Tag Archives: android

The Lightstream Chronicles, online graphic novel and web comic: a design fiction medical chart.

p52

“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.

Sean's medical chart
Sean’s medical chart

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.

 

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Circa 1490.
Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Circa 1490.

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.
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Living forever is not for everyone. New character intro. The Lightstream Chronicles online graphic novel and web comic.

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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.

Detective Jack Guren
Detective Jack Guren

 

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.

 

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The Lightstream Chronicles: Insights into new characters and their backgrounds in the digital graphic novel.

Page 50

This week we get a bit closer to actually meeting some new characters. Seated in panel one is Governor Nakamura. As we have read from the cast notes and previous blogs, the Governor is the step-father of Sean Colbert and raised him after his mother’s untimely death when he was only three years old. There is a quite a bit of mystery and controversy over her death. Karen Colbert was a successful attorney for the New Asia government in Shanghai, and married to Sean’s bio-father Kenji Colbert, a lieutenant in the New Asia Military special ops. Lt. Colbert was killed in a shuttle crash while investigating an alleged, private shadow army of synthetic soldiers that were reportedly headquartered in Guangzhou Province. Sean Colbert was born to Karen only two months after the lieutenant’s death. Reportedly, Karen Colbert became a vocal critic of the how the New Asia military investigated the crash and how they subsequently dropped the Colbert’s investigation into the synthetic army. After Sean was born, Karen quit her government job and moved back to Takarazuka City, in Japanese New Asia where she and Kenji had met. 18 months later she married local attorney and prefectural supervisor, Takeshi Nakamura. The two began a private law practice in 2142, but Karen continued to investigate her husband’s death. Two years later, while on business in Chinese New Asia, Karen fell to her death from the roