Two pages on technology


#1

Here are two pages of text on technology meant for a ten-page introduction. What more is needed? What ought to be cut?

Technology

Flat Black has limited technology based on a conservative projection mostly of known principles, though the Eichberger drive and the planet-wrecking catalytic thermonuclear explosive are admitted as enabling devices. The products and processes available are based on ForeSight’s tech level 8, with TL 8.5 as uncommon cutting-edge stuff from the “Suite” of highest-tech colonies. In terms of GURPS 4th ed terms that is roughly TL 10 (standard) with TL 10 (advanced) as the bleeding edge; the tech path is conservative hard SF. It’s not literally safe-tech, but safe-tech-like results ensue because artificial sapience, developments that change the human mind and transform the human brain and body etc. have not been very commercially successful.

Nanotechnology did not work out as Drexler predicted. There are no matter compilers, and microscopic robots with nanometre-scale cogs and cams turn out to work only in highly favourable conditions. In Flat Black molecules are assembled out of feedstocks by designer enzymes and artificial organelles: nanotechnology is biotechnology. The solar-powered nanotech factories that make drugs and chemical feedstocks, and that produce nanoscale composite materials, are deep-rooted perennial crop plants. The micron-scale robots are designer bacteria. These things are improved biology, but they are subject to the fundamental limits of biology. Machining and moulding are better and cheaper for many operations. Kevlar and epoxy grow on shrubs but magnets and copper wire don’t, and aramid-reinforced epoxy panels for aircars are formed in factories the better to meet tolerances.

Some things that were originally done by machines are done better or cheaper by designer organisms—most exowombs, for instance, are biological rather than electro-mechanical. Designer organisms may be made by either of two methods. The crude method is essentially to 3D print the organism using cultured cells, a method also used for surgical graft material. The sophisticated and much more difficult approach is to design an ontogeny, a course of growth and development that is viable from zygote to adult, encode it as a genome, and breed the desired organism. An exowomb can be used, or such organisms can be designed to reproduce. Until recently the later method could only be used to produce variants on naturally-evolved forms: within existing phylums, say. But recent advances have allowed the production of new phylums.

Food crops are perennials that produce harvestable packets of macronutrients more like Beltian bodies than fruits. Annual tillage and replanting is rare, and most people don’t subsist on seeds any more. “Artificial” meat is produced by feeding plant foods to artificial organisms that grow masses of redundant flesh which can be harvested without harming them.
Medicine is highly advanced. It is routine work to create a specific antibiotic or synthetic vaccine for a given bacterial or viral pathogen. Routine care and a system of anagathics that are widely used (“Eugerione”) effectively halve the rate of aging, so that in rich societies people are still working at 120 and can survive to 180 or two hundred. Cutting edge medicine has for some years offered a (very expensive) treatment that halts physical aging completely.

People from wealthy societies wear designer microbiomes on their skin, in their mouths and guts, etc. These protect them from certain diseases, optimise digestive function, supply nutrients, and produce a perfumed or inconspicuous body odour.

Superficial treatments available as cosmetics will suppress hair growth or induce the skin treated to grow hair of a desired type, or will adjust pigmentation semi-permanently. Minor modification can produce e.g. horns or scales.

Surgical methods include grafting sections of tissue, organs, and limbs 3D-printed using cells cultured from the patient’s stem cells or immunologically compatible designer cells. This can repair any non-fatal injury except to the brain. It is also used for body modification and enhancement, but the control of extra limbs and faculties installed after early childhood is difficult. It is in fact possible to design neural circuitry and wire up brain tissue by using micromanipulators to arrange dendrites and axons and set synapse thresholds. This technology is used to build “android” soft-tech robots, and it can be used to repair brain damage, but it is not popular in other uses because few people actually want their selves messed with in that way. An overwhelming majority of people understand that destructive brain scanning is death, and feel that any gross changes to the relevant parts of the brain compromises the self.

There is a less blatant technology for changing people’s minds. Technicians with the appropriate scanners can detect and measure how exactly a person’s brain responds to given stimuli, and from that calculate their loyalties, affections, resentments, and a myriad dimensions of personality. Reliable but not quick or cheap, this technology is used for testing recruits when the stakes are high. Working delicately, psych-techs use carefully-crafted stimuli, high-precision magnetic resonance inducers, micromanipulators on cranial endoscopes, and switchable drugs to alter the function of parts of the patient’s brain, adjusting mental function and suppressing or inducing memories. This “psycho-technics” is using in treating mental illness and for “rehabilitating” criminals and other unruly folk.

