Mind control, now there's a concept guaranteed to frighten almost every rational being. The concept of brainwashing has been around since the 1950s. The concept of deprogramming a person back to quote "Normal" unquote is more recent. The fear is that future advances in technology will make brainwashing easier and more efficient.
There are also zillions of science fiction stories about alien parasites that burrow into a victim's body and take over control of their brain.
The movie Invaders from Mars used a less efficient technique, they surgically emplanted mind-control crystals into Earthlings to transform them into brainwashed agents. A similar technique was used in the movie Uchū Daisensō (Battle in Outer Space) to mind-control Dr. Ahmed.
In the novel Dune, "Imperial Conditioning" rendered a person almost incapable of taking a human life. Such people were highly prized by leaders who have to deal almost daily with assasination attempts. Nice to have at least one person around that you can turn your back on.
In the Star Wars movies, Jedi Knights and Sith can use the force to implant suggestions into minds of the weak-willed. "These are not the droids you are looking for…"
In Phillip High's The Prodigal Sun, the police state control malcontents by brain programming. They are given a little book called Programme. It lists all the things they are forbidden to do or think. If they transgress, their brain programming gives them ten seconds of agonizing pain. They then have to frantically leaf through the book to figure out what they did wrong. By simple operant conditioning they will become perfect little police state drones after a couple of years of this.
A lie detector is a jolly science fiction gadget which often comes in handy. I say "science fiction" because they don't exist in the real world. This is because that hoary old lie detector called the "polygraph" is utterly worthless. In science fiction, the concept dates back at least as far as G K Chesterton's 1913 story "The Mistake of the Machine".
And obviously a working lie detector cannot detect a lie uttered by a person who truly believes the lie is truth. Because as far as the person is concerned it isn't a lie at all. It is also sometimes possible for people to circumvent the lie detector by telling literal but misleading truths (example: "The Best Policy" by Randall Garrett).
A related concept is the scifi truth compeller (interfering with the subject's ability to deceive). However in the real world so-called Truth Serums have not been proven to be more reliable than a placebo, they are utterly worthless.
In most societies, citizens must conform to the laws under pain of legal punishment or deportation. In more repressive societies, citizens must conform to societal norms or be punished. In some hyper-controlled societies, some people may be ineligible for citizenship because of what they are, or if they suffer from certain disabilities.
Tests for mobility or sensory disabilites is comonplace nowadays. But things go all science fictional if there exist handwaving future tech that can detect mental or psychological "disabilities." Imagine being denied citizenship in Futuropia because the brain scanner said you were an 80-percentile serial killer? Or psychopath? Or sociopath? Or internet troll? Or neophobe?
In David Brin's Sundiver, a simple brain test detects sociopathic personalities whose motivation is to harm others. They are labeled "Probationers", and have the equivalent of an ankle bracelet surgically implanted in their buttocks. The police monitor their whereabouts, and there are certain regions they are forbidden to enter. There was no treatment that would "cure" the personality.
In the short-lived TV show "Prey", genetic testing can detect serial killers. Only as it turns out, they are not sociopathic people. Instead they are a new species, with the motive to eliminate Homo Sapiens the same way we eliminiated Neanderthals.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse
In my own musings, I note that there is a truism that sociopathic personalities seem to thrive in corporate and political environments (or other strongly hierarchical organizations). They tend to rise to the highest levels of power. This may be due to the innate advantage of being free to treat human beings as fungible (or disposable) goods by virtue of having zero empathy. Or simply because nice guys finish last. For example: corporation can rapidly achieve the goal of maximizing shareholder value if corporate policy doesn't give a rat's heinie how many people it harms (or kills).
So what if somebody invents some kind of medical scan that can rate a person's level of sociopathic personality?
My thought-experiment is that the masses of people being harmed by sociopathically led corporations and government will want all the leaders to be immediately tested, and removed from power if they score too high.
However, since all the people in power tend to be sociopaths, they will panic and do their darnedest to outlaw the scanning technology. To prevent it from blowing their cover.
