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I'm working on a future cyberpunk setting in which I would like to explore posthumanism as a main theme. Among some of the ideas I have I want to use the very well explored "decking" trope.

The idea is that at some point in time humanity managed to create a crude brain-computer interface, that allowed not only access to silicon machines, but also running programs using brain's terrifying processing power. Hence, Technological Singularity followed, with wealth represented by physical production facilities becoming obsolete, as with the excess processing power brute-forcing trade and political forecasts became feasible. Finally, technology demands caught up with the supply and humanity's most relevant stock is now carefully traded processing power. Countless people have been contracted to trade in the power of their brains in exchange for remuneration and it just so happened, that average level of intelligence turned out to be the easiest and most efficient to utilise.

Now, most people work by plugging in to the data processing cloud for a set amount of time. The contracts vary, with a significant amount of people enjoying games etc. while being plugged in and trading in a set percentage of their brain activity, some having only passive reception of data with minimal amount of interactivity left to the brain's owner. The most extreme (and well paid) employees would lay comatose while nearly 100% of their brains are being devoted to stock trading or running AIs. Of course, majority of the population would unplug for at least a couple hours every day to enjoy real life. That also assumes that entertainment and similar services moved on to the new medium, Neuromancer-style.

That would leave only the misfits living mostly in the physical world - the geniuses, the morons, the weird and strange minds that are too different to be a mass resource. They would too be able to plug in, but extracting processing power would be too inefficient for them to provide a reliable source of income.

What would be the social and economical implications of such a world? Keeping in mind that Joe Average literally sells his brain time to someone else and his mediocrity and predictability is prized and promoted, what sort of man would he be? What sort of values would he hold, what would he believe in, what would he want in his life? How would he spend his time off and how would he spend his time? I'm looking for a kind of stereotypical Everyman definition, the same way we recognise the idea of "mid-range corporate employee" or "middle-class big city dweller".

In response to comments: I imagined the transition to processing power as an aftereffect of general transition towards virtual life. Of course main expenditures would still be rent, utilities, food etc. However, a person might forgo all earthly things and basically occupy a coffin rigged with life support gear, while living his life in virtual environment. Now to create such an immersive environment the power of brains of others would need to be utilised, effectively balancing the processing power budget. The excess would be utilised towards human advancement - even if that just means more sophisticated virtual goods (experiences). Generally, it would seem, that at any given point participants in this "cloud brain" structure would be divided into suppliers and consumers, with one creating processing power for the others. Apart from human consumption I would imagine there are AIs who require immense number of brains, but enabling technological singularity and - being sentient - having an attitude towards human suppliers. Of course, different variations are possible, such as Matrix scenario where AIs would harvest power by oppression or a more caring one, where proliferation of brains is actually achieved by AIs genuinely forging a better future for humanity.

I would imagine in a world that derives wealth from processing power, other resources such as food, construction materials and energy would be harvested automatically - using AIs and self-sustaining plants. Work for the incompatible geniuses would be most likely centred on frontier areas - where network is not sufficient to sustain automatic AI or it is not feasible - such as space exploration, colonisation. I would imagine that such a civilisation would be probably halfway to becoming a Type II, according to Kardashev scale.

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    $\begingroup$ While this is a great concept the question at the end feels rather unfocussed at the moment. Please try and drill down to the single area that really interests you (although feel free to ask further follow on questions for other areas you want covered). $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 27 '15 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ I did my best - I have not posted a question on WB yet, so if it's somehow deficient, please correct me. $\endgroup$ – eimyr Jan 27 '15 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's much clearer :) Upvoted. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 27 '15 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a little confused as to what people spend their money on. Are physical resources still scarce? Are their still physical manufacturing jobs out there? What are these plugged-in people actually spending their money on? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Jan 27 '15 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ With at least 5 billion (I'm guessing) 'average' minds the market would be flooded with supply. Other than computer games, what do you see as being the major users of this resource? $\endgroup$ – FraserOfSmeg Jan 28 '15 at 3:37
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Any "above average" would probably take up creative works - putting these resources to use; creating programs to run on the brain clusters, designing art and architecture, entertainment and so on. Things, that are not possible to create by "machine mind" no matter how much computational power you throw at them. Design better "clusters", invent machines that are controlled by the AI, perform scientific research. They wouldn't need to be outcasts at all, but they would need more than sitting idly, being entertained while their brain earns them money all by itself - they would need to work for real.

or, of course, live off welfare as jobless bums, if they prefer so.

The "bottom" would either live off welfare (society of surplus; way enough to provide for everyone's basic needs) or take up menial jobs where a "human face" is valued: servants, frontdesk workers, secretaries, bartenders, caretakers of children and elderly - jobs that either need empathic (even if not very smart) listener, or simply positions that appear to be more prestigious if handled by actual human rather than a machine.

