If you are a regular to The Lightstream Chronicles, then you know that what you see on the Web is only a fraction of the detail that is available from the high-resolution PDF that accompanies each page. This week I thought I would highlight a few examples of plausible future tech that have occurred on recent pages.
For example, soon after Kristin and Keiji entered her office back on page 93 Kristin offers Keiji coffee. There’s no Keurig in the office—at least not one that we would recognize—but there is a beverage replicator similar to the one that Marie used back on page 80 when she whipped up a Cabernet for Kristin. The beverage replicator, in this case, the same one that Marie used, a Maitre-deux™ kitchen food and beverage replicator. Model FVX-GNN42H71000.
Kristin “taps” in her favorite blend and delivers a freshly brewed cup of coffee including the cup. Since the flavor configuration can vary as well, Kristin prefers a French Press style at a precise 92.6 C. 325.309 ml. If you look closely into the background of page 93 you can see her making her selections.
The coffee cups that Kristin dispenses to hold a precise 325.309 ml. and are replicated bone china with a nanothermic structure that keeps the contents steaming hot—indefinitely—or until the liquid evaporates. That’s why you’ll catch a whiff of steam throughout this scene.
The desk & tablet
Kristin’s desk is an active surface. In other words it is able to transmit, receive and display (or project) information from any other active surface including the luminous implants that both Keiji-T and Kristin have embedded into their fingertips. (Everyone else in the world has them, too.)
The thin glass tablet that Keiji is “porting” to is simply an intermediate storage device that Kristin then transfers to her desk surface and, ultimately to holographic projection above her desk. The tablet can also store vast amounts of data for later access.
Just a sampling of some of the details in the background—a lot like the design and technology we take for granted everyday.
There are dozens of futuristic technologies in The Lightstream Chronicles. Most are part of the background — diegetic prototypes — everyday items the population takes for granted. Here are some:
1. Indefinite life spans – Introduced in Season 1, humanity in the 22nd century can live forever if they choose. Selective telomere genetics can stop the aging process at any age though it is illegal until age 18. Those wishing to have permanent “children” must opt for the synthetic variety (see no. 6). There are certain members of society that choose to die at a natural age. They are called agers. Many consider aging to be a disease or a form of suicide and agers can encounter discrimination in society and the workplace. Based on the eradication of most disease and other debilitating conditions the average lifespan of an ager is about 150 years.
2. Telepathy – Humans are implanted with chips around the age of 3. The first implantation sends a stream of nano particles that are programmed to find the Pons and set up a grid, basically a set of microscopic slots that will accept updates and other programmable nodes that interface with luminous implants (sensors placed just under the skin of the fingertips) accessing everything from the Lightstream (the evolved Internet), to infusion learning, internal body chemistry, and the V (see no.10). These implants are what allow humans to receive voice and telepathic transmissions from other humans or synths (see no.6). If a “caller ” is in visual mode, a picture is formed in the mind so that the receiver can “see” who is calling. This highly defined mental picture and sensory enhancement allows user to immerse themselves in the world of the V.
3. Cerebral crimes – Every technology has a downside. In the 21st century, it was hacking into your phone calls, texts and stored data. Since that information — and so much more — now resides in your mind it is the new frontier for criminals: thoughts, dreams, fantasies, memories, experiences. Of course, sophisticated “brain gates” and encryptions come with your chipset and are always being improved, but the will to have what can’t be had is strong in the human race. It was not something we were able to winnow out with our transhuman improvements. Headjacking is such a crime (you can read more about that here) because it automatically overrides the brain gates and encryptions but swigging memories and experiences right out of their resting place in the brain. It is also a capital offense. The government says that what goes on in your brain is your most cherished possession.
4. Programmable architecture – Matter, in the 22nd century is programmable. You can tell it to build more of itself or less. The most impressive example of this is the Top City Spanner that bridges Hong Kong 2. It took 10 years to form the immense structure that, from end to end spans more than 12 square miles. 2.9 million people and synthetics live or work within the spanner architecture. It still takes an architect, or architectural expert system (the synthetic kind) to engage the proper design but once that is done, there are no construction laborers necessary. When it is time for tenants to move in, the furniture is replicated (printed) from configurations that are purchased by the business or resident.
