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"Science fiction is what scientists would do if they could - if they had enough grant money, enough time, and enough brains to do the wonderful things they would like to do."
- Greg Bear

Korsakov's  
  A type of mind control imposed on prisoners to make them more manageable during their prison time.  

Mind control has long been a popular science fiction device; in this idea, Gibson goes right to the heart of the problems that infest prisons. Korsakov's effectively eliminates escape plans and long-term grudges by removing the mental capacity for this kind of activity.

He'd done something -- it hadn't been anything much, but he'd been caught doing it, twice -- and been judged for it, and sentenced, and then the sentence was carried out and he hadn't been able to remember, not anything, not for more than five minutes at a stretch. Stealing cars. Stealing rich people's cars. They made sure you remembered what you did.

Korsakov's, they called that, something they did all to your neurons so that short-term memories wouldn't stick. So that the time you did was time you lost, but he'd heard they didn't do it anymore, or any way not for grand theft auto. People who hadn't been there thought it sounded easy, like jail but then it's all erased, but it wasn't like that. When he'd gotten out, when it was over -- three years strung out and a long vague flickering chain of fear and confusion measured off in five minute intervals, and it wasn't the intervals you could remember so much as the transitions...

From Mona Lisa Overdrive, by William Gibson.
Published by Bantam in 1988
Additional resources -

The name for this technovelgy item is derived from Korsakov's Syndrome, also known as Amnesic Syndrome. The symptoms are

  • Impairment of recent and remote memory
  • Preservation of immediate recall
  • Absence of generalized cognitive impairment
  • Retrograde amnesia (can't recall events before onset)
  • Anterograde amnesia (can't recall events after onset of disorder)

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Mona Lisa Overdrive
  More Ideas and Technology by William Gibson
  Tech news articles related to Mona Lisa Overdrive
  Tech news articles related to works by William Gibson

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