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Not long after the advent of the internet, people the world over began to come together in an unprecedented way. With direct, person to person communication made possible, first-world countries began to forgo political representatives in favor of various flavors of what would come to be known simply as 'direct democracy'. Just as the American revolution fomented liberation over large swaths of the world, technology brought on a whole new magnitude of personal freedom roughly equal to the difference between a monarchy and a republic. The old guard kicked and screamed, and threw all of their money into a collective corporate hissy fit, but this only served to hasten their descent towards irrelevance.
First a few notable but comparatively small European countries made the switch. For nearly a decade only Swedes and internet dorks watched in bated breath, wondering if a communications based government could work. The rest started to take notice, however, when quality of life skyrocketed across the board in nearly every governance which switched to complete self-rule. The old assumptions about the peasants' inability to rule themselves were swept away. Apparently a few million middle class yobs do indeed have more wisdom than any room full of power brokers, even if they do occasionally vote themselves into a stupid situation. There were false starts of course. The UK famously modeled their online voting apparatus after 'Facebook', which nearly led to a civil war when half of the country attempted to completely defund the internet infrastructure of the other half.
As time went on and this new quality of life spread even to traditionally unstable countries, at last the world fell in line by choice, and without force. Suddenly all the quiet, normal folks could sing in a chorus much louder than the partisans could jabber and froth. This new enlightenment continued into the second half of this century. Within a single generation the world had eliminated most forms of suffering, and the worlds' former leaders could only shift their eyes towards the floor when presented with how easy it could actually be. Time progressed further, and people started to wonder what new heights humanity could reach—we're not a sedentary race, you see. With increased funding for science the world was able to make exploration exciting and popular again, yet even with nearly a centuries' computational progress under their belt, terraformation and space travel were still prohibitively expensive and time consuming. So with no quick way to go up, and no good reason to go down, humanity could only attempt to travel deeper within themselves.
It started when an open-source tech consortium (previously known as 'Microsoft') figured out how to interface with the human brain in a meaningful way. What neurologists and prosthetic engineers had been overlooking all those years was the way the human brain processes time. We now know that one of the largest factors in both intelligence and creativity lays in how 'fast' a person's brain is. By emulating a human brain neuron for neuron in bits and tailoring prosthetics with a unique AI for that brain, the two could be linked to reroute neural pathways into a virtual conduit, thereby creating the 'neural bit'; i.e. a mind emulated once over experiences time at exactly half it's normal speed, thereby increasing it's thinking power in that window of time by two.
Simply put, one nb is equal to roughly twice the processing power of a single, unaltered mind. This resulted in some unfortunate incidents when researchers attempted to sync up two different emulated brains, as one brain's nb is likely to have a different value than another due to differences in the amount of available neurons and how they're wired. Having twice the time in your day to do as you wish is nice, but isn't practical when everyone else appears to be functioning in slow motion. Plus their emulated brain was limited, all it did was alter your perception of time. Obviously there were much more exciting uses for neural bitrate systems. When they finally learned to sync minds the next step was to flesh out the capabilities of the emulated brain.
At last, mankind could live as it wished, wherever it wished, and there could be no consequences. Reality could now be fabricated in any way a man could see fit within one emulated brain, or an indefinite number of synced brains. As many predicted at the time, these new capabilities didn't work out as one would hope. Instead of the AI overlords seen in the anachronistic 'The Matrix' from the late twentieth century, mankind's biggest threat came to be extreme apathy. Who wants to vote, or procreate, when you can pretend to be Harry Potter, or Leonardo da 'vinci? Why, people even began altering their minds to believe they were these characters and historical figures, discarding whatever identity they had in favor of fantasy.
More and more people took measures to maintain their physical forms separate from their virtual selves, without ever moving an inch from the room they were born in. Doctors and nurses, teachers and scholars... all of them were made obsolete. Life for your average human became an automated tour of their wildest fantasies. The remaining of the famous and elite increasingly experienced bouts of disassociation, as they couldn't be sure if they were truly successful, or some forgotten entity living out a virtual fantasy. On the bright side suicides and murders nearly stopped completely; why take such drastic mearsues when you can alter who you are on a whim and simply forget what's bothering you? Even the worst criminals could simply be wiped clean of their memories and stripped of their antisocial tendencies.
At last, mankind freed itself from violence. But the cost was a plateau in progress. Man stood collectively at the precipace of a true, full blown technological singularity, yet there were so few left cognizant of the real world. From the start there had been anti tech groups who decided tinkering with the brain was going too far. However most of them were staunched by their own sort of shortsightedness, as their anti-tech sentiments were based in fear and faith, rather than cautious reason. None of it made a difference anyway. People ignored drives to 'unplug and take part'. They even ignored social workers who tried to convince them to rejoin humanity, in any capacity, at least part of the time. There are more and more 'lost causes' every day, what with the new generation essentially being born plugged in. There are people out there who wouldn't know real life if they saw it. Things have been going downhill and half of these folks won't notice until the system shuts down and they collectively starve to death in atrophied heaps of flesh and bone. The thing is... none of that compares to the greatest sins committed with nb tech. The apathy, the rapidly declining birth rates, even the return of corporate control... they don't compare.
You see, almost as soon as the tech was created someone found a way to use it against others. With each doubling of an emulated brain's bit rate time is slowed by half, and with each new advance in vr tech new capabilities emerge within fabricated worlds. It's not just about changing reality according to your whims; every day people invent entirely new sensations as they wire their brains in new and interesting ways. A man famously simulated throwing himself into a black hole just to see what it felt like. Quickly, perhaps as soon as the tech was ready, someone used nb technology as a torture device. For an estimated 70,000 - 112,000 years in virtual time (which lasted only a few days in real time) a group of 119 people were held hostage in an emulated reality consisting of nothing but a black void and repeating intervals of the worst pain sensations available in vr tech at the time. Complete sensory deprivation... except for the pain... for that long... they were all technically brain-dead upon their eventual release.
This emerging form of torture is presumably being used to this day, and with increasing nb rates there are probably people out there being held to the whims of psychopaths for millions of years of virtual time. Add to that the possibility for psychological torture and all the new and varying sorts of pain available and you have the most fearsome tool for oppression ever conceived. We call such torture 'void death', and the new wave of neo-corporatists scrambling to fill the power vacuum left by an apathetic world society are certainly willing and ready to use this new nuclear option wherever they see fit.
At last, mankind has discovered a way to harm itself which transcends even death, and I'm increasingly convinced that I'm one of its victims.