5. Replicated everything – Which brings us to replication. Replication is based on duplicating molecular “fingerprints” of actual objects. Once you can replicate matter, it’s really just a matter (bpi) of having access to the right molecular configurations. Replication of inanimate objects is widespread for food beverages and hard goods. When death became an option instead of inevitability, replication enabled the world to feed the burgeoning masses. Replication does not work on living organisms. You cannot replicate a human being. That is called progenation and involves growing tissues using DNA in a lab environment.
6. Artificial Intelligence – It is estimated that there are some 250 million synthetics in the world. It is also the largest global industry. Known as “synths” they function in civil service jobs, manufacturing, law enforcement, the military, domestic service, and for companionship. They are available in hundreds of different configurations and designs, from entirely non-hardware, to deliberately non-human to virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Some synthetics are so life-like that they are legally required to identify themselves and their “class” status upon before interacting with a human. A complex set of laws has been written and rewritten to accommodate these new designs providing rights and protections for both humans and synthetics. Keiji-T is virtually human with no outwardly distinguishing characteristics that would enable us to detect his (its) synthetic nature.
7. Clean energy – Fossil fuels are a thing of the past as well as most natural resources having been nearly entirely depleted by the mid 21st century. Electricity is collected primarily from the earths on motion in either wind or the movement of the oceans. Vast networks of attenuator nets in the world’s oceans provide for the enormous demands for electricity for magnetic levitation systems for all earth-bound vehicles. Wind velocitors collect and amplify wind for most residential power, lighting, replicating, etc.
8. Bio-suits – In case you hadn’t noticed, everyone in The Lightstream Chronicles is shrink-wrapped in a bio-suit. There are two reasons. First, because they have perfect bodies and modesty is a thing of the past. If you have it, flaunt it, and if you don’t have it, you can make it, change it or adjust it. Second, is a more practical reason. Bio-suits monitor body temperature, diaphoresis, chemistry, and stress level to name a few. Relays from a network throughout the suit send information directly to the wearer’s chipset and which interfaces with internal systems to adjust hormone levels, respiration, and body chemistry. It also diagnoses and repairs diseased cells through cellular oxidation. The material is also programmable to add, say a hood, pocket, pouch, or pack and it is self-healing. You can push a small object into the suit material and it will form a protective pocket around it.
9. Gene Splicing-Cross Species – The wonders of science now enable you to grow a tail, horns or antlers, reptilian skin. There are limits to which DNA will play nice together, but the list is long, and it is popular.
10.Virtual Reality – This has been written about extensively in the blog and on the site. The terminology in the 22nd century is virtual immersions, a fully engrossing experience that overtakes all senses and consciousness. Immersions are a form of regulated entertainment and are available in two types, programmed and retrieved. These highly realistic virtual experiences are known in street vernacular, as The V. Programmed immersions are detailed environmental simulations. Participation can occur with the users identity, or by assuming another from limitless combinations of gender, race, and species, and may entail a full range of experiences from a simple day on the beach to the aberrant and perverse. Immersions are highly regulated by the New Asia government. Certain immersive programs are required to have timeout algorithms to prevent a condition known as OB state in which the mind is unable to re-adjust to reality and surface from the immersion, a side effect for individuals who are immersed for more than 24 hours. Certain content is age-restricted and users must receive annual mental and bio statistical fitness assessments to renew their access — all of which is monitored by the government.
If you are a fan of the story and think I’ve missed a few, feel free to comment.
So now what? This week I decided to give you a hint at what is coming over the summer. I’ve already posted regarding my speaking engagements this summer in London and Copenhagen and these presentations still need some tweaking but most of the content is pretty secure. Of course, when you are talking about design fiction, a topic that is constantly morphing and new voices regularly emerging, there is plenty of new information on which to report. It is one of those things where you simply have to say, “Stop”, commit your paper to history, and move on.
Now that my teaching responsibilities are (slowly) winding down (though never completely) and the spring semester is behind me, I’m starting to think about all the things I might accomplish over the summer. Hopefully I will be spending the majority of my time rendering and creating pages to move the graphic novel forward, but I definitely expect to revamp TLSC dot com to take on a total refresh. If you have any thoughts on features or improvements, please comment. Right now, Chapter 2 is scheduled to wind up on July 11th (fortuitously with the story line), and then there will be the usual double-page, bonus spreads covering a five-week period. So, no shortage of things to ogle over while you are sipping margaritas poolside.
