One of the biggest issues that capitalism has come up against is that, no matter how hard you push them, people will eventually have to sleep. Somno’s Dreamcluster technology was devised as a way of solving that problem. Not the problem of sleep–several companies have mastered keeping people alive without sleep for weeks and months, but all have witnessed the same catastrophic side-effects (ranging from dementia to psychosis)–but the problem of how economically unproductive people are when they’re asleep.

What if you could make money while you sleep? That is the promise of Somno: through the Dreamcluster network, Somno can harness the ventral stream recognition abilities of organic entities to digitise complex metadata from source material at a fraction of the cost of a conventional AI system. Users get paid in Somno currency for the hiring out of their sleeping minds, and Somno sell the data to the highest bidder. While each individual’s processing capacity is relatively small, the low barrier to entry and large number of desperate subscribers have already made Somno an attractively low-priced source of metadata for companies wanting to catalogue, categorise, or describe complex things.

Doing this takes a little bit of intervention into the body, of course. A laboratory-modified endoparasitoid fungus, taken as spores from a single-use inhaler, blooms mycelia into the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus and provides the necessary scaffolding onto which an intravenously-administered nanoscale iterative generational construction swarm can build duplex RF carrier/DAC circuits and pathways into the brain. With this interface, it is trivial–or so Somno claim–to establish a connection between the user’s smartphone and the diffuse sleep centres of the brain. The Somno app can then intervene in the sleep process itself, and, ultimately, turn sleep into a way of processing packets of digital data–dumped into the brain in one sleep cycle, processed in the next, and extracted in the next. Dreamnet by Somno: you can do it in your sleep.

Somno users experience vivid, powerful dreams, as their wetware is put to work parsing and returning descriptions of sensory input recordings–sounds, smells, images, tastes, sensations. Sleep is, of course, of extraordinarily poor quality if a Somno session is scheduled–it’s as exhausting as any number of other tasks undertaken during a period of wakefulness. It’s not been established yet what level of damage this does to the brain or to the mental health of the user. Somno, of course, insist that it’s harmless.

Moreover, there are rumours that Dreamnet is a huge scam, and that the hallucinatory experiences of users are a flashy sideshow based on simple neural input tricks, designed to encourage faith in the company’s mastery of the still poorly-understood processes of sleep. Up close, Dreamnet-processed data looks suspiciously like huge chunks of it have been randomly generated based on superficial automated parsing of data, with much of the real number-crunching seeming like it might be undertaken by wakeful organic beings in data sweatshops after the “processed” data has come back from the sleeping users’ brains. But the Somno myth is powerful and seductive–especially to investors whose money bankrolls the company’s and the network’s growth, while its founders no doubt search with increasing desperation for a way to make the technology profitable.

Whether or not it’s real, and whether or not it’s dangerous, there is a truly blissful moment in the process, where the Somno app provides a few minutes of a kind of vestibular experience between wakefulness and the deep sleep needed to execute the program. Hijacking the conscious mind in its most fragmentary and vulnerable moments, it clears away the intrusive thoughts that might otherwise interfere with a traumatised person’s sleep. Much more than the pitiful stipend for the work, this is the part of being a Somno user that keeps Thom accepting new data packages.