Development psychology is well understood, and has become the basis for an engineering discipline called “psychoengineering”. Psychoengineers design paedagogies and courses of formative experiences for children, and when these programs are properly executed they are largely successful in promoting the development of the intended psychological characteristics. This doesn’t raise programmed people, but it is capable of promoting intense loyalties, strong ethical principles, high levels of diligence, resilience, honesty, courage, temperance, humaneness—or the corresponding weaknesses and vices—in a fair to high proportion of people.

It is fairly common for people who enjoy vigorous sports to have their bodies reinforced to withstand the likely impacts and wrenching injuries. Police officers and soldiers get more extensive modifications to protect their CNS, circulation, and vital organs from piercing, cutting, and explosive damage, but they prefer wearing external armour to the most extreme reinforcements available—which are confined to practitioners of violent sports, criminal enforcers, and people who want to look like thugs and don’t mind a lifetime of discomfort. Apart from that bionic modifications are not common. The cyborg link and sensorium jack have some advantages over wearable controls and a Visor (VR/AR display), but the latter are much cheaper and easier to charge and service. Apart from that tools and weapons built into the body are inferior to ordinary ones.

Underwear and linings for clothes may be made of fibres that destroy scurf and micro-organisms, slicing up cells and catalysing their material to produce only carbon dioxide, water, and a trace of salts; such underclothes clean the wearer and don’t need frequent washing. Many other materials are similarly self-cleaning, including soft furnishing and household surfaces, tools, vehicles…. This property, especially combined with the actions of dumb cleaning robots, is the curse of crime-scene investigators.
Surveillance systems (where) installed record faces, bodily proportions, and gait for identification. People sometimes wear masks on their faces and modify their gait with weights on their wrists and feet and splines across their joints in efforts to prevent recognition.


#2

Flat Black has limited technology based on a conservative projection mostly of known principles, though the Eichberger drive and a planet-wrecking catalytic thermonuclear explosive are exceptions. The products and processes available are based on ForeSight’s tech level 8, with TL 8.5 as uncommon cutting-edge stuff from the “Suite” of highest-tech colonies. In terms of GURPS 4th ed terms that is roughly TL 10 (standard) with TL 10 (advanced) as the bleeding edge; the tech path is conservative hard SF. Ssafe-tech-like results ensue because artificial sapience, developments that change the human mind and transform the human brain and body, etc. have not been very commercially successful.

Nanotechnology did not work out as Drexler predicted. There are no matter compilers, and microscopic robots with nanometre-scale cogs and cams work only in highly favourable conditions. Molecules are assembled from feedstocks by designer enzymes and artificial organelles: nanotechnology is biotechnology. Solar-powered nanotech factories are deep-rooted perennial crop plants. Micron-scale robots are designer bacteria. These things are improved biology, but they are subject to the fundamental limits of biology. Machining and moulding are better and cheaper for many operations. Kevlar and epoxy grow on shrubs but magnets and copper wire don’t, and aramid-reinforced epoxy panels for aircars are formed in factories the better to meet tolerances.

Some things originally done by machines are done better or cheaper by designer organisms—most exowombs, for instance, are biological rather than electro-mechanical. Designer organisms may be made by either of two methods. The crude method is essentially to 3D print the organism using cultured cells, a method also used for surgical graft material. The sophisticated and much more difficult approach is to design a course of growth and development that is viable from zygote to adult, encode it as a genome, and breed the desired organism. An exowomb can be used, or such organisms can be designed to reproduce. Until recently the later method could only be used to produce variants on naturally-evolved forms within existing phylums, but recent advances have allowed the production of new phylums.

Food crops are perennials that produce harvestable packets of macronutrients more like Beltian bodies than fruits. [AQ: Needs a definition of “Beltian bodies.”] Annual tillage and replanting are rare, and most people don’t subsist on seeds. “Artificial” meat is produced by feeding plant foods to artificial organisms that grow masses of redundant flesh which can be harvested without harming them.

Medicine is highly advanced. It is routine work to create a specific antibiotic or synthetic vaccine for a given bacterial or viral pathogen. Routine care and a system of anagathics that are widely used (“Eugerione”) effectively halve the rate of aging, so that in rich societies people are still working at 120 and can survive to 180 or two hundred. Cutting edge medicine has for some years offered a (very expensive) treatment that halts physical aging completely.

