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"The first thing that's wrong with being a science-fiction writer today is that the present has caught up with the future and surpassed it."
- Peter Watts

Softlight  
  Personality erasure via laser imprinted subliminal commands.  

Douglas McEwan is a convicted murderer about to undergo a new kind of treatment at the Clinical Rehabilitation Institute. A treatment that would leave his body intact, while destroying the person - a "mental execution."

The Bureau had originally hoped the doctors could use laser imprinted subliminal commands to insert new behaviour patterns into the more stubborn social recidivists. A technique that would produce, if not model citizens, at least reasonably honest ones. That research was still continuing, but for the last year the Institute had concentrated on developing Softlight.

It had been the idea of Doctor Michael Elliot, a neurologist who had been studying memory retention to see how long the rectification commands would last.

What his research uncovered was the amnesia mechanism, the method by which grey cells discard the unwanted memories of each day's events, preventing the brain from being cluttered up with a billion irrelevant details. Elliot isolated the governing neurological code and managed to adapt the laser imprint technique to transmit the sequence throughout the brain. Softlight: the total erasure of memory and behaviour patterns. Personality death.

Anyone committing a capital crime could be mentally executed, leaving behind a perfectly viable body; an adult infant ready to be named, educated, and returned to the world as fully functional members of society. Capital punishment without death. For the PC politicians of the Brussels Federal Assembly it was a dream solution...

Officially it was laboratory complex seven. But Douglas knew the Institute staff had taken to calling it the Light Chamber; and the press had somehow got hold of that title. It resembled a dental surgery, with a bulky hydraulic chair in the middle of the floor, a glass-topped desk, several cabinets of electronic equipment, and two voice-activated computer terminals. The Softlight imprinter was a triple-segment metal arm standing next to the chair; it ended in a bulbous plastic strip moulded to fit over the eyes like an optician's mask.

From Softlight Sins, by Peter F. Hamilton.
Published by Birmingham Science Fiction Group in 1997
Additional resources -

It seems to work like a charm. But there are problems.

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