(credit: the Floating Heads exhibit by Sophy Cave)
Charles looked over at the commotion across the street – the new-age synthesizer music, the big colorful signs, the people handing out flyers.
“What the hell is SNOSH? I saw these people the other week and meant to look it up,” said Dan without breaking stride.
It was surreal seeing them in person, Charles thought to himself.
“It’s an acronym – the Shining New Order of Soul Harmony”
“Welp, that definitely doesn’t sounds like a cult at all,” chortled Dan, “I wonder if they added Shining to the front just to make it a better acronym. ”
“Never underestimate the importance of a good name… I actually watched a documentary about them the other night… no one really knows for sure what they believe or what they do, they are very secretive. I didn’t realize they were in the Bay Area, the documentary came out a few months ago and it didn’t say anything about them having a branch here.”
“Oh, how very mysterious!” said Dan sarcastically, “well they picked a great area for expansion – everyone in California is already in a cult or desperately looking to join one, they should have no problem with recruitment. Let me guess – the leader had a prophetic dream in which Jesus or Aliens or the Lizard People or Alien Lizard Jesus said that the world was going to end at a conveniently distant date in the future and that the only way to save yourself from the coming apocalypse was to have sex with the leader or let your wife and daughter have sex with the leader. Something like that, right?”
“Not exactly,” snickered Charles, “you should watch the documentary, it’s really good.”
“I’m never going to watch it, just tell me. I mean, we have to know something about them, right?”
“Yes, but a lot of it is hearsay, rumors, 2nd and 3rd-hand stuff. There is one person who claims to have left the cult, but his identity is hidden in the interviews, just a silhouette with voice modulation. The theory presented in the doc is really out there. They believe the leader is this guy Joscha Bach, a former AI researcher at Intel Labs. In 2032, he abruptly quit his job and went into hiding, totally off the grid, apparently only a few friends and family know where he is or what he is doing, but they won’t say of course.”
“So they don’t even know for sure that this Bach guy is actually behind SNOSH? What’s the evidence, then?”
“Here is where it gets weird - he had a dream way back in 2021 that seems to fit with the testimony of the ex-cult member and two of his ex-colleagues at Intel. The crazy thing is he actually tweeted about the dream, you can look it up.”
“In the dream, there was this cult, as he described it, that had a model of the space of human souls and they were somehow able to use this model to reprogram people into their role in the cult. His ex-colleagues say that he was always talking about the dream – it was a joke, like oh boy here he goes again with that dream – but that his behavior became particularly obsessive and erratic right before he disappeared.”
“Modeling the space of human souls” – what the fuck does that mean?”
“He interpreted “souls” in a more scientific manner, really just meaning the psychological make-up of a person. The ex-colleagues say that he would talk about creating an AI that could so perfectly understand the human mind that it could create an optimal social organization, one in which every person willingly and genuinely acts for the greater good of the group and is absolutely satisfied with their place in the hierarchy – perfect obedience and perfect harmony. In Bach’s philosophy, it is our hierarchical nature, burned into the human psyche by millions of years of evolution, that is the root of all evil. Hierarchies of all kinds create perpetual struggling and suffering; even those at the top of the pyramid are constantly worried about losing their position. He believed that with sufficient understanding of human psychology and precise manipulation, we could end the struggle forever.”
“Oh ok, yea that’s not creepy at all… I still don’t understand how this works – how does the AI create the “the optimal social organization”? Like what is actually happening and where is all of this taking place?”
“They have a secluded compound outside of Berlin, Bach is originally from Germany. They don’t know exactly how many people are in SNOSH, but estimates put it between 100-500. As the anonymous ex-cult member explained it, every morning you login to the computer system and receive instructions; the instructions are psychological interventions designed to create perfect harmony and satisfaction in the group. Sometimes they are simple instructions – talk to this person and tell them this or that, a slight change to your duties, a change to your morning routine; sometimes they are serious biological interventions – an unknown pill or injection, or even a brain surgery. Sometimes people are put in solitary confinement for months at a time. Tests are conducted constantly in order to determine the result of the interventions – extensive brain scans, detailed psychological evaluations by other cult members, blood samples, you name it.”
“And everyone just goes along with this, no questions asked? Why?”
“Apparently yes, and it is because they have an unwavering belief in the greater mission of the cult. They do not claim that the AI has been perfected yet; by participating in SNOSH, members are helping to train the algorithm so that it can one day be fully operational on a species-wide level - all human souls arranged and molded by the AI to create perfect peace and social harmony. Their hope is to weave humanity into one giant multicellular organism, every person a replaceable somatic cell with the cult-AI as the nervous system.”
“Ehh I’m not buying it, this can’t be what they are really up to, sounds too much like the plot of a shitty science fiction story. And isn’t it suspicious that there is only one anonymous ex-cult member in the documentary? I bet the whole thing is a recruitment tool, designed to make SNOSH seem all futuristic and mysterious so that idiots like you want to join.”
“I’m just telling you what the documentary said, dude. They admit it sounds far-fetched, but the ex-colleagues float the idea that Bach may have made some kind of breakthrough that allowed for the creation of the SNOSH AI. He certainly seemed capable of doing so.”
Dan and Charles reached the street corner that was their natural point of separation.
“Alright man, I’m headed this way. What are you getting into the rest of the day?”
Charles glanced back at the SNOSH members passing out flyers, “I don’t know, might grab a bite to eat before I go home. I think Ronit and I are going to the movies later.”
“Don’t think I didn’t see you glance back right there! Ohhh I know exactly what you are going to do – you are going to go back and talk to the SNOSHERS! This might be the last time I ever see you,” laughed Dan.
“Shut up. If they hand me a flyer, it would be rude not to take it though, right?”