People from wealthy societies wear designer microbiomes on their skin, in their mouths and guts, etc. These protect them from certain diseases, optimise digestive function, supply nutrients, and produce a perfumed or inconspicuous body odour. [NOTE: I’m envisioning a clash of aesthetics between people who go for intense odors and people who consider anything consciously perceptible to be vulgar and low class. . . .]

Superficial treatments suppress hair growth, induce the skin treated to grow hair of a desired type, or adjust pigmentation semi-permanently. Minor modification can produce horns or scales.

Surgical methods include grafting 3D-printed tissue, organs, and limbs. This can repair any non-fatal injury except to the brain. It is also used for body modification and enhancement, but the control of extra limbs and faculties installed after early childhood is difficult. It is in fact possible to design neural circuitry and wire up brain tissue by using micromanipulators to arrange dendrites and axons and set synapse thresholds. This technology is used to build “android” soft-tech robots, and it can be used to repair brain damage, but is not popular in other uses because few people actually want their selves messed with in that way. An overwhelming majority of people understand that destructive brain scanning is death, and feel that gross changes to the relevant parts of the brain compromise the self.[AQ: The word “understand” implies that they are in fact correct in believing this. Is this intended?]

There is a less blatant technology for changing people’s minds. Technicians with appropriate scanners can detect and measure how exactly a person’s brain responds to stimuli, and from that calculate their loyalties, affections, resentments, and a myriad dimensions of personality. Reliable but not quick or cheap, this technology is used for testing recruits when the stakes are high. Working delicately, psych-techs use carefully-crafted stimuli and physical interventions to alter the function of parts of the brain, adjusting mental function and suppressing or inducing memories. [NOTE: In my usage, if I recall something that never actually happened, that’s not actually a “memory”; it’s a “delusion” or a “confabulation.” I wonder if the phrasing should be changed?] This “psycho-technics” is using in treating mental illness and “rehabilitating” criminals and other unruly folk.

Development psychology is well understood, and has become the basis for an engineering discipline called “psychoengineering”. Psychoengineers design paedagogies and courses of formative experiences for children, and when these programs are properly executed they are largely successful in promoting the development of the intended psychological characteristics. This doesn’t raise programmed people, but it is capable of promoting intense loyalties, strong ethical principles, high levels of diligence, resilience, honesty, courage, temperance, humaneness—or the corresponding weaknesses and vices—in a fair to high proportion of people.

It is fairly common for people who enjoy vigorous sports to have their bodies reinforced to withstand the likely impacts and wrenching injuries. Police officers and soldiers get more extensive modifications to protect their CNS, circulation, and vital organs from piercing, cutting, and explosive damage, but they prefer wearing external armour to the most extreme reinforcements available—which are confined to practitioners of violent sports, criminal enforcers, and people who want to look like thugs and don’t mind a lifetime of discomfort. Apart from that bionic modifications are not common. The cyborg link and sensorium jack have some advantages over wearable controls and a Visor (VR/AR display), but the latter are much cheaper and easier to charge and service. Apart from that, tools and weapons built into the body are inferior to ordinary ones.

Underwear and linings for clothes may be made of fibres that destroy scurf and micro-organisms, producing only carbon dioxide, water, and a trace of salts; such underclothes clean the wearer and don’t need frequent washing.[AQ: I don’t know the word “scurf.”] Many other materials are similarly self-cleaning. This property, especially combined with the actions of dumb cleaning robots, is the curse of crime-scene investigators.

Surveillance systems (where installed) record faces, bodily proportions, and gait for identification. People sometimes wear masks on their faces and modify their gait with weights on their wrists and feet and splines across their joints in efforts to prevent recognition.

— I haven’t imposed my preferred grammar, except in one or two places that looked to be simple oversights; if you want to say “phylums” instead of “phyla” it’s your document. I’ve tightened up the prose, removed a little redundant or superfluous content, and questioned a couple of points that seem unclear. I hope it’s useful!


#3

Thank you very much. It is generous of you, as well as very helpful, to thus donate your professional efforts. I’m going to restore one of your cuts, because the self-cleaning action of household and workplace surfaces is worth specific mention and leads into the point about CSI.