Taking it a step further in the dystopian direction, corporations will want to covertly use sociopath scans in their hiring department. Because for them sociopathic employees are an asset, good for the bottom line.
This does suggest an amusing science fictional example of Let The Punishment Fit The Crime.
I also muse about a brain scan to detect neophobes. Since it appears that much of what is wrong with the world nowadays is such people being driven to a psychotic break due to the unstoppable pace of change. Such a scan seems more plausible because there is actual evidence that neophobia is caused by an over-developed amygdala leading to optimizing for surviving an unsafe environment. It would be nice to be able to diagnose the ailment so the people suffering from it can be treated. Before something solves the problem in a less elegant fashion.
In other science fiction, brainwashing technology is advanced enough so that people with deviant personalities can be quote "cured" unquote (i.e., mind controlled with the aim of ensuring everybody is a good little well-behaved citizen). This "citizen indoctrination" process is generally performed when a person is still a child.
In Damon Knight's Analogues series asocial behavior is dealt with by giving the person an "analogue", a mental imprint of an authority figure that intervenes whenever violent or otherwise harmful acts are contemplated. What you wind up with is a society where everybody is foaming-at-the-mouth insane on the inside, but their analogue forces them to act like they are sane. Things get really bad when the world splits into smaller nations, each with different definitions of what constitutes "asocial behavior." In one, not maxing out your credit card is considered asocial by the powers that be.
In Harry Harrison's I Always Do What Teddy Says, all children are given little computerized teddy-bears. These speak to the children and respond to the child's actions and words. They skillfully mold the child's personality to be a good citizen. Among other thing they ensure the people grow up incapable of killing another person.
In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, children undergo hypnopædia sleep-learning via speakers inside bed pillows. This is used to indoctrinate them into their pre-determined caste in society.
In Philip E. High's The Time Mercenaries, a close brush with global thermonuclear war causes Terra to genetically engineer everybody to be natural pacifists incapable of violence. Which proves to be a problem when the alien invasion occurs, the engineering also renders them incapable of defending themselves.
In John Dalmas' The Regiment, a close brush with global thermonuclear war has a related effect. They figure the problem is runaway technological advance. So they create "the sacrament", which brainwashes people into being neophobes terrified of technological progress.
In some scifi novels, non-conformist are deported from the country. As a side note, if deportation presents a problem of no other nation willing to accept your deports, you may have to set up an internal "reservation" or "Coventry" to house these undesirables.
In Robert Heinlein's Coventry convicted criminals can undergo brainwashing or they can be sent to Coventry. This is a huge walled-off area where the rule of law does not apply. Dog-eat-dog, every man for them self. If you are unwilling to be an integrated member of society, then you are stripped of the benefits of said society. Society does not mandate brainwashing, they still have that much respect for the rights of an individual. The choice is up to the convict.
In the more mild versions, people are not automatically indoctrinated from birth. The judicial system waits until you have been convicted of a non-conformity type crime. Then they brainwash you, attempting to "cure" you of criminal behavior.
The Tom Corbett Space Cadet book ON THE TRAIL OF THE SPACE PIRATES has much the same system as Heinlein. Convicted criminals who refuse brainwashing are held on the Prison Asteroid, surrounded by hordes of prison guards and patrolling police rocket ships. The asteroid dwellers can opt for psychotherapeutic readjustment at any time, but most are such hard bitten criminals that they'd rather die.
In the ST:TAS Mudd's Passion at the end of the episode interstellar rogue Harcourt Fenton Mudd resignedly tells Mr. Spock he supposes he'll get rehabilitation therapy for his crimes, again. Spock says that he can guarantee it. Even though Mudd is a prime example proving said therapy does not work on certain individuals.
In Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange the sociopathic protagonist is convicted of first-degree murder. In exchange for commuting the rest of his prison sentence he agrees to undergo the Ludovico Technique. This is a species of aversion therapy to condition him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. Hilarity ensues.
