Jules Takes Over the World

Jules felt stung as he left the psych ward. He wasn’t bothered by the battery of tests they ran – after all, he’d just had a major head accident. Nor was he bothered by the extra time they’d spent holding him as they flew in a neuro specialist to try and understand his extraordinary condition.

No, it was the final remarks as he was approved for release. “Sure, he’s testing off the charts for mental aptitude, perhaps a tenfold gain in thinking speed and memory, but that’s not a reason to hold him in a ward. What’s he going to do, take over the world?”

This, Jules took personally.

Day 1

Most science fiction, quite frankly, is silly nonsense.

Alfred Bester

A day later, Jules had read a healthy chunk of fiction on the subject of enhanced intelligence. Flowers for Algernon, Ted Chiang’s Understand, even films like Limitless at ultra fast playback. He knew science fiction is a worthless way of predicting the future, but what it did contain was ideas, some of which he could use.

His gifts seemed relatively modest compared with most fiction. He thought and perceived the world at an incredible rate, and was equipped with a memory to match. But his IQ was not changed, nor any measures of creativity or any other intellectual skills you might care to name.

But it would suffice. He was already planning the future as he turned in for the night.

Week 1

All money is a matter of belief.

Adam Smith

The first goal was to make some money. That’s always useful for all sorts of purposes, and Jules’ plans already ran to many years. Jules was already pretty smart before the accident, so he reasoned he could just find 10 high skilled remote jobs, like a software engineer, and work them simultaneously. Realistically, he could probably replace more like a team of 15-20 developers – not only did he work 10 times faster, but he could skip all the time that team would have spent in meetings together, and he only had to read a document once, unlike a team who had to each absorb it separately.

But a couple of million a year seemed unambitious to Jules, particularly as he’d be doing far more work per day than most tolerate. Game shows like Jeopardy were also out of the question. Though Jules could easily memorise savant levels of information, he wasn’t thrilled by dedicating hours to memorising useless facts or calling such public attention to his gifts.

Finally, he followed the boring, but lucrative, path of day trading stocks. Every time a company posts news, computer algorithms and people race to react to that news, buying/selling stocks. Jules couldn’t outrace the algorithms, but they are typically stupid, looking for simple positive or negative sentiment in the article, keywords, and so on.

What the human portfolio managers do is read the news for wider implications – a new mining prospect means cheaper copper for other industries, or a political announcement will affect the exchange rate of a country’s currency. Jules was no expert at this, at least initially, but simply being able to outrun everyone to reacting on less straightforward news stories gave him an unbeatable edge. And the thing about finance is that a reliable advantage can be multiplied exponentially, as success qualifies you for larger and larger loans.

By the end of the week, Jules was satisfied he could find funding for projects of any size and had a nice cushion for what was to come.

Month 1

“Let us cultivate our garden.”

Voltaire, Candide

A common theme in the stories he’d read is that of self-improvement. Could the freak accident that had gifted him these abilities be replicated, or even extended? Jules was unwilling to work with others, partly out of impatience, and partly from a residual fear that a three letter agency might take an interest in him.

So he started reading neuroscience textbooks himself. Jules was pleased to discover how quickly he could learn a new subject. He not only read material ten times faster but had much better retention. He had almost no need to revise material, and complex topics came to him very easily as he no longer struggled to keep many aspects of a difficult problem in mind simultaneously. Within a month, he’d covered enough of the material to appreciate quite how little is known about the brain. He didn’t doubt he could eventually do research in the area but was unlikely to make further progress without time-consuming experiments.

Not for the first time, Jules cursed his mortal limitations. At least half the fiction he’d read had mentioned artificial intelligences, which had options like cloning, purchasing hardware, or directly inspecting and improving their own mind. They were all out of the question for him. Reluctantly, he put this aside in favour of more straightforward means.

Year 1

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

John Adams, Letters of John Adams

Jules started studying various subjects in earnest. He estimated it would take under a year to become a full expert in any given field, getting the equivalent of 10,000 of hours practice. And similar subjects would take much less time, given overlapping concepts and skills. Some subjects, like law, are heavily memory-based, and didn’t even require much time beyond reading the material.

Many people manage to master 2 fields in their lifetimes, so he could reasonably expect to eventually be able to master about 20 before even his memory would be taxed too far. But Jules didn’t intend to master anything. Usually, he’d study enough of a subject to get a clear idea of the broad strokes, trends and key blockers before moving on. True expertise simply wasn’t worth it, as when more specific knowledge was needed, he could likely learn it faster than whatever situation called for it.

Jules rarely picked up formal qualifications. He could pass the exams, but attending courses or acquiring a fixed period of on-the-job experience was just too slow to consider. Instead, he focussed on areas lacking professional bodies, or unusually meritocratic.

One area of unexpected ease was academia. Submissions are usually judged blinded to the true author making it much easier for better ideas to win out regardless of the author’s background or tenure. Jules found that even with medium levels of expertise in multiple fields, he could pick up a lot of quick wins with cross-disciplinary work, or applying techniques from other areas.

By the end of the year, Jules was a jack of all trades, at least for theory/knowledge-heavy subjects. He’d studied economics, politics, history, sociology, medicine, law, maths, rhetoric, and so on.

Decade 1

A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

Caskie Stinnett

In the last year, Jules had rarely interacted with anyone directly. Everyone spoke too slowly! He preferred to use private tutors that he communicated with via email so he could multitask. But Jules’s plans needed a public face, so he set out to improve his ability of persuasion as much as possible.