I will address your parenthetic notes as points of interest. Please don’t feel that I am arguing with my editor!

  • Sadly, I don’t have room to define “Beltian bodies”, nor to mention other analogues — Beccarian, Mullerian, and pearl bodies, and eliasomes. The reader I an writing this for wants Flat Black condensed to “five to ten pages”, so I’m going to have to go down to ten-point type* just to cover the essentials. He’s an ecologist, though, and other readers can look up the unfamiliar term in Wikipedia. Is that good enough, do you think? I’m afraid that the alternative is not to define or describe Beltian bodies but to replace “more like Beltian bodies than fruits” with “are not actual fruits” or “are not, botanically speaking, fruits”.

  • You’re spot on about the aesthetic clash over perfumes, and of course it plays out differently in different societies. there are moreover people who wear unscented skin flora so that they can wear different overpowering perfumes from time to time. In the adventure I ran at CanCon in '05 it was a significant clue to the identity of the John Doe corpse that it smelled of cinnamon cookies and that the oral culture was something-or-other Junior Whiteshield (I forget the trademark name). He was not only from Tau Ceti, but still wearing a child’s cultures at the apparent age of thirty.

  • “Understand” was meant as you took it, but I oughtn’t to have said that so I will change it.

  • I’m going to stick with “memory” rather than “delusion” or “confabulation”. Psychologists talk about “false memory”, not “delusion”, and Rachel Tyrell in Blade Runner was described as having “memories” copied from Tyrell’s nieces, not “delusions copied from Tyrell’s nieces’ memories”. Besides, I think that “delusion” and especially “confabulation” also imply specific aetiologies that are not apt to the situation. These fake memories are not the result of recorded experience, but neither are they the result of the processes that “delusion” and “confabulation” imply. Besides, we have computer memory now, and no-one expects that to be the records of lived experience.

  • What say I use “dander” instead of “scurf”? “Scurf” is in the dictionaries, and it was used by Milton of all people, but its older sense and current connotation connects with diseased states. So dander is more neutral, and people who don’t know it get a chance to extend their vocabulary. Or do I have to fall back on “shed skin scales”?

  • Phylums/phyla. We have discussed my heretical views on using Latin grammar in English sentences before, which led as you remember into declining the motor bus. My position is that if it’s foreign it gets italics, and if it’s English it gets English grammar. I have to confess that I am now tempted to hunt down any “bacteria” that might better be “bacteriums”. So now look what you’ve done!


* Back when my eyes were better and my printing budget more constraining I sometimes issued RPG materials in 9.6-point, 8.4-point, and even 7.2-point type.


#4

Opuses/opera? Datums/data? Algas/algae?


#5

Late in the evening here so I’ll just say in passing - what difference does it make that the fruits are not fruits? You pluck them off the *plant and the *plant doesn’t die of it.

Food crops are perennials that produce harvestable “fruits” (though purists insist that they’re really something else).


#6

Well…

If I referred to Beethoven’s opuses 92 and 125 as “opera”, or construed Turandot as a plural, I would certainly cause confusion and receive derision. In English, I say, the plural of “opus” is “opuses” and the plural of “opera” is “operas”. Latin be hanged.

“Algae” is perhaps in an undeservedly strong position, but the pronunciation with a soft “g” and “ae” as “ee” is a promising weak point. The fact that its referent is a polyphyletic nonsense with no clear definition or useful unity is another. I will wave a flag for “algas” until the term falls into a deserved disuse.


#7

They don’t require pollination or contain seeds, and calling them “fruit” without noting that they aren’t would imply a falsehood. It would be oversimplification to the point of error.


#8

I did this, but I read it on a computer. Are you going to print it out at any point?


#9

Maybe. My working document is laid out as though I were going to print it on A4, double sided. And I am trying to fool myself that printing it out in 10-point type on ten physical pages will fool the reader into accepting that it is within the length limit that he set.

Even 11-point type on a 15-point leading takes me from 590 words to the page to 665. (10-point Times on a 14-point leading gives 750 words to the page.)


#10

My petty restorations notwithstanding, @whswhs’ editorial exertions have saved enough space for an extra seventy words in the two pages on technology. Is there something I ought to add?


#11

Transport. Comms. Media. Since you only have 70 words, pick one.