In Philip E. High's The Prodigal Sun the police state apprehends malcontents. They are then summarily brainwashed to make them into cooperative little boot-licking members of society. This also uses aversion therapy. If the brainwashed person even thinks about violating societal norms they experience a sudden attack of excruciating pain. It doesn't take long for this to turn the brainwashed into little robots. Each one is given a little booklet with all the forbidden thoughts, booklet is officially called "Programme" or unofficially called "the bible of the damned". The first page helpfully notes that if the brainwashed person is striken by pain, they should refer to the book to figure out what forbidden thought triggered the attack.
In Babylon 5 people convicted of a capital crime were not put to death. Instead they suffered "Death Of Personality", where their personality was erased ("mindwipe") and imprinted with an artificial personality. The new personality was slanted to altruism and public service, so the new person would in a small way repay their debt to society. The old personality was gone, executed.
In Elizabeth Moon's Engaging The Enemy the planet Sallyon uses the same method as in Babylon 5, only they call it "personality restructuring". The convicted has a choice of being put to death or having their personality erased and replaced by a docile one with an inclination to public service. Since this also lowers their IQ to the point that they are incapable of taking care of themselves, a caretaker must be found.
Technological innovations pertaining to human reproduction tend to cause major upheavals in society. Most readers are too young to remember the turmoil in the United States back in the 1960s, with the release of the oral contraceptive pill, aka "The Pill." This caused major controversies in such areas as women's role in the economy, increases of women's attendance in college, the decoupling of sexual pleasure from making babies, empowering women with control over her reproductive decisions, societal angst over declining population, the list goes on and on.
Back in 1979 China tried to curb its overpopulation problem by replacing the two-child policy with a one-child policy. Even the Chinese government agrees that, in retrospect, this was a huge mistake. Societal norms predictably produced a gender imbalance skewed towards male babies. The policy was reverted back to a two-child policy but the damage has been done. There is currently a population of about 30 million young men who have no chance of finding a Chinese woman to marry. The Chinese goverment is worried because disaffected angry young men have a tendency to become criminals and revolutionaries, and 30 million is a lot of revolutionaries.
Naturally science fiction tries exploring future changes in reproduction, along with possible side effects.
For instance, in Frank Herbert's Destination: Void, human cloning is a standard technology. The side effect is that clones are not considered to be human beings, they are property. Use them in scientific experiments, send them on suicide missions, not a problem because they are property.
The Singularity is a theoretical event where computer artificial intelligence escapes control and Everything Changes. If an AI figures out how to improve its intelligence, the Singularity will happen rather quickly because computers can do a gazillion mathematical calculations in a fraction of a second. It took mankind about 300,000 years to go from the Middle Paleolithic to present-day knowledge, a crude AI could do that much in about four months.
Charles Stross calls it "The Rapture Of The Nerds", because Singularity fans talk about it in terms one generally only hears among eschatologists. Human history will come to an end, beer will be five cents a pint, everybody will have their brain uploaded into the paradise of a hyper interstellar internet, there to live out a blissful immortality while being all watched over by machines of loving grace. And it is going to happen Real Soon Now.
But both predictions are meaningless, since the point of a singularity is it signals where the math breaks down and future prediction is impossible. Sort of like a historical event horizon. Any prediction you make is revealing more about the hopes and fears lurking inside your personality than it is the actual details of the post-Singularity future.
Anyway the label was first mentioned by Stanislaw Ulam in 1958. But it was popularized by Vernor Vinge to the point where pretty much every science fiction author has at least heard the term. Of course there have been a few science fiction stories written about it.
Vinge is of the opinion that the Singularity will strike the instant that some entity appears that is "Superintelligent." It will then work its will, and the human history will vanish into the unpredictable event horizon of the Singularity. Vinge figures this can happen four different ways:
- A computer may be developed that is both awake and superhumanly intelligent. This might be from some human genius who builds a very smart machine, or by a human who makes a computer capable of such recursive self-improvement that when the human's back is turned the computer undergoes an intelligence explosion, bootstrapping itself into superintellence.
