Saturday, June 2, 2012

A few words on Tech Level...

Ship's Bow and Cow's Stern: This Actually Makes Sense.
        Tech Level, or Progress Level depending on what dice you roll, is a simple metric for measuring a fictitious society's level of advancement.  While in real life cultural and technological sophistication are not necessarily linked (Meso-American cultures were highly advanced despite being at a Stone Age Tech Level) in SF games this system provides enough structure to get around with.  The only reason I mention this at all is because technological capability and the technological standard  do not necessarily have to have anything to do with one another.

       In our current post-industrial, consumer-driven society, the cutting edge in technology is implemented virtually the second it's sable, and planned on becoming obsolete as soon as possible.  In a setting like The Black Desert, which is epi-singularity (maybe) and post-scarcity, planned obsolescence is not even a concept anymore.  In fact, in the BD setting, there are plenty of reasons for the technological standard to be significantly lower than the cutting edge.

        It's like this; in The Black Desert, personal fabrication is the primary means of obtaining goods.  Consumer goods, as we understand the term, are not a normal part of day-to-day commerce in the 23rd century.  Art, in the form of mixed media files that are displayed on everything from the walls of your home to your clothes, to your skin, are bought and sold more often than actual products. 

        The reason I'm belaboring this point is because there are things that even the most advanced personal fabricators cannot provide you at home but are an integral part of life in the middle of a Singularity.  The most obvious of these, in The Black Desert setting, are QOOR Processors and quantum computers.  A difference engine that requires the precise alignment of individual atoms and processors that are patterned on neural synapses are simply not something you can build in the garage, even in the future.  Faced with what would probably be an imperceptible-to-human-senses decrease in speed and power verses the ability to build a computer at home, most people in a society that is not inundated by consumerism will choose the more convenient, if less advanced, option.

        This is actually a mild example of technological disparity.  In modern day Guiana, fabricators are used to build Tesla turbines and solar powered water boilers, which is basically 19th century steam-tech.  That being said, it simply and cheaply provides a robust system of converting solar radiation into mechanical work without consuming non-renewable resources, so they use it.  In the SF classic Firefly, spacecraft cruise the black between the 26th century tech Core worlds and the Old West, sixshooter-and-horses culture of the rim, and present the disparity as a practical, logical situation.

        I love that show...

        Anyway, for the budding SF author (like me), this technological disparity is a boon.  Post-Singularity fiction is, almost by definition, impossible to write. Having such a high level of technology co-existing with 21st century tech without being anachronistic is a relief, because it allows me to keep the science hard and the fiction plausible.  This is why, for those who are looking, you may find my spacecraft using such quaint tech as integrated circuits and fiber optic cables.  Sure, it's older than your character's grandparents, but when a stray meteorite punches a hole through your CPU and you have to print out a replacement, you'll be glad your ship uses computers simple enough to rebuild from scratch.