#12

Orbital shuttles and interstellar travel got half a page to themselves. I’m rather inclined to let the equipment, vehicle, weapons, and armour lists in ForeSight speak for themselves, and they include comms. I’m thinking of doing optical phased array emitters, including scenescape walls. But maybe cryptography and computer/network security?


#13

Did they hit the limits of Moore’s Law, or find some way of dodging around it?


#14

What is going to most strange/surprising?


#15

I inserted the following between the first and second paragraphs, and still have room for three lines about something else.

Computers and digital networks have been mature technology for nine hundred years. System and network security has won out over remote crackers, and encoders have beaten decoders in cryptography, but if a black hat gets physical access to your computer or your code keys they can still read everything.


#16

You know, I think the thing that players most consistently have trouble getting to grips with is that the huge majority of things are made to centuries-old standard designs of which the patents expired before Earth was destroyed or were open-source to begin with, and that the good designs have survived and the bad ones are forgotten, so their aren’t myriads of brands of pistols, cars &c. with significant mechanical differences and the magazine releases in funny places.

One player of a GURPS instance of Flat Black produced a list of at least dozens of different models of Gauss weapons for Flat Black, with brand and model names and production histories and quirks. But the Flat Black way is “I’ll have a heavy, reliable DEXAX pistol”.


#17

I’m not sure why you’d expect that. You envision a world with really advanced manufacturing, right? So no need for mass production. It seems that every weapon should be customized for the exact grip and grip strength and ability to tolerate recoil that the user has, and to whatever magazine size they prefer, and a whole lot of other things. And brand would be not “their product has property X” but “they satisfy customer desires with this much reliability at this much price”—the kind of tradeoff that ensures I never buy computers from anyone but Apple, for example.


#18

My view is very much to the contrary. Advances in manufacturing have always gone with increases in the economies of scale and the diseconomies of scope, and I don’t expect that to change. I know that some futurists predict that it will, but I have thought about their suggestions and (1) I think they’re mistaken (2) I decided that I don’t want commerce in Flat Black to be that way.

It’s a pity that inkjet printers got called “printers”, because what they do is writing or drawing, not printing. When you’re writing or drawing the marking tip of the instrument moves from place to place the page, making marks or leaving ink in the desired places in sequence over time. But actual printing, either on a form of type or a stereotype, doesn’t work like that. There is a marking tip for every point on the page that will be printed, and they are all applied at once, printing the whole page in an instant. But because of a terminological glitch in the early computer industry dot-matrix printers and then inkjet printers got called “printers” instead of “writers” and the result of that is that what we computer users call printing isn’t.

The 3-D “printers” that we have now are close analogues of inkjet printers, so it’s natural to call them “printers”, but it makes it very hard to say “the future of manufacturing isn’t going to be like 3-D printing, it’s going to be like printing things, in three dimensions”. Nevertheless, the future of manufacturing things is going to be like stereotype printing, not like inkjet printing. I don’t expect that we’ll build up a small computer by having a number of microscopic extrusion heads scan though its volume laying down different materials in succession, each tracing a course in three dimensions that is kilometres long for every cubic millimetre of the gadget. Rather, I expect that we will make a great many jigs, like stereotypes, each of which will contain an array of fixed extrusion nozzles, of different types and sizes in different parts of the image, each producing just one pixel of just one material in just one place. The workpiece will pass from jig to jig, getting one layer laid down at each by a process of stereotype printing, and there will be no traversing write heads. It might take 8,000 jigs to produce a techything the size of my iPhone in layers a micron thick. But to 3-D write such a gadget would require each of the write heads (for, say, a score of materials) to traverse 78,400 km at say a metre per second. A 1µm make-anything machine might take two and a half years to produce an iPhone. A factory with 8,000 specialised stereotypes would be more expensive and far less versatile, but it would take at most a few hours to produce and iPhone and then would produce thousands per hour. An iPhone that is 3-D written will cost materials plus several years amortisation and depreciation on a make-anything machine. One that is 3-D stereotyped will cost materials plus a fraction of a second amortisation of a stereoprinting line— provided that you have a market for millions of articles per year.

The upshot, I think, is that as typical products become more sophisticated and involve tinier features, and as 3-D printing takes over from machining and moulding, the cost advantages of very large runs of identical products will become stronger, not weaker.