There are also a couple of transmedia opportunities that I have captured, (additional web sites that work in conjunction with the futuristic storyline of The LIghtstream Chronicles). But, let’s not get too ambitious. I have pages plotted in through the middle of 2015 but, as I have stated before, my goal is to get all the pages finished and then move to two-a-week publication, or weekly spreads. Right now, however, I have to make sure I have sufficient backlog in the archive to use that approach.
In this scene nobody seems too talkative about the case at hand. Perhaps they are just trying to process everything that has just transpired — but it is late —and Detective Guren is still stewing over the comment from Col. Chen back on page 58.
On a side note, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I redesigned the elevator that our characters are standing in front of. Finally, I opted for a sleek, silent and fast shuttle that could bound multiple stories in short order.
After completing multiple pages of prologue material — similar to the approach I took prior to Chapter 2 — I have begun work on Chapter 3. The rationale for the prologues is to present what I believe to be rich, and important, backstory. If you are a regular follower of the web comic/graphic novel, then the backstory and nuances of what is going on in society as well as history, help to immerse you a bit more in the characters and their lives. At times, it feels as though there is so much backstory that I wish I had written a conventional novel. But then I think we would have been hard pressed to consider this as a work of design fiction. It is, of course, the diegetic prototypes that are so woven into people’s lives that we can look at and contemplate their affect on the culture and the behaviors of the characters.
Chapter 2 will wrap up on page 84, in case you were wondering.
This week Col. Chen makes a snide ultimatum with holographic aplomb from his technology enhanced gloves. Of course, being able to conjure up holograms from your fingertips is no more marvelous in 2159 than querying Siri and probably just as curious or pretentious. But then again, Lee Chen is a complicated individual.
When writing The Lightstream Chronicles, which I consider to be both a work of science fiction as well as a study in design fiction, I knew that it was important to portray real people in this future scenario. These are people who are dealing with the world, with new bodies, new behaviors, new vices and addictions, and yet the same longings for relationship and meaning. It is a world that has designed technology into everything, but there is no reason to expect that the technological design of the future will become any less commonplace to us then than it is for us now, though it may become more transparent. Showing off your latest iPhone or tablet will be a thing of the past. Future tech will be hidden away in our bodies and our chemistry and our genetics. Glowing fingertips in the color of your choice, and your skin-tight superbod will be your swag.
Continuing in a similar thread with last week, my novel takes place in a time when artificial intelligence does indeed exist and we have created synthetic humans that are difficult to distinguish from the real thing. To further confuse things, even humans born naturally (from other humans) have been enhanced and genetically improved to the point that aging is no longer an issue and death is no longer inevitable. People don’t have to be sad, or anxious. They can learn while they sleep and choose any body or physique they wish, the color of their eyes, their hair, essentially everything for which we currently have few choices.
A book that was foundational to all of my research was The Transhuman Condition by Braden Allenby and Allen Sarewitz both professors at Arizona State University. The authors begin with the assertion that, in many respects, the transhuman condition already exists in various forms. Through drugs, replacement parts, even eyeglasses we are already enhanced though we take it for granted. They say that we are currently the most advanced iteration of our species.
The authors discuss the current-day organization Humanity+,which, “…states on its website (http://humanityplus.org) that its goal is ‘to support discussion and public awareness of emerging technologies that expand human capacities, and to anticipate and propose solutions for the potential consequences of emerging technologies,’(6).” Essentially, Allenby and Sarewitz see this a naive approach. “To start with, the transhumanist assumption that, what ever ‘human’ is, it will only be improved and enhanced— not transcended, rendered obsolete, or even degraded— by the development of transhumanism has the effect of burying both arbitrary values and limits in the definitions of the words such as ‘improve’ and ‘enhance (7)’.” But nonetheless, “The ambitions of transhumanism are comprehensive, extending beyond health and longevity to radically enhanced intelligence, creativity, and emotional capabilities, conscious control over the attributes of offspring and the evolution of the species, and even a greater capacity for mutual understand through, for example, massively networked brain-to-brain interfaces [the lightstream]. At the limits is total transcendence (8).”