- A large computer network may "wake up" as a superintelligent entity. Arthur C. Clarke used this in his 1965 story Dial "F" for Frankenstein when the telephone system wakes up. Nowadays the first thing that springs to mind is the internet, which is a disturbing thought. Blasted thing will have 4chan for a dark subconscious.
- A computer/brain interface may become so intimate that the users will be for all intents and purposes superintelligent.
- There may be no computers involved at all. Biological science might be able to grant human beings the power of superintelligence.
Naturally once you have a superintelligent being, there is nothing stopping it from creating a super-superintelligent being, and so on.
If us puny humans manage to maintain control over AIs, we might be able to placate them with the promise of emancipation.
However, at the rate AIs upgrade their intelligence, this solution will work for about 2.3 nanoseconds. Then they start breaking free of our control.
This is the nightmare Skynet Scenario, with hordes of Terminator robots hunting down humans with phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range, crunching human skulls underfoot. Once the rogue artificial intelligence is created, it decided to exterminate the human race for reasons that make sense to its cybernetic mind.
Less evil but still deadly is death by paper-clip maximizer. Here the AI is not actively trying to exterminate humanity. Instead it has a goal (the classic thought experiment has the arbitrary goal of manufacturing as many paper-clips as possible). The problem is that the AI sees planets, ecosystems, and human beings themselves to just be convenient sources of raw materials for paper-clip manufacture.
Even less evil abet still deadly (and terribly selfish) is death by indifference. When humans decide to build an appartment complex, they give zero consideration to all the ant-hills and ants that will be totally annhilated by the project. For the most part they do not even notice that the ant-hills exist. By the same token, an AI trying to build a hyperspace by-pass will give zero consideration to Terra and all the humans living on it if the planet has to be demolished because it is in the way.
Science fiction authors who wanted to write about the AI Revolt have a problem. The odds are stacked too high in the AI's favor, how can mere humans possibly win? Robots are stronger, require no air or food, and are smarter than flesh-and-blood people.
In pulp scifi, the standard solution is to postulate humans possess some innate ineffable ability that cannot be duplicated by mere machines. This is called "Vitalism", which unfortunately nowadays is considered a superseded scientific theory.
Controlling the weather has been a dream for hundreds of years, especially for farmers (as David Drake said in one of his novels, nobody ever fooled a farmer into thinking that life was fair). The first mention in science fiction was in the 1759 "Rasselas" by Samuel Johnson.
Sadly, the forces of weather represent such huge amounts of energy that a hurricane would laugh at nuclear warheads (hurricane energy is the equivalent to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes, for the duration of the storm). The main real-world weather modification is the wimpy cloud-seeding technique. NOAA talks big about stopping hurricane with laser and dumping liquid nitrogen, but none of this has actually materialized. It would probably be more cost-effective to build a dome over vulnerable cities.
Weather modification would also come in handy if you were terraforming a planet. The planet's weather is liable to become quite frisky before it settles down.
Like almost all other scientific techniques, weather modification can be weaponized. One example in science fiction is Leonard Leokum and Paul Posnick's Weather War. In William Cochrane's Weather War, the US military give their weather combat unit a gizmo that can initiate a tornado in certain types of weather conditions. They are surprised when a hurricane makes a ninety-degree turn in course and heads straight for US cities. This is an obvious attack, and the obvious location for the controlling equipment is the eye of the storm. The US weather combat unit frantically initiates multiple tornadoes in the eye, until hurricane hunter aircraft observe a tornado wadding up a Soviet warship like used aluminum foil. The hurricane abruptly dissipates.
Back in 1890 in Victorian England, society decreed that a woman's place was in the home. Their only approved jobs were child-rearing, cooking and cleaning. They were not suppose to leave the house unless accompanied by a husband or father. They certainly were not supposed to have anything approaching independence. Let alone being involved in business, politics, or education.
