In complete contrast to our first story, this #SFSwap entry paints a sobering picture of the near future and – in classic SF style – looks at today through the lens of a single invented technology. One thing RULES STALIN has really enjoyed about reading through the entries has been the massive diversity in style used, and this story is a good example: it’s written in a matter-of-fact, non-fiction register that is perfect for expressing the banality of evil. Enjoy!



PROMPT: Near future where your subconscious choice is read by a brain scanner directly at the polling station.


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It had been a difficult few years for tackling voter apathy. After another failed referendum on alternative vote, and a few years of trotting out celebrities to stand as MPs, the government think tanks started to recommend more drastic action. They took to focus groups to find out why voter engagement was so low. After many hours of meetings (and hundreds of thousands of pounds in consultancy fees) they came to the conclusion that this was down to laziness. You see, one of the think tank members, himself an Eton alumnus and an Oxford PPE graduate, had once met a chap who didn’t vote, and they’d implied it was because they couldn’t be bothered to find the polling station. They assumed this was correct, and assured their focus groups would confirm this theory.

Expensive tenders were set out to find a company who could solve what would become known as the ‘polling proximity apathy’. The Think Tank congratulated themselves, feeling that sincerely no change could come of this.

Oh, they were wrong, don’t you worry.

Sure enough, Google were there with the perfect idea. What if we just…knew? What if, when a voter connected to the internet, we harnessed the power of Big Data to read their choice for them? What if we installed brain scanners at convenient places of public interest to ‘confirm’ their vote, by taking measurements of brainwave activity and matching them to the known brainwave formations of supporters of particular parties? And of course, given that in exchange we’ll agree that Google retains some of this data, and collects some additional information, this can be set up with a deep discount…

And there it was. When the election opened, gradually all votes were registered subconsciously.

The count was immediate. There were masses of complaints about the lack of suspense, and the television schedulers didn’t know what to do with their evenings.

In total, 80% voter turnout. Now, the interesting thing was, it really didn’t affect the way votes were distributed. See, voter apathy affects people from all walks of life. It’s a complete misnomer that a higher voter turnout is better for one party or another, because, in reality, voter opinions are the product of very complex relationships. For every youthful, bleeding-heart liberal, there’s an equally young Tory supporter, both thinking roughly the way that their parents taught them. For every student pursuing a liberal vote, there’s a pensioner more worried about those immigrants. And of course, opinions are not homogeneous within any of those groups. Why, some people, when they reviewed their own voting data, were actually a bit surprised. Some people really thought they’d been on Team Red the whole time, but the voting algorithm knew that they shared a way of thinking with Team Blue.

Mostly, all this changed was the ability of people to claim that the government was illegitimate somehow.
But, most significantly, it gave Google an alarming sales boost, and a very interesting upswing in share value. It was to be the beginning of the end for the traditional political party. Some years later, they entered their first MP candidate. The rest is history.