information right out of their brain (if he knows it)
  • Follow the bad guy with a drone, or a hive of drones (if the bad guy doesn’t know the information; but will probably meet up with someone who will)
  • Create an in-brain simulation (the bad guy doesn’t know the information, but the hero could see where the bad guy might go, or what the bad guy might do in a certain situation)
  • Send “ghosts” (programs) to trail the bad guy backwards in time (going through logs of the quarry’s location)
  • Release a custom virus that causes the top layer of the bad guys skin to slough off quicker than normally, leaving behind a unique chemical trail that you can smell or see
  • Inject nanomeds that see what the bad guy sees and hear what the bad guy hears (or maybe has a broader range than that)
  • Infect the guy with a drug or custom virus that tweaks his emotions: makes him more agitated with his underworld boss, less patient to wait for instructions, more eager to break protocol and get a line on the people you are really after.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think all of the above should be done at once. Then you can compare the info from the drone hive, and skin slough sniffers, and custom virus and ghosts with those obtained from Batman and get the real story. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 17:14

Chemical interrogation (+ extras)

No, there aren't any magic "truth drugs", and not all cyberpunk settings allow for unlimited direct neural interfaces. What does exist are drugs that:

  1. Prevent long term memory creation; and
  2. Reduce critical thinking ability.

In a cyberpunk world, even more than today, it is also possible to research someone, find out who their best friends / criminal collaborators are and get hold of the voiceprints of those people. The process once the superhero has their research and their pharmaceuticals is:

  • Capture the person, but in a way that their last conscious memories are of being injured and knocked unconscious, preferably not by identifiable hostile action. Fake a car accident or something. Keep them anaesthetised until their participation is required.
  • Immobilise the captive with bandages, casts and bandages over the eyes. (If your tech is good enough, the bandages over the eyes aren't required - see next step.) Set up background noises of the hospital or clinic you will pretend they are in.
  • Neutralise the anaesthetic and dose them with the "interrogation drug".
  • Using the faked voice and, if possible, visual overlay of a trusted friend, tell the captive that they have been injured and you have brought them to a hospital / street doc / other credible medical care location. Tell them that the police / superhero X are closing in on where they have the kidnapped person / Macguffin, but that you can get there first and relocate the kidnapped person / Macguffin if the captive tells you where they are now.
  • The captive will either fall for the story - their critical thinking is impaired and this is their trusted friend - and give the information or they won't. Either way, anaesthetise them again.
  • If you got the information - bravo!
  • If you didn't get the information, work out why they were suspicious or uncooperative and develop a new approach, which could involve different dialog and/or pretending to be a different trusted friend. Then repeat the process all over again after 10 minutes or so because the drugs will not let them form long term memories. Essentially you are in Groundhog Day / Edge of Tomorrow - you know what happened on the last occasion/s you interrogated your captive but they don't.
  • Once you have confirmed the correct information and retrieved the kidnapped person / Macguffin, do whatever you like with interrogated captive - they have no memory of anything while they were captured. If you don't want the police to tumble to your methods, let the drugs work their way out of their system before dumping them.

However, this method may not appeal to superheroes because it is highly effective but relatively boring and not particularly ethically challenging. There needs to be a really edgy soundtrack playing in the background or the fun police will not permit it in this genre.


Suppose you're the cyberpunk superhero interrogating a really bad guy.. information is vital..

Easiest thing you can do is kiss the bad guy on the mouth and extract all brain information while doing that.

Else, teleport your bad guy into an old, low orbit Chinese space station without fuel, let him enjoy the view for a few days, and think over his bad life and his bad guy accomplishments, all alone. He'll be sweating.. it's getting hotter every day. Then you teleport yourself in, just before the space station will catch fire, entering the upper stratosphere. The bad guy will welcome you.. you are the only one who can save him, so he'll talk..

Now suppose our bad guy is very stubborn ("rather burn") or very introvert ("able to hide his brain content") you could teleport his mother into the conversation. Bad guys really hate that.


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