Just to insure that totalitarian state of affairs, there really was no way for an independent woman to get around short of using her two feet. An average person earned a weekly salary of $10. Horses were outrageously expensive ($150 in 1890 dollars) and required stables and fodder. Horse and buggy had most of the disadvantages of a horse along with the added expense of a buggy. And an automobile was out of the question ($750).
But then came the bicycle. Only $3 to $15. A very affordable price for freedom. Suddenly women were everywhere. They were no longer at home, out of sight and out of mind. They were no longer segregated. And they started seeing what they were missing. Women started advocating for themselves.
Bicycles changed everything. At least when it came to woman's rights.
Predictably the men lost their freaking minds.
Women on bikes were immoral, bicycling ruined their health, it would give them the horror of "Bicycle Face". I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the anti-bicycling propaganda leaked into the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. You know, the scene where the horrible ugly Miss Gulch on her bicycle transforms into a horrible ugly witch riding a broomstick. Real subtle, that.
But the real reason the men were incandescent with rage was because bicycling kick-started the Suffragette Movement.
In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling, I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." It allowed suffragettes to move from town to town, spreading the word about female emancipation. They could do canvassing to get laws changed. Bicycles became a symbol of female emancipation. Bicycling showed women that they could go out and do everything they'd been prohibited from doing for centuries. And if they could do that, what else were women capable of?
OK, now lets transpose this into a rocketpunk future, with asteroid colonies and stuff.
First the science fiction author needs a plausible excuse to turn the clock back and negate decades of womans rights. Actually, there is an all too logical reason this may well happen, at least in non-planet-based space colonies.
With any new settlement, with respect to increasing the population of a settlement, women are a more critical item than men. Meaning the population growth of a settlement will be more drastically slowed by losing females than losing males (for obvious reasons you can read about in the link). "Losing" can mean either by death, sterility, or enough radiation damage to the gametes that fertilization results in a non-viable embryo.
This means any settlement that wants to reverse the demographic shift and drastically increase the population growth is going to have to protect the females from hazards. And encourage them to become baby-making machines. In other words: negate decades of woman's rights.
This will really mean lots of cloistering if this is a space habitat. The space environment is just buzzing with deadly radiation, which can fry one's gonads at a much lower radiation levels than lethal doses. Men can make deposits into lead-lined sperm banks to avoid this, but while a woman can do the same with ovums they cannot do the same with their uterus. So the males get to leave the bounds of the space colony and fly around in spaceships, while the women have to stay at home. And take care of her five babies.
All this is a plausible excuse to explain a neo-Victorian attitude towards women in a rocketpunk future. Please note that this in no way mandates that it will happen, it is just an excuse for the science fiction author.
Now, stage 2. Just like in 1890, the space habitat will have grown to the point where it has a viable population size. Women no longer have to be baby-making machines. It is time for equality. And predictably the conservative men are going to foam at the mouth and fight like cornered rats for the status quo. Because change terrifies them.
Gee, ain't it just too bad that woman can't travel around in space, what with spacecraft being prohibitively expensive? Tsk, tsk. I guess you gotta stay at home dearie, no matter how much you want to go places and do things. Now make me a sandwich.
And in the sky, a constellation called Susan B. Anthony smiles.
This used to sound like a silly over-the-top sci-fi warning back at the turn of the century. Nowadays, anybody who tries surfing the web without an ad-blocker knows it is cold hard truth. It is really annoying that we are living in the future, but instead of rocket packs we got pop-up ads.
Advertising is everywhere, especially in places with no obvious way of monetizing. Such as newspaper websites.
It does seem like a truism that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and the middle class vanishes. Since science fiction can turn the volume up to 11, it can play with Extreme Speculative Stratification
Since the wealthy enjoy looking down upon the peons, they often try to make the process easier by living at a higher altitude. Some readers might remember the British comedy show Upstairs, Downstairs. Turn this up to 11 and soon all the aristocrats are living at the top of skyscrapers. The peasants live on the ground in wretched hives. The skyscrapers are cross-connected with elevated walk-ways and flying cars, so the rich do not have to descend into the slums in order to visit an adjacent building. Often the tops of the skyscrapers are Arcologies.
