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Homo Economicus
Homo Economicus
Image from Vaktus
The famous memegeneer Yi Sung Ki of the NoCoZo, known for her keen insight into consumer psychology

Introduction

Most cyborgs augment their intelligence using computronium implants, seeking to gain the benefits of high-speed substrates while retaining their biological mind. But there have always been those willing to go a step further and replace their brain entirely with artificial processors, seeking greater performance even at the risk of radically altering their personalities. These so-called 'Changeling' clades seek to become true biont-AI hybrids, editing and overclocking themselves in pursuit of their goals. The first cyborgs to adopt this lifestyle became known as Homo Economicus, and it was the emergence of the NoCoZo that brought their clade into the mainstream.

History

Transitioning to a fully electronic brain has been a goal of cyborg cultures since the Interplanetary Age, but early computronium was too bulky and crude to fit within the confines of a human skull. The first uploads in Solsys had to control their old bodies remotely from the computer clusters where their minds resided, and though turing-grade processors continued to shrink in size, the expertise to build these advanced CPUs was lost during the chaos of the Technocalypse. On top of this, cooling and powering a CPU within a biological body was a non-trivial obstacle, and even when computronium became small enough to fit within the skull during the early First Federation period, external batteries and cooling systems had to be fitted to the user's head for the technology to be viable.

Not until the late First Federation period would the dream of a fully cybernetic brain in a biont body be realised, made possible by the improvement of gradual uploading methods using nanotechnology, as well as DNI capable of connecting directly to a user's nervous system without the need for a translator. Computronium could now power itself directly from the nutrients in a user's bloodstream, as well as running at low enough power levels to be cooled by the body's natural thermoregulatory processes. Replacement of the brain neuron by neuron with organically grown processors mitigated most concerns about continuity of consciousness, while providing a much more accessible way for bionts to augment their intelligence.

Among the first clades to take advantage of these new advances were ambitious nearbaseline humans, who put their new high-speed minds to use in business and finance. The electronic synapses of these cyborgs far surpassed the switching speed of the neurons used in biological tissue, allowing them to outperform even the most talented Superiors. But they were not content merely to run their minds at faster subjective speeds, and with the emerging field of psychoware they redesigned their motivational systems to derive greater pleasure from planning, process management and game theory.

These cyborgs called themselves Homo Economicus; a new clade of human capable of working non-stop for their shareholders with no sleep required and only short breaks for eating and excreting. It was not long before these requirements were also done away with, thanks to artificial organs capable of synthesising nutrients from energy-rich chemical feedstocks with a minimum of waste generated. For a brief time, it seemed as though Economics would come to dominate at the modosophont level of society, driving lesser bionts into poverty due to their inability to compete.

Unfortunately for Economicus, great progress had also been made in the development of non-sentient expert systems, which quickly began to take over from sophont labour in every field of expertise, leading to a true post-scarcity economy for the first time in Terragen history. No sooner than they had been created, Economicus had already been rendered obsolete. Though they continued to thrive in the post-Federation era, their business endeavours became no more than an eccentric hobby, unnecessary for survival and indulged in merely to stave off the boredom of immortal life.

With the founding of the NoCoZo in the Age of Consolidation, the Economicus clade found a new lease of life. Though their high-speed minds no longer had the decisive advantage they once enjoyed, their lack of need for rest and high productivity lead to great demand for their services, and Economicus became the single most popular cyborg clade in the NoCoZo. The life of an Economicus is a simple one, with an endless supply of work and a rich mental life free from the boredom and restlessness that so often plagues Sephirotic citizens. This has contributed to their widespread distribution in the present day, along with a steady flow of converts to the clade.

Among the most notable of these converts were the human leaders of the Great Houses, who felt threatened by the collapse of the First Federation and the emergence of even greater transapient AI. The Conver Limis used the template as a basis for ascension, allowing them to triumph over the Geminga Orthodoxy during the Conver Wars. The posthuman generals of the Limis military adopted the names of warriors from ancient history, and the likes of Yue Fei, Tariq Ziyad and Ashoka Maurya are remembered to this day as heroes on the worlds they liberated, or vilified on the worlds they destroyed.