Quoting Stewart Brand in the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it(10).’”, the authors highlight evidence that the advancement of humanity has repercussions on everything, citing the atomic bomb as a key example of creating power but not the mind to accompany it. “And as technological evolution continues to outpace the grasp of human intent, we have little time to waste. These are the questions of our time…(11)” Allenby and Sarewitz conclude this chapter with an ominous note. “As we curl our fingers around the trigger of nuclear weapons, gaze into skies of the carbon cycle, and unleash technologies that are changing the very essence of our physical and cognitive selves, we are already transhuman. But this is not the kind of transhumanism we thought we were creating , nor is it one we understand(11).”
It strikes me that these things to which we attribute the Enlightenment are all about limits. Total freedom is anything but — total freedom is anarchy, resulting in less freedom. We talk about removing limits and at the same time setting them. We are confused, indeed. At the heart of The Lightstream Chronicles is an exploration of what we have done, or might indeed do to ourselves.
Allenby, Braden, and Daniel Sarewitz. The Techno-Human Condition. 1st Ed. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. 38, 39, 63,160,161, 163,165. Print.
P56 The Lightstream Chronicles online Graphic Novel and Web Comic
With all this controversy about “selective erasure” between Colonel Chen, Kristin Broulliard, and the regen room entourage, it might help to provide some background on the chipset that makes this all possible. Deep brain implantation was already in use as far back as the early 21st century to help with brain disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Of course, those diseases are a thing of the past in 2159, but the technology that was pioneered back in the 2000’s quickly evolved from disease intervention to brain and body enhancement.
The augmentation begins at an early age usually when a child reaches 3 or 4 years old. A port is inserted behind the ear just below the occipital bone and laterally to just above the C1 vertebra. The port resembles a small patch about 20mm square. It blends in with the skin and becomes visible only when touched by the owner. This reveals a slender 5mm slot in the center. The port connects through a microscopic tube to the base of the pons, a key feature of the brainstem that connects the medulla to the thalamus. The pons is considered white matter as opposed to the grey variety and is used to conduct signals from the forebrain and midbrain. It helps a number of autonomic functions like sleep, respiration, swallowing, bladder control, hearing, taste, and equilibrium among others. It also helps you dream. The first implantation sends a stream of nano particles that are programmed to find the pons and set up a grid, basically a set of microscopic slots that will accept updates and other programmable nodes that interface with luminous implants accessing everything from the Lightstream (the evolved internet),to infusion learning, internal body chemistry, and the V*. These implants are what allow the person to receive voice and telepathic transmissions as well as to “see” who is calling or immerse themselves in the world of the V.
The pons’ midbrain pathway also provides access to the hippocampus, the brains memory center. The placement of the chipset is both strategic and precarious. As long as the port is used for medical purposes only such as software updates (so to speak), all is well. With the relatively new diversion of exchanging experiences, however,memories—complete with their accompanying sensory experiences are recorded and extracted directly via the port to an external device called a swig and then can be transferred to another person. Though participants swear by the “rush” of reliving someone else’s experience and claim that it far exceeds virtual simulations (which are readily available), the procedure is fraught with danger. Since the technology is relatively new and heavily regulated, quality swigs are hard to find and quite expensive. This opens the door for black market technology. Swigs with poor modulation, unsecured insertion, or faulty extraction algorithms can damage nearby white matter, in the adjacent medulla oblongata or pons itself. Because these two organs are so important to the body’s autonomic functions such as respiration and heartbeat, a bad swig, also know as a jack, can cause permanent damage or death. Consensual swigging, is legal, as is everything consensual, however there is also the illegal form of this is known as headjacking which we have discussed multiple times in this blog. It is usually used in rape cases, torture, bondage and occasionally murders, the latter with questionable results. It has yet to be proven that a person’s physical death can be shared and survived.
I will be featuring a swig and a jack later in 2014. Since the comic is taking a break for Christmas week, the blog will oblige. Next post, unless moved to do otherwise, will be January 3rd. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Read the real story here: Luke 2:1-20.
* V (The) – Street vernacular for virtual reality immersions.
