Object 55

A Cure for Hate

2036, Helsinki, Finland,

Our object is a collection of articles from 2036 and 2037 about the practice of personality editing, which became commonplace later this century:

HELSINKI, June 2036 - Ilmari Koskinen, a 24-year-old resident of Kirkkonummi accused of stabbing a student at a bar in August last year, was today found guilty of aggravated assault.

Unusually, Koskinen was given the choice of either a ten-year prison term followed by a standard POI (permanent overwatch and intervention) order, or admission into a trial of the controversial new 'hate cure' gene therapy treatment pioneered by Prof. Mathy at University College London. Koskinen chose the therapy treatment, which is expected to begin in September pending the results of a medical assessment.

The victim of Koskinen's assault, Jani Hahl, sat silently in the back of the courtroom during the sentencing. Family members offered no comment to the press. Legal experts believe that —

...

Imagine a simulated world. The world is made up of continents and seas and archipelagos, just like our own. Hundreds of billions of intelligent agents are scattered across those continents and islands. The simple act of each seemingly independent agent receiving, processing, and transmitting information to other agents results in the entire world functioning in a coherent, directed manner.

The world you are watching sits in a galaxy of a billion other worlds. You notice that this one is acting poorly. It acts against its own interests and the interests of the other worlds around it. You scrutinise it, and you trace the problem to a programming defect affecting a few billion agents on a particular continent. They aren't passing information along properly, and that's what's causing their world to malfunction.

So what do you do? You release a virus into the simulation. This virus is targeted at those defective agents, and it will rewrite their code and fix them. To make sure that they stay fixed, you engineer the virus in such a way that it will be easy to make future corrections, whether by further viruses or less invasive methods.

It is elegant, effective — and surely better than the alternatives, which might include ostracism, punishment, execution, or even worse —

...

The effects of reduced levels of serotonin on prefrontal-amygdala connectivity and the impairment of the ability to control emotional responses to anger have been known since the early teens. While serotonin levels may fluctuate in the brain due to stress or hunger, long-term reductions have been observed in some individuals due to a combination of genetic factors, including lowered expression of the p11 protein.

Trials of gene therapy treatments to increase serotonin levels and/or receptors in the relevant area have been conducted in various guises for almost three decades, beginning with rats and leading up to primates. Treatments developed in the early 2020s resulted in modest and highly variable reductions in aggressive behaviour, but a breakthrough from the University College London labs, which combines the standard viral vector with repeated 'tuning' of specific cell clusters via transcranial magnetic stimulation, has proved to be much more effective. Rival optogenetic approaches use opsin genes with LED implants for similar effects.

Not all patients are eligible for treatment in this way. For example, those whose aggressive behaviour is not attributable to —

...

"Thank you for that illuminating lecture, Professor Mathy. Since we are a little short on time, we have a few questions from the audience that I'm going to bundle together, if you don't mind."

"Not at all."

"Helena from Tampere asks how we can be so sure that someone's aggressive tendencies have been cured, and whether we shouldn't just keep people confined as a precaution. Axel from Oulu wants to know whether your treatment could be used for conditions such as depression and autism. And finally, Keke from Vaasa says that no-one should have the right to change another's personality when they're under duress, and that almost any other punishment would be better."

"Thank you all. Let me take the last question first, from Keke. Now, let's face it — taking away someone's freedom and locking them up for ten years, that's no walk in the park. That would change them far more than my treatment, and it would it would change them for the worse, no matter how comfortable the prison. Prison would not help them to control their aggressive tendencies, which are after all a biological fact, not something we can wish away. They would become resentful and disconnected from society in prison.

"Better that we preserve what is good about them and fix what is wrong, rather than retreating to primitive notions of retribution. My treatment means that we protect our society and we protect the individual. It is the best of both worlds.

"Now, regarding whether we can be sure the treatment worked. We employ a very thorough, very comprehensive battery of tests including imitation games, and we use the best scanners we have to —