I'd imagine best restaurants would still employ actual waiters and cooks, while "fast service" cheap bars would run on machines, and while possibly providing food of the same quality, they would lose points on soulless automated service replacing actual human waiters.

Also, the values would shift: creative works - art, music, architecture, design, movies, fashion - would increase in price and value; there would be artificial scarcity (and increased price) created for the more elaborate ones - ones that required more talent to create, things that required brilliance, not just "optimized for function and aesthetics by machine". Common goods off the production line would become abundant and cheap.

And as result, the middle class would probably live in a constant schizophrenia; trying not to stray too far with thought processes, while building up image of individuality and class by purchasing custom-designed furniture, obtaining hand-made paintings and crafts, attending theater plays, and generally striving to appear "cultured and elaborate" but only appear...

Of course there would be still a plenty of common stuff, computer-generated sitcoms, mass-marketed food, standard corporate commerce which would be far from elaborate and appealing to a large part of the society.

I think crime would be the most interesting domain though. Optimized synthetic drugs and forbidden entertainment involving bottom-feeders who want to earn easy money quick through prostitution of more "deranged" kinds. And while brainpower theft to perform clandestine calculations (cracking secrets, inventing drugs) would be a problem, worse problem would be planting ideas into brains hacked into. You could turn people into your slaves, make them desire goods you provide, have them attack people you want dead, and generally use them as your puppets.

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Well it would make middle class the center of the bell curve. Most people would have plenty. This would tend to lead to fewer major conflicts because a strong middle class tends to want stability, doesn't need it enforced from above.

There would be a lot less worry about the future, since if you were 'normal' you are guaranteed employment. It is also possible that it leads to stagnation as a society. The brain can be trained and modified within reason and so everyone would be trained to think as close to the 'ideal medium' as possible.

The big problem will come with how we treat the smart people and worse the geniuses. They will likely be ostracized quite a bit more. Now they can be looked up to for unique and interesting ideas for current problems. If we are depending on computer power based on average humans to fix our problems (whether a good idea or not) then what are these people going to be doing? They are the ones who tend to push us into new realms of thought and bring out new ways of viewing the world, (I am including great artists in this as well as mathematical and scientific innovators). Will being average be so important that we will miss out on greatness?

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I think the most interesting problem that develops in such a world is how to raise the children. Nowadays, we send our kids to school where they quickly start asking why they're learning things they'll never use in real life. We tell them that it's not the facts themselves, but the ability to learn that we're teaching them, but in a world where the best brains are the empty ones, will we still want to raise another generation of thinkers?

So maybe instead of teaching our children to think for themselves, we teach them how to think for a computer. On the basic level, computers follow simple instructions. These instructions can be converted from binary to machine code, then to higher programming languages. I'd imagine somewhere along the line there would be a 'human' language that would translate the instructions for easy processing in a human brain. The best brains for the job would be ones specifically wired to complete these instructions quickly and without error. The best way to complete simple tasks quickly and without error is with constant practice, so I'd imagine school turning into twelve or so years of busy work.

The effect of this becomes obvious: people will not be able to think for themselves. They will be taught to follow instructions, and so they will want to follow instructions all the time. You could not hold a conversation with these people, because our language is naturally ambiguous, and computers don't do well with ambiguity.

While this has obvious problems for 'normal' society, I forsee smart, nonconformist people having a lot of power. You'd have masses of people, ready and willing to do whatever anyone tells them to. You may not be able to get a job because your brain doesn't process well enough, but all you'd have to do is tell someone to give you money and they probably would. Obviously, they wouldn't want to lose money, but they'd been trained to think that compliance was a good thing, and so doing what you ask becomes its own reward. One of the things I love about fictional AIs is that they're often incredibly stupid when it comes to human affairs: now imagine that, only for the entire planet.

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This answer builds somewhat on some ideas already posited by @DaaaahWhoosh.

Basically, if the middle class is just going to accept their fate and be as average as they possibly could, the manipulative and socially outcasted geniuses would feel very little remorse for manipulating them. This could lead to a scenario where one of those geniuses actually becomes president (or something similar) because effectively no one would deny him, and he'd just twist their arms as much as he wants!

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I cannot see any problems with this economic model - it will work, and it will stagnate.

As for what the people will be like, people going into the systems in adulthood probably won't change much - the way computers and more recently smartphones haven't really changed today's older generation.

The younger generation however, as many people have said, will not learn to think for themselves and be manipulated by the geniuses.

I think eventually, everybody would end up plugged into a virtual world, while the misfits enjoy real life. A bit like the matrix.

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