Cortex City Aims for the Head


Warning: Private thoughts ahead, fact and fiction might be treated interchangeably.

Important ideas materialize at unexpected moments. A cold morning not so long ago I was taking our dog for a walk, pondering the mysterious ways a freezing wind can somehow sense your direction and provide constant headwind even when you walk in a big circle. After that deep reflection I spent some time thinking about the citizen engagement model for Cortex City, which is by far its most critical success factor – much more so than great content. And suddenly there was a major synaptic collision (two questions running into each other at the speed of thought), resulting in an answer I’d like to explore further.

The answer was the Cortex app. Building on neuroscience, psychological patterns, and behavioral analysis to attract you, keep you happy, and make you come back for more. Providing multi-sensory activation with adaptive reinforcement based on our proprietary algorithm DOPE (Demographic Optimization using Parametric Equalization). In essence, it’s a remarkably intelligent machine designed to boost your exposure to content and services, in this case from Cortex City. But let’s step back for a moment and look at the big picture.

At first glance, the app doesn’t seem to do much. It provides only three services:

  1. Live access to Cortex City (articles, videos, forums, the storefront, and so forth)
  2. Offline access to selected material for reading on flights or space travels
  3. Notifications from Cortex City (new articles, members, your current Cortex score, quote of the day, and other events worthy of your attention)

Live access isn’t that important – you can easily get to the city through your browser. Offline access is sometimes convenient but not that important – we are almost always online. But the notifications are absolutely critical. You see, it’s very easy to interact with Cortex City. You click, browse, read, and freely roam the city streets as you see fit. But while the city happily complies with your requests, it cannot do much in terms of actively interacting with you. Why should it? Because it’s the only way for the city to survive. In a world where people are totally overrun by distractions, our city must fight to win citizens’ attention or die silently screaming1. Content is not enough – people still have to be there in order to see it, read it, and feel it. And what, you may ask, is the primary interface to people’s constantly context-switching minds? Yep, you’ve got it – their phones. Checked at intervals between 15 seconds up to a few hours, phones have become the perfect gateways to directly access our minds.

Of course, I am not the first to realize the importance of this gateway. Our minds – the most powerful and underused resource on earth – is up for grabs, and half the world is reaching for it. Rather than dive into the far-reaching consequences for the human psyche, the dangers of decreasing attention spans, or the increasingly superficial treatment of critical topics, let’s talk instead about what it means to Cortex City (and by association almost everything else). It means that if you don’t join the game and start messing with people’s heads, you’re soon forgotten2. Without fighting for people’s attention, you just don’t get it.

Having gone full circle, that brings us back to Cortex City’s app. It’s not available in Google Play or Apple App Store; it’s kept private for the time being. We’re in the process of perfecting it using innocent Cortex City citizens from representative demographic groups. We are balancing the triggers, analyzing users’ routines, and adjusting the rewards to provide the ultimate habit-building experience. You literally won’t be able to put your phone down (until you’ve given the city a fair mindshare, of course). Also note that our app is free of charge for our citizens. Free of monetary charge, I should say. Thoughts, comments, articles, votes, ideas, discussions – that’s how citizens pay the rent in Cortex City.

Do you find our app’s exploitation of human behavior cynical, unethical, or just wrong? Well, rest assured that it’s for a good cause3. And we’re being completely transparent about it. It’s up to you to consciously decide whether to engage and become part of an unstoppable movement that will one day travel beyond our world, or stand on the curb and watch people go by. They’ll be looking intently at their phones, smiling.

Join us at Cortex City.

Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson

Author’s note:

I mentioned before that this whole train of thought was the result of two questions colliding. What they were? I’ll be damned if I can remember.


1. I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I do believe that silent screaming is exactly what things do when we’re about to forget about them. That’s why we sometimes dream about old friends and then never think about them again.
Unless you are really patient, really different, or have the luxury of being elevated by others who are playing the game so you don’t have to. Beware of falling down, though.
Whenever someone says something like ”it’s for a good cause”, it tends to mean “good for them”. Cortex City is no exception; what’s good for our citizens is not necessarily good for outsiders.

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