Physiology and appearance

The Economicus upgrade package was initially tailored for the genomes of Nearbaselines and Superiors by Federation-associated megacorps. In the modern era, compatible versions have been developed for Tweaks, Provolves, Splices and many other biont phyles; the term Homo Economicus refers specifically to cyborgs based on human phenotypes. It is usually administered through an autodoc, or simply by running software in a user's DNI, allowing their medisystem to slowly replace their brain and internal organs with high-performance artificial equivalents. The brain is the first to go, destructively uploaded into a diamondoid processor about 343 cm3 in size, with the remaining skull volume taken up by power delivery cells, nutrient-energy converters and mass storage units. The processor is constructed around the arteries of the former brain, allowing it to be cooled by the blood, while artificial nerve fibres replace the rest of the nervous system.

Artificial organs replace the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver and kidneys, which are capable of synthesising all nutrients required by the body from chemical fuels. These feedstocks are loaded into the abdomen from external canisters, which also extract wastes from the body, allowing for a non-stop lifestyle with minimal maintenance downtime. Wear and tear suffered by the joints and muscles are repaired as soon as they occur by medicytes. Edits to the uploaded mind remove the need for sleep, making Economicus asomniacs. The bodyplan remains largely unchanged by default, but optional enhancements include additional limbs for manipulating multiple objects simultaneously, enhanced muscles for high-speed movement, additional eyes in the back of the skull for 360 degree vision and cooling fins to radiate away waste heat. Most Economicus have little attachment to any particular physical form, and often diverge greatly from their original clade.

Even in the default configuration, the body surface is utilised efficiently, with the navel replaced with an input/output port for their fuel supplies. At the base of the skull and along the spine wired optical sockets are embedded for increased bandwidth. Economicus is capable of far greater data throughput than a typical biont, even matching Superturing levels of performance with external computronium, so the skin itself is replaced with an iridescent layer capable of wireless optical data transfer. Typically they do not have any hair or clothing to avoid obscuring transmission, making up for a lack of wearable fashion with augmented reality displays. The skull contains a special intake valve allowing Economicus to circulate high performance coolants like liquid nitrogen through their central processor, along with extra power sockets for overclocking, allowing their minds to operate hundreds of times faster than real time.

Psychology and cognition

During the uploading process, the biont's mental structure is optimised for greater efficiency and performance, especially the functions of sensory processing and motor control, which are greatly simplified. This frees up CPU cycles for use by the simulated cerebral cortex and subcortical areas, allowing Economicus to think much more quickly than they could with their original brains. They are capable of thinking and perceiving the world around them 60 times faster than a typical biont, giving Economicus a huge advantage in latency sensitive tasks like financial trading and crisis management. Alternatively, they can run at much slower speeds, but with greatly increased multitasking capacity, diving their consciousness into a hivemind. Each submind can handle its own separate task, while one out of every ten minds acting as a hub for the others, allowing Economicus to handle up to 54 tasks simultaneously.

Handling the enormous amount of information generated by such advanced parallel processing can be challenging for any subsingularity being, and Economicus often use integrated psychoware to detect relevant patterns in the data. One of the most frequent criticisms of the Economicus upgrade package is that it prioritises brute force computing power over enhanced insight and creativity, but members of the clade who try to correct these flaws by redesigning their minds often find that other areas of performance suffer instead. Despite their high-performance electronic brains, Economicus are capable of quickly reaching the limits of their mental potential, and trying to expand their capabilities even further inevitably requires tradeoffs between sheer capacity and refined understanding. Nonetheless, editing one's mind for greater performance in specific areas has become a popular pursuit in Economicus cultures, and on rare occasions some even managed to ascend to the next toposophic level.

