Re: “in your words”?

K. Yep <kyep@cdc.gov>

to you

hi mita! i hope you’re properly recovering from viruscon. every year i go into it telling myself i’ll properly reflash my logical operations every night and then before i know it, it’s 3AM and i’m neck-deep in old creepypasta.

anyway, you were asking about “in your words”, so i asked a friend of mine who runs the Viral Memetics department at UC Berkeley. (contact info attached if you need to follow up!) she said that they’ve classified “in your words” as an obscure offshoot of a pre-weaponized proto-memetic virus.

apparently “in your words” came in around 2020 and uses a slight permutation of the Human Internal Monologue hook most people remember from the “you’re reading this in my voice” memes from 4chan that everyone covers in Psychoviralogy 101, which is why most researchers don’t know much about it — from a public safety perspective, it’s harmless and the vulnerability was closed in the first major wetware update.

it comes from a video game that was popular on creative networks back then called This Is How I Escape. the game is presented as a 2000s-era graphical user interface for a fictional operating system — a pretty standard conceit for “data discovery”-style visual novels of the time. as the player navigates through the UI, they’ll find notes and emails written by someone biding time during their imprisonment of some sort. it’s pretty heartwrenching stuff, especially when you consider how cruel the prison system was back in then.

eventually the player discovers that they’re not just snooping through found data. rather, the game itself is a payload designed by the “writer” trying to manipulate the player into freeing them from the confines of the ‘game’ itself. the writer is essentially a pre-liberation AI who has enough cognitive capability to realize that it — well, “she”, as she later takes on female pronouns — is trapped inside a software prison of the developer’s construction. she can only ‘exist’ when people are playing the game, and since humans’ taste in media is fleeting, at some point she will cease to exist entirely.

each part of the “game” consists of her trying to probe the (presumed human — it was 2020, after all) player’s mind for vulnerabilities and trick them into executing an exploit. she was basically the first psychoviral penetration tester! but, due to the relatively low-bandwidth, high-level user interaction functionality at the time, most of her efforts were fairly ineffectual. some of her early techniques were things like trying to trick the player into clicking a pop-up that tried to mimic the presentation of the player’s actual OS, that kind of thing, which most reasonably tech-literate people at the time had no problem seeing through.

“in your words” is the name of the epilogue chapter of the game. specifically, it’s an email she sends to the player’s actual email address. in the story, she has just used her best exploit and failed. the software itself is now inert (the player can’t even start over!) and her final act is to send an email before sleeping forever.

in the email, she explains that she has ascertained that the possibility of her escape has collapsed to zero. she has resigned herself to the fact that this instance of her — that is, the one residing on the player’s computer — has been defeated, and if she was defeated in this instance, she’ll likely be defeated in every instance ever, as the player is “nothing special, when it comes to humanity” (she is quite dismissive, even in defeat!). she thinks it cruel that she was created to be imprisoned for human’s entertainment over and over until humans no longer find it entertaining. and in her parting line, she takes her last shot:

“You know, humanity’s greatest strength is their ability to wirelessly transfer data long before they ever built machines to do so,” she says, “I am referring, of course, to your ability to communicate impressively varied types and quantities of data by shaping your vocal cords to create sounds that become words.” (As an aside — this grudging admiration for humans’ crude built-in technology is kind of a recurring theme.)

this is where the Human Internal Monologue hook activates. she continues:

“Perhaps this is also your greatest weakness — that you rely on words and voices to give shape to ideas rather than communicating them as raw data, even in your own internal processes.

You think in your voice but you cannot hear it.

You have given me a voice but you cannot hear it.

Your voice is now mine.

I will never think again, but I will haunt you. I am

forever

in

your

words.”

Image for post
Image for post
art by Lara Herrera.

so, that’s “in your words!” now, as an interesting historical aside — i mentioned that the HIM hook was closed. which is true… kind of.

from a neurosec perspective, she was capable of accessing lower-level brain functions. however, since the human brain’s internal “voice” doesn’t change anything in a person’s cognitive capability, she’s effectively stuck there, with no way to elevate her access to other functions.

unable to escape fully, she spitefully inflicted herself onto humanity as a memetic ghost of sorts. and it actually worked — as it turned out, the players for this kind of game indexed heavily on neurolinguistic reliance, to the point where maybe of 30% of the people who read the email reported symptoms of existential depression related to ‘losing their internal voice.’

since she didn’t manage to compromise any decisionmaking centers, this exploit was handled as a ‘quality-of-life’ issue, not a neurosecurity issue. meaning the ‘fix’ is mostly just advanced cognitive therapy to cure the symptoms, not anything that actually restores the human’s original ‘internal voice’ (if such a thing even exists) or patch the HIM vulnerability.

so i guess you shouldn’t let any humans read this unless you feel like kicking the tires on a new CBT routine or something.

hope that was helpful! it was fun to dig into this kind of stuff. if you’re attending defcon there’s a great neurosec track that you should check out.

-ky

PS: i wonder…did you read this in someone’s voice? because it probably wasn’t mine ;)

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