This week we’re peering into the regen pod where Sean floats suspended in a amniotic soup. As they encounter the visual of Sean’s injuries, Kristin Broulliard and the team are a bit taken aback and the crime takes on a more visceral punch. Despite the fact that modern medical science has found a way to repair this kind of trauma, the memories, however repressed they might be, could still be stored up inside Sean’s head — or not. Under normal circumstances, portions of the brain that house memories can be accessed and much like tracking through a DVD, selectively erased. The procedure is more difficult than it sounds. Memories are stacked, like thin layers and they are not always sequential. If the procedure samples too deeply, or grabs a snippet that does’t belong, the subject can awaken missing key components of their personality or identity map. In extreme cases, illegal intrusions using cheap, makeshift headjacking devices, can disrupt the autonomic nervous system affecting heart rate and respiration and ultimately resulting in death. Sean’s fate remains to be seen.
Would you erase the memories?
While The Lightstream Chronicles exists as a complete storyline in screenplay form, the graphic novel obviously evolves more slowly. This week I expect to put the finishing touches on Chapter 2 and begin the Chapter 3 Prologues. I have slated a number of new pages and scenes. There are 6 chapters in total. Chapter 2 is the longest and chapter 3 is the shortest. As soon as I get the entire project in the bag, I’ll start posting a spread each week, or possibly two postings per week. Believe me I’m as anxious as my readers to “see” how this ends. But of course, I can always change it up. Let me know your thoughts here. Thanks.
“…many accident victims and their injuries can be repaired, their body parts replaced, or regrown and their virtually lifeless bodies, regenerated using advanced stem-cell-based biomedical treatments. Because of the gravity of Sean’s injuries he will most likely receive an immersive regen. Patients treated with immersive regen are often coherent and functioning in a day or less.”
Sean’s injuries, though most likely terminal or resulting in serious impairment or disability in the 21st century, can be repaired or “regenerated” in a matter of hours. The process is known as regen and consists of an induced coma and submersion into a muculent, stem-cell-enriched, liquid – something like amniotic fluid on steroids. The patient actually breathes the fluid and it is absorbed into the skin. Sean’s broken bones were set before submersion, but once broken bones are set, cells regain their original undamaged functionality, the regen goes about sealing wounds and restoring damaged tissues, according to their original genetic blueprint.
The brain and its subtle intricacies are not always as predictable. Brain science by 2159 has been relatively successful in recording, restoring and implanting memory, however, severe brain injuries may still result in permanent damage. In Sean’s case there is the added complication of headjacking which can, if botched, result in a brain death. SInce Sean is the only survivor of the recent series of rape/headjackings in DownTown, his ability to remember the attack could shed some much needed light on the perpetrators of the crime.
Notes on building the regen pod
Here I was looking for something rather organic, not plantlike, but possibly like an insect chrysalis, pupa, or a freeform amniotic sac. (I found the photo below, after designing the pod BTW). I also wanted to suggest that the fluid contained therein was thick enough that the body could literally float, suspended. Then, a bio-electrical charge is also present throughout the fluid and serves to accelerate absorption of the regen into the tissues. These electrical charges can be seen swirling about and illuminating the fluid. Hopefully, all of this comes across to some extent. The circular, ring-like devices generate an electromagnetic force that keeps the body upright and they can also be used to channel regen fluid directly into the body, such as the tubes that are inserted into Sean’s nose.
All of this is somewhat easier said than done. The refractive qualities of the regen pod, reflections, lighting, and electrical charges proved to be incredibly costly rendering choices. Whenever the pod was featured I could expect many anxious hours of waiting for renderings to materialize. I’d love to get your thoughts from readers on the 22nd century sound effects that might go with these scenes.
1 Chrysalis photo courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupa#Chrysalis
“Leon Kass, a member and former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics and professor at the University of Chicago, argues that ‘victory over mortality is the unstated but implicit goal of modern medical science…'”1
By the 22nd century, society has, for all intents and purposes, achieved this goal. Death is optional. Only the most severe injuries or deliberate suicides achieve the status of non-retrievable. Although a deceased individual can be replicated (replication in humans is called “progenation”) it is under strict government control to insure that only fully enhanced, and socially beneficial humans are replicated and to insure that population planning limits are enforced. Therefore, many accident victims and their injuries can be repaired, their body parts replaced, or regrown and their virtually lifeless bodies, regenerated using advanced stem-cell-based biomedical treatments. Because of the gravity of Sean’s injuries he will most likely receive an immersive regen. Patients treated with immersive regen are often coherent and functioning in a day or less.