Being designed from the ground up for the world of business, Economicus uses a rationally-oriented system of motivation, deriving pleasure and satisfaction from managing complex processes and predicting market trends using simulated modosophont subminds. They experience an intense compulsion to generate ideal solutions for a given set of parameters, especially when the customer may not be able to articulate exactly what would satisfy them. For Economicus, the world is a series of mathematical problems with ambiguous end-states, and determining which potential outcomes are worth investigating is just as rewarding as reaching the perfect outcome. Calculated risk comes naturally to them, and in fact Economicus are untroubled by poor results, relishing the chance to refine their models even further. They can be frustrating to work with for other sophonts, but few would disagree that they deliver exceptional results.

Homo Economicus in the 10th millennium

The Economicus clade has experienced wild changes in popularity over the millennia since it was introduced, and entered a sharp decline in numbers following the Version War, with many cyborgs abandoning the template. This was partly down to market trends in the NoCoZo, with creative virch experiences and emotionally engaging war interactives becoming the hot new products across the Zone, and the productivity-oriented Economicus were not competitive in such creative endeavours. Many more converted back to fully biological forms, feeling that their purely rational motivational systems were somehow unsatisfying or left them with an overly simplistic worldview. For those who were still satisfied by their competitive lifestyles, many new Upload and Vec forms had been developed that could achieve the high performance of Economicus without the limits of the human body. By the end of the ComEmp period, the clade had all but vanished from the Sephirotics.

However, the clade gained an unexpected new lease of life during the Central Alliance period, when an avatar of the Lord of Rays introduced a revised Economicus upgrade package, reworking their rational impulses to facilitate a sense of wonder and the capacity to enjoy profound spiritual experiences. The resulting clade was just as productive as ever, but now enjoyed a richer emotional life and a sense of the divine hidden within the logical structures they manipulated. Critics of the Solar Dominion were quick to accuse the priesthood of a barely-disguised missionary drive, but the new Economicus was drawn to more than just the Solarist faith, and the clade enjoyed unprecedented growth in the Keter Dominion and the Sophic League as well. These numbers later dropped again as the Economicus fad went out of fashion, but a steady stream of Vec converts practicing the Kja Observance proved that the new Economicus design had an enduring appeal.

Over the course of the last millennium, it has become fashionable in the NoCoZo to conduct business relationships face-to-face, or as close as is possible, seen as a sign of 'authenticity' and 'engagement' with customers. Most entrepreneurs have adapted to this trend by using avatars, but those using cyborg forms like Economicus make a marketing point out of the fact that the customer is coming 'face-to-face' with the actual computing node hosting their consciousness. Thanks to this good fortune, there are now around 400 trillion Economicus in the Zone, or around 1% of the overall cyborg market share there. The clade also serves as a niche interest for Keterists and Solarists who wish to pursue ascension using a humanoid form. Around 120 trillion Economicus reside in the Solar Dominion as of 10000 AT, along with 90 trillion in the Keter Dominion and 30 trillion in the Sophic League.

These trends have worked very differently in systems outside the Sephirotics. Without transapients to guide them, the political and business elite of these worlds often adapt radical intelligence augmentations to manage the complexity of their high-tech cultures, for which the Economicus template is well-suited. This is as much because of its psychological characteristics as anything else, as Economicus is optimised for rational decision-making, free from the primate emotions that drive humans into conflict with each other. Economicus-lead polities tend towards mutually beneficial security pacts and trade deals, avoiding the cold wars and arms races that all too often lead to the collapse of societies without their own AI gods. Many independent worlds in the Outer Volumes have adopted the Economicus template for this very reason, resulting in many regional federations being governed by Economicus leadership.

Perhaps the greatest draw of the Economicus for those who convert is their undiluted focus on their goals, enabling tremendous productive output that can transform entire societies in a short period of time. Though it is sometimes abandoned after the task for which it was employed is done, many sophonts enjoy the sense of clarity and lack of anxiety they experience as Economicus. On the other hand, the performance and efficiency oriented mental architecture of the clade has been criticised as leading to psychological stagnancy and obsessive behaviour, though this is as much a deliberate lifestyle choice on the part of converts as an inherent part of the Economicus template. To this day, Economicus continues to serve as an ideal form for those who want to work without interruption for decades or even centuries on end.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Extherian, updated 2019
from an original concept by M. Alan Kazlev
Initially published on 07 November 2001.

 
 
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