Hacking Humans

And I’m not saying this in a good way.

It’s true, in the last 10-20 years, there was a lot of action around “improving” humans. At some point, someone used the word “hacking”, in a positive way, equaling all these improvements with a “white hat” hacker approach. Things like productivity, new diets, tips and tricks popped in popular culture, creating a “hacking humans” trend. The goal was “let’s make a better human being”, and, to a certain extent, it worked. The approach was transparent, assumed and good things happened because of it.

But there is another sense of the “hacking” word, usually associated with “black hat” operations, like “hacking into another computer”, or taking control remotely of some network.

What Does It Mean For A Human To Be Hacked?

To get a better understanding of what that means for humans, we should start with a Philip K. Dick famous question: “Do androids dreams of electronic sheep”?

Or, to put it bluntly: does a computer actually know when it’s hacked?

Well, of course not. That’s the thing, that’s what “black hat” hacking means: to bypass some sort of control, and start using the device normally, without any resistance from the device (or from those who want to protect it). From this point of view, the device “doesn’t know” it was hacked. You just take control of the processes.

It’s the same with humans. In order for a human being to be hacked, somebody else must take control of the thought processes, and make him or her behave in a certain way, without that person realizing there was a breach in the first place. For that person, everything should be “normal”, except he or she will start acting in ways that are controlled by the attacker.

If you don’t think this is possible, you better stop right now and think again. Adding a little bit of humility, and just accept that you’re vulnerable, can go a long way. The easiest way to make someone act like you want is not coercion, to which you’re probably resistant, but manipulation, to which all have little, if any resistance.

Still don’t believe me? Ok, let me reveal a little secret to you.

The person you see in the featured picture of this article doesn’t really exist. It was generated by an AI model (one using GANs, or Generational Adversarial Networks, a category of AI about I’ve written in the past). You can generate your own non-existent picture on this website, thispersondoesnotexist.com. Also, the cat in the picture below doesn’t exist either (yes, there is a site called thiscatdoesnotexist.com).

Nor the art in the picture below (although it’s actually quite good, and it comes, obviously, from thisartdoesnotexist.com).

See? I just hacked your mind into believing you’re seeing a nice woman, whereas that person DOESN’T REALLY EXIST.

Why Would Someone Hack You?

The scary thing about being hacked is that you don’t realize you’re hacked. You start behaving in ways which, for you, are legit, but which aren’t really what you would want to do for your own good. You may start hating other people violently, for instance, polarizing your social circle. You may even start taking action towards this social circle, advocating for the elimination of some rights for some people, or for the escalation of some rights for other people.

Oh, enough with abstractions, let’s get real. Let’s see some real life examples.

Suppose you see something that you don’t like on social media. You get upset. And then start posting about your frustration with that thing, and ask for it to change. Or start taking action towards changing the thing that upset you. It doesn’t matter what we’re taking about, it might be climate change, or the pandemic, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you get upset about it.

And here’s the thing: somewhere along the way, the majority of humans has been hacked into believing that if they’re upset about something, they’re also right.

Please read that again.

If you’re upset about something, you’re also right. How come? When did we put the equal sign between these two things? Well, it’s a very long story, and it has to do with algorithms and clickbait and propaganda. And it doesn’t really matter, for the purpose of the article. What matters is that this is now a fact: if you’re upset, you automatically feel entitled. This is your “backdoor”, in black hat hacking terms.

And now, all that an attacker need is to post specific messages that they know will upset you. That’s it, that’s the handle. Because “you’re right”, you will immediately start acting towards changing something.

You’ve been hacked, someone else took control over your processes, without you even realizing. You don’t even feel there’s something wrong, because you’ve been fooled into equaling “being upset”, with “being right”.

Being upset is a choice. One that should be exercised with caution, that should be evaluated based on the overall context you’re acting, and based on your state (are you hungry? thirsty? tired? – don’t laugh, our reactions are incredibly different to the same stimuli based on how hungry, thirsty or tired we are in that very moment). You may be upset about raining, but that’s just the way it is. You may be upset because it’s dark outside, when you really wanted to be light, but, hey, the Earth revolves around its axis and, for a few hours, every day, you’ll be in the dark. And that’s just the way it is. Being upset about any of these events doesn’t mean you could change them, yet, you’ve been hacked into equaling “I’m upset” with “I will change whatever that makes me upset, because me being upset entitles me to that”.

Yes, I know it’s hard to accept it. It’s not pleasant at all to suddenly realize that the very core of your being, your mind, was hijacked.

That’s why I said that a little bit of humility can go a long way. We’re vulnerable. And because we’re vulnerable, we should protect ourselves. We’re not always right (especially when we’re upset) and we need patience and awareness. Otherwise, we may be just pawns on a huge chess board, fighting wars that we don’t even know we fight.

Or, worse, fighting wars that are “right” to fight, “saving” other people from imaginary diseases, even against their own will.

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