To his surprise, despite his year of isolation, he was already a very charismatic speaker. Having plenty of time to think in between responses had yielded many benefits. Jules never stuttered or misspoke, had a quick wit and always remembered an apposite quote, anecdote or citation. If necessary, he could lie very convincingly, having a larger well of details to draw upon and plenty of time to reflect on the internal consistencies. Persuasion itself is a skill, and though Jules couldn’t practise it at nearly the same speed as academic subjects, he saw measured improvement, aided by coaches and trainers.

As he entered his career in politics, his tremendous depth of background and quick grasp of any new situation started to pay off. Most politicians are torn between a dozen crises and opportunities, and their real skill is in the art of politics themselves – they’re rarely able to actually make more than a cursory understanding of the actual issues they encounter. Jules was the real deal – able to go toe to toe with subject experts, run rings around his opponents in debates, and most crucially, he was often right. Add to this his inexhaustible bank account for campaigning and his career was off to a flying start.

Jules could no doubt have won the presidency with time, luck and persistence, but that was not thinking big enough for Jules. Presidents are still at the will of the people, and there are many checks and balances on their power. Instead, he followed a path well known to history – demagoguery. Having established himself as a major leader and thinker, he started to align his rhetoric with a movement. Let’s not discuss exactly what Jules said, or about who. We’ve seen this story before and it’s not pretty.

Decade 2

I have nothing but contempt for the kind of governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the State

Sophocles, Antigone

By stirring resentment and prejudice, Jules became the head of a movement of anger and was swept through to power with enough of a majority to loosen and unbind much of the constitutional limitations and avoid serious deadlocks in government. Perhaps he’d have to find a stooge to replace him as term limits wore on. Jules had no particular skill of judging character but found it easy enough to police his allies via direct monitoring.

Most dictators are not good at their jobs, to the extent they even try. The skills of running an uprising are not the same as running a country, and they now have to worry about maintaining power. Democratically elected politicians at least have to pretend to improve the lives of their electorate, but dictators only need a few generals and politicos on their side, and let their countries languish.

But Jules was different. He had the skills and the indefatigability of someone who rarely finds themselves stretched. Working with a suite of aides and experts, he used his political capital to push through a large suite of sweeping reforms and amendments. It wasn’t hard to recognise good ideas when you have a good understanding of the subject, a set of experts to draft documents, and you’re willing to steal good ideas from other nations. Jules found many obvious changes had been neglected simply from political gridlock.

Slowly, but surely, he began to make real headway on social ills and economic lassitude. He transformed an already rich and powerful country into the envy of the world. But here, Jules found himself running aground. As a talented and omnipresent administrator, he could run his government effectively. But a government is composed of tens of thousands of employees, many having devoted their lifetime to expertise. At this scale his own productivity was dwarfed by those he was responsible for.

His most effective decisions had become deciding who to recruit and promote, which he found he was barely more skilled than average. The feedback loop on hiring decisions is slow enough he could only gain experience at a normal rate, and it’s a skill not well transferrable by writing.

Taking over the world from here would be a slow grind of being a fractionally better head of state than others. Perhaps with the right opportunities, he could join countries in empire or union, but even Jules’ stubbornness had limits.

Jules decided to enter retirement and retreat again from the public world.

Decade 3

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

Noccolo Machiavelli

Jules found something strange was happening to him. He’d experienced over 200 years of subjective life, double that of anyone else in the world, and without any of the decline or fixity of old age, or even the bliss of forgetfulness. He already knew he’d been set apart from humanity from the start, but he hadn’t appreciated how much further he had drifted.

He turned over in his mind his changing perspective on the world. News events no longer shocked him but seemed obvious repetitions from history. Talking with others seemed like talking to children, clumsily retreading arguments he’d already heard before and considered in depth. Entertainment lost its charm as he saw the influences and inspirations clearer than the original authors. The amount of novelty in the world shrank to less than a teaspoon.

The overall workings of the world were starting to form a pattern in his mind. For a time, he worked on a philosophy text explaining it, until he found an insurmountable difficulty. The average human can hold around seven distinct objects in their working memory at once, while Jules could hold over fifty. There were some concepts he’d come to understand that simply couldn’t be digested by anyone else. By the time they’d read the last page of Jules’ treatise, their grasp of the beginning had already smudged enough that it couldn’t be put together into a coherent whole.

Such concepts are not uncommon in maths. The Monster Group, for example, is a fundamental indivisible object with as many elements as there are atoms in the solar system. It cannot be apprehended fully by anyone, and cannot be simplified into smaller elements. But Jules was proposing he knew important truth, secret to only himself. People began to turn on him, dismissing what they couldn’t understand.

Jules felt more alone than ever. Retreating further from public life, he lived an ascetic life for several years as he considered ideas inscrutable to modern men. Had he been right to leave his power and fame? He could have shepherded humanity even further or crossed the line into war and violence. Or he could have enjoyed his position more, becoming a self-interested despot too wily for anyone to dispose of. What did he want in life? What purpose does any of it have? He forged his own answers to these questions, reached lofty conclusions no one else on earth could have found.

He understood that everyone is a product of their past and their environment in totality. As an over-evolved ape, he could never escape the more fundamental and base aspects of his nature, and there were limits of thought even he could not pierce.

Ultimately, he found the position in life that best suited his nature, all things considered. It was a plan for him alone. Each person must find their own path, considering both their shared human heritage, and their personal quirks. And so, Jules spent the rest of his days quietly, as a keeper of bees.

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