Sure, but to some extent that’s a matter of setting some adjustments, and to a further extent of adding external grips &c. To the extent that it’s an actual difference to the works I accept that there may still be ranges of different models in the way of .25 vest-pocket pistols, .32 pocket pistols, 9mm police pistols and 40cal military pistols, and even that there might be profound mechanical differences light the small cal ones being operated by blowback and the larger ones by recoil. The thing that I doubt is the continued existence of a range of 9mm recoil operated military pistols from different manufacturers each of which works in a different way because of IP law. Eventually the patents and copyrights are going to expire, or become dead letters because the end of the world. And then there is going to be six hundred years to come to a consensus about which action is best for a 9mm large-format recoil-operated police patrolman’s pistol. And someone is going to set up a big factory that makes those actions cheaply at an efficient scale.

My father’s first car was a pre-WWI De Dion-Bouton, on which the brake and gas were both controlled by a single decelerator pedal, the clutch was operated by a lever on the steering column, and the gear selector was outside the car. De Dion-Bouton was known for quality, reliability, and durability. But in 1923 the Austin Seven popularised the Cadillac 53 layout, and since then (manual-transmission) cars have had a “conventional” control layout. It’s not compulsory, it’s just standard.

You and me both. But suppose that electronic computers stop improving after 2059, and that Apple’s copyrights expire in 2158 or become void in 2353. Everyone will be able to assemble iPippin LIX computers out of standard parts for commodity prices, and won’t have to pay a premium for Apple’s industrial design. Then, who would use anything else?

Yes, the “Cheap” modification and the “Quality” modification are still going to have work to do, but everyone who wants to build a quality computer will use the design of the iPippin, not of the Dell D’Lux that tried unsuccessfully to compete with it,


#19

Sorry, @whswhs, but I’ve re-written the whole section, nullifying your editing. I think it’s clearer, more accessible, and more interesting now. I’m wondering about a string of characteristic gadgets, such as the phenotypikit, the vademecum, the Visor, sport reinforcement, M&P reinforcement, Stage III reinforcement, the aircar, the personal flyer, dexax, plasdex, breathable NBC gear, counterpressure vacc suits with protective overalls, foam grenades. There’s no room for them in this Introduction. Perhaps I ought to write Flat Black: New Products & Processes next.

Here’s the new draft chapter on technology

Technology

Flat Black has limited technology based mostly on a conservative projection of known principles, though the Eichberger drive and the planet-wrecking catalytic thermonuclear bomb are exceptions. The products and processes available are based on ForeSight’s tech level 8, with TL 8.5 as uncommon cutting-edge stuff from the highest-tech colonies. In GURPS 4th ed’s terms that is roughly TL 10 (standard) with TL 10 (advanced) as the cutting edge; the tech path is conservative hard SF. Safe-tech-like results ensue because artificial sapience, brain simulation, developments that change the human mind and transform the human brain and body etc. have not been commercially successful.

Every colony, even the poorest, has access to a vast legacy of off-patent inventions and designs from Old Earth. Most products are commodified: made to standard designs using standard parts, and are basically identical between manufacturers.

Computers and digital networks have been mature technology for nine hundred years. System and network security has won out over remote crackers, and encoders have beaten decoders in cryptography, but if a black hat gets physical access to your computer or your code keys they can still read everything.

There are no matter compilers, and highly versatile nanofabricators are prohibitively slow ad expensive. Sophisticated components are printed in layers by a succession of jigs, like stereotype printing rather than inkjet writing. This is very cheap, but only for huge production runs, so it’s used to make standard components for assembly.

The nanomachines that assemble designer molecules work as artificial enzymes &c. The microscopic robots are effectively designer bacteria. They are more efficient and precise than the natural ones, but subject to similar limitations. Nanotechnology is biotechnology.

Agriculture depends on designer crop plants that are deep-rooted perennials that function as solar-powered nanotech chemical engineering facilities. Various plants produce foodstuffs, drugs, dyes, adhesives, high-tech fibres, and feedstocks for chemical industry, and present packets or spools on stalks for easy harvesting.

Livestock, (which includes some harvester robots that collect crops by foraging and grow slabs of redundant meat that can be removed without harming them) is best thought of as biological robots. These may be made by either of two technologies. “Android technology” involves 3-D printing the organism using cultured cells and non-cellular material, and is also used for making tissues, organs, and members for use in surgical grafting. The more sophisticated approach is to design an organism capable of growing from a single cell, encoding its ontogeny in DNA, inserting that into a zygote, and growing the robot (which can be self-reproducing) in an exowomb. (Most exowombs themselves are biorobots.)

