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.    


  1. You make a few really good points here, Ray, although I'd argue that a post-consumerism model isn't necessarily the only possible outcome for a post-scarcity society.

    In my own setting, for example, most interplanetary spacecraft have fairly advanced 3D printers (compared to the knick-knack factories that are cutting edge today) aboard for practical considerations; sometimes you simply need to print out a new circuit board or a new hull plate.

    However, every system aboard has a number of components that are simply too intricate or complicated to be printed because that's what the manufacturer's business model demands of the component in question. If the emergence of the internet is any indication, it's that the big, established industries are more inclined to make their products more difficult to use, repair, modify and distribute in order to preserve their outdated method of doing business rather than adapt to the democratization of production and distribution and use it to their advantage.

    For example, DRM software: The purpose of the software is to make the product more difficult to copy, because from the perspective of the manufacturers, a product that can be easily copied and distributed translates into fewer sales. Unfortunately, this runs counter to the basic function of a computer; to copy and transfer information without error, distortion or concealment. So, while the basic function of the internet allows for virtually unlimited copies of any software that are indistinguishable from the original, DRM software is designed to make this impossible. As a result, the very use of the software in question becomes more difficult as the user has to jump through all manner of hoops in order to prove that they aren't going to "steal" it (I use quotation marks because technically speaking, the distributor isn't actually being deprived of anything, as they still have the original copy of the software), and this only prompts those who do intend to "steal" the software to find ways around the DRM components to begin with.

    To illustrate in more detail, let's take a look at computer gaming. Originally, computer games could only be distributed by the manufacturers because they were the ones that were putting the games onto DOS floppies and cartridges. Then, with the advent of hard drives, they started putting in software requiring the physical disk to be in the drive in order for the software to work at all (there was also experimentation with shareware, but that's another story). However, people found ways to make the software think that there was a disk present when there really wasn't. Now, a lot of games need to be connected to the internet in order to be played, often times through social media sites such as Facebook.

    So, the lesson learned is that one cannot underestimate the greed of industry, even if they have the capability to produce their products for practically nothing.

    1. You've got a lot of good points there about the consumerism model preservering. I would still think that consumerism would fail once one leave's Terra, due to the ridiculous costs of lifting mass into orbit. In settings with more advanced technology (or more relaxed economics) this may not be a problem, but in Black Desert, I'm stuck with the practical considerations of my model.

      This is fine by me; my favorite parts of The Black Desert (besides making spaceships!) is exploring the cultural implication of the technology and humanity's first steps out into the dark. The idea that circuit boards would still be used in spacecraft after the advent of quantum computing is one of the neat little upshots that come from thinking about all this stuff. Good times...


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