Let’s play with a hypothetical. Imagine that personality traits are akin to software, and you can download them into your brain. They’re like WordPress plugins — you search through a marketplace of both free and paid options, then install and activate them. Congrats! You’re now smarter, or you have a sardonic sense of humor, or you’re more cautious when evaluating risks.

How would this system be monetized? I assume the hardware for interfacing with your brain would be purchased outright, or maybe you’d sign a two-year contract and make monthly payments. Perhaps the government would subsidize your purchase, as long as you promised to modify your personality in ways that they favored, such as boosting your docility. (Prisoners, needless to say, would have “healing” modules forced on them, developed at the taxpayers’ expense.)

Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Some of the personality plugins would be available for an upfront payment or a recurring subscription. Others would be open-source, free to anyone and audited by the community. The most popular ones would be nominally free but monetized by advertising. For example, maybe you can gain eight IQ points, but in exchange you have to love Coca-Cola. You know why you love Coca-Cola, but it doesn’t make a difference — you still love it. Not only do you personally buy lots of Coke, but you also evangelize the drink to your friends. If you want to go back to having your original soda preferences, you have to give up your augmented intelligence.

Cracked versions of the Coca-Cola-type plugins are available, but they’re not always trustworthy, and installing them invalidates your hardware warranty. Eventually airports routinely scan your brain as well as your body, and if copyrighted patterns are detected in your gray matter, you’ll be pulled aside and stripped. As in, the TSA engineers will yank out that new part of your mind.

This post was inspired by the “Jedi SpongeBob” episode of Terrifying Robot Dog and based on a conversation with Alex Irwin, who contributed the Coca-Cola/advertising example.