Surgery uses a lot of grafting material made using android technology. It is capable of repairing any injury that was not fatal. It is also used for elective body modification. Much may be done to the size and shape of body parts: sex reassignment is completely satisfactory and considered a minor change; giving people horns, claws, and scales is superficial surgery. But attempts to change the body plan after early infancy are unsatisfactory, because of sensor and motor limitations in the brain. Few patients are happy to have their brains modified as would be required.

Cyborg tools, weapons, and sensors can be implanted. A sensorium jack and a cyborg link have slight advantages over a Visor (AR/VR glasses) and wearable controls. Pretty much everything else works better outside the body. The only modification that is really common is that players of vigorous sports get their bodies reinforced against impacts and wrenching injuries; soldiers and police get more extensive modifications to protect their circulation, CNS, and vital organs from penetrating, cutting, and concussive injuries. Further reinforcement is visible and uncomfortable; nearly everyone prefers armour and protective clothing.

Brains can be rewired by moving axons and dendrites with micromanipulators, but it is a huge undertaking, and few customers accept the metaphysical implications. Brains can be built to order too, but obtaining the information necessary to copy a brain would destroy it. Few customers consider that continuity of existence.

Neurotechnics offers a less invasive method of changing people’s minds. Guiding fields and carefully-chosen stimuli control drug/nanomachines to reset synapse potentials. That’s used to treat serious mental illness and “rehabilitate” felons (and dissidents), but many people question that identity survives even that. Less controversially, neurotechnic scanners can observe neural function in detail during various tasks and in response to diagnostic stimuli. /the person’s loyalties, affections, resentments, and a myriad dimensions of personality can be calculated from the results. Reliable but not quick or cheap, this technology is used for testing recruits when the stakes are high.

Medicine has access to a vast array of very specific drugs, and it is routine work to create a specific antibiotic or synthetic vaccine for a given bacterial or viral pathogen. Routine care and regular treatment with “Eugerione” effectively halves the rate of ageing. In rich societies people take Eugerione from about age twenty, are still working at 120 and can survive to 180 or two hundred. Cutting-edge anagathics has for some years offered a (very expensive) treatment that halts physical ageing completely.

Superficial treatments are available that will semi-permanently suppress the growth of hair on treated skin, or cause it to grow hair of a set length and texture, fur, or wool. Similar treatments can induce and alter melanin production as desired. Skintone dyes the skin in sometimes brilliant colours, and may be applied by high-resolution inkjets. Tattoos, too, can be applied by hi-res printers.

Designer bacteria etc. are available for the mouth, nasal cavity, gut, vagina, and various areas of the skin. These prevent certain infections and diseases (such as tinea, acne, thrush, gastric ulcer, tooth decay, and some STDs), and produce a chosen odour. The gut flora improve digestion, and may improve mood and weight control. Such microbiomes require some maintenance, especially after antibiotic or antifungal treatment.

Underwear and soft furnishings are often made of fibres that destroy dander and micro-organisms and catalyse toxins, producing only simple gases, water, and traces of salts. Many other everyday surfaces are similarly self-cleaning, including implements and interior finishes. This property, especially combined with the actions of cleaning robots, is the curse of crime-scene investigators.

Surveillance systems (where installed) record faces, bodily proportions, and gait for identification. People sometimes wear masks and modify their gait with weights on their wrists and feet and splines across their joints in efforts to prevent recognition.

Psychoengineering is a discipline based on advanced developmental psychology. Psychoengineers design paedagogies and courses of formative experiences for children. Properly implemented, these effectively promote the development of the intended psychological characteristics. This doesn’t raise programmed people, but it is capable of promoting intense loyalties, strong ethical principles, and high levels of diligence, resilience, honesty, courage, temperance, humaneness—or the corresponding weaknesses and vices—in a large proportion of people.

Social engineering is a discipline based on advanced economics and social dynamics. Societies and programs of reform can be designed that will work as intended, if they can be implemented.


#20

I’m not going to start That Argument that belongs on the Transhuman Space forums, but: it seems to me that if there are people with computer brains walking around and saying “sure, I feel like Bob, I have all his memories”, then quite a lot of people whose biological lives are running out will be willing to take the risk. (Whether or not they are entirely deluded is That Argument.)