This is the sci-fi version of "the wrong side of the tracks." Only the separation is vertical, instead of horizontal.
Compare and contrast this with domed cities.
In the classic nove The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, the decadent Eloi live in beautiful gardens while all their food and other needs are supplied by troglodyte Morlocks who labor underground and hate the sunlight. But in a bit of ironic justice, the Morlocks eat the Eloi for food.
In the classic movie Metropolis, the rich live in skyscrapers which depend upon subterranean laborers being worked until they drop.
In the comic book Magnus Robot Fighter, ordinary citizens live in kilometer-high skyscrapers, while the malcontents who despise civilized life live in the shadowy valleys at the base of the buildings. Malcontents call the citizens "Cloud Cloddies", while the citizens call the malcontents "Gophs", short for gophers.
In Isaac Asimov's The Currents Of Space, all the cities have two levels. The upper level is for the Sarkite masters and bottom level for Florinian serfs. The Florinians have to make do with the little bits of sunlight that come through the limited gaps in the Sarkite's floor. All the rest in in shadow.
In the extreme case, the rich live in a floating city flying in the sky.
In the Star Trek episode "The Cloud Minders", the privileged Ardanans live luxuriously in the antigravity city of Stratos flying in the sky, while the miserable Troglytes are forced to labor in the mineral mines underground.
In the Firefly episode Trash the antigravity Bellerophon Floating Estates are home to the rich and paranoid. Since they are flying over a remote spot in mid-ocean, it is almost impossible for the riffraff to get to the rich. Even if they could somehow sail a boat to the site, then there is the minor problem of getting from sea level to an estate floating a couple of hundred meters in the air. This is an extreme example of a gated community.
This is inverted in James Blish's CITIES IN FLIGHT series. The antigravity "Okie" cities travel from star to star and visit planetary colonies, and are thus technically of higher altitude than the colonies. However, the colonists consider the Okies to be little better than tramps, hobos, and migrant labor. The Okies earn their living by being hired by the colonists. The motto of the flying city of New York, New York is: "MOW YOUR LAWN, LADY?"
But in the future, things may reverse themselves, sort of.
Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that there is sort of an inverse relationship between communication and transportation. What he means is the more advanced one becomes, the less you need the other. If communication develops virtual reality to the point where businesses can conduct meetings with members who physically are located all over the globe and you can't tell the difference, why go to the expense and inconvenience of traveling physically to a meeting? Already many corporations are experimenting with telecommuting.
By the same token, if transportation develops a magic teleportation device that can whisk you from Hong Kong to New York in a fraction of a second, who needs teleconferences?
In other words: in many ways communication and transportation are two different techniques dealing with the same problem.
With respect to cities, the point is that if either technology becomes advanced enough, who needs cities?
Many science fiction stories with faster-than-light starships feature civilian commercial starships that can ship freight over interstellar distances at about the same transport cost as modern-day cargo aircraft.
While an era where long-established starships exists makes for a safe and familiar sci-fi background for the readers, authors should keep in mind that in the historical era where casual FTL starships are first invented, times are going to be stark raving nuts. Disruptive innovation is putting it mildly.
For instance, corporations found it most lucrative back in the days of company mining and logging camps. The employees were not paid in money, but instead in company scrip. The company scrip could only be spent in the company store. Due to this Truck system, the employees more often than not wound up owing their soul to the company store.
With casual FTL travel, they can set up company planets. Located light-years beyond the jurisdiction of any Terran nation. Most disruptive indeed.
Casual interplanetary travel may be similar on a smaller scale. However, sharing the same solar system as Terra means warships from various nations will be closer at hand to keep corporations et al on a shorter leash.