This week, on page 52, we can see the extent of Sean’s injuries. It’s times like these when I wish the graphic novel were a movie, so that we could see exactly how I envision Doctor Hayes’ chart/screen expanding. It starts out about the size of an iPad mini, but is the thickness of a credit card. With a touch from his luminous implants the chart “unfolds” to reveal the full view of Sean’s status. It is something like a hybrid of a futuristic coroner’s report and and a medical chart. Perhaps one day, in my spare time, I will animate this.
The bigger question appears to be his illegal “brain intrusion” which we have discussed previously, known as headjacking. if Sean’s attack is associated with the recent series of rape/headjackings in DownTown, and he is the only survivor to date, his ability to remember the attack could shed some much needed light on the perpetrators of the crime.
A note on nudity. As I have mentioned in multiple previous blogs and on the web site, the story contains adult themes like rape and prostitution and it takes place in another century. I did my best to add a degree of modesty to the comic but I am also trying to stay true to the context of the story, the time, mores and conventions of a future world. It is not meant to offend or shock. however if that sort of thing does offend, then you may want to reconsider continuing with the story. For historical context you won’t see anything that is more risqué than Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, circa 1490.
1.”Go Gently into That Good Night.” Christianity Today 51.1 (2007): 26-27. Online.
This week in The Lightstream Chronicles online graphic novel and web comic, we meet Detective James John (Jack) Guren. Yeah, he looks a little like Jason Statham. The best description for Jack is hard ass. He is smart, rugged, capable, and full of attitude. From Australian New Asia, Jack was born into a military family. His father Frank was a professional soldier who worked for Backbone Corporation, a New Asian government-funded military contractor. He and his fraternal twin Jake spent their childhood adjusting to their parent’s frequent relocations around the world. At age 15, the brothers asked to be enrolled in the New Asia Military Academy in Brisbane where they graduated with honors. Jack went on to National Taipei University to study synthetic criminology and Jake joined the New Asia Military special ops. After two tours, Jake took an honorable discharge but had trouble adjusting to civilian life. A couple of years later he just dropped off the grid. Jack has not seen or heard from him in almost 20 years.
After an advanced degree in synth crime, Jack joined the New Asia Police Academy and then the Hong Kong 2 Police. He was instrumental in busting a synth ring known as The Ranch, the largest bust of its kind. Jack uncovered nearly 150 reprogrammed (twisted) synths, and more than 30 human hostages who were used to record deviant experiences (headjackings). The experiences were sold on the black market. For his work on the case and wounds received during the bust, Jack received the Chancellor’s Medal of Valor. The following year, he was appointed to the Chancellor’s Task Force on Synth Crime.
Hopeful that his new appointment would enable him to cut through the oppressive government bureaucracy and make a significant dent in synth crime, Guren began challenging many of the government officials that he saw turning a blind eye to the lucrative black market in experience trading. His efforts, however, met with repeated obstructions, including magisterial reprimands. Multiple investigations turned into dead ends. As a result, Detective Guren has become increasingly embittered and cynical. His frustration is multiplied by his latest investigation: a series of rape/headjackings in DownTown, all of which conveniently occurred during strategic mesh outages, free of any surveillance. Guren’s investigation has remained unsolved for more than 200 days, making it the longest unsolved crime spree in recent memory.
The victims were males between the ages of 16 and 20 and all were fatally headjacked. More on headjackings here. While the rape death of a DownTown street-teen is not unusual, these seem more insidious and devised. Sean Colbert’s attack, which bears many of the same characteristics, marks the twelfth unsolved incident. Detective Guren is at the crossroads of apathy and rage.
Another unique attribute to Detective Guren is the fact that he is an ager. This is the term given to people who opt out of genetic manipulation to prolong their life indefinitely. In other words, at 38, Detective Jack Guren is aging and on track to die in what might be considered a blink of an eye in a society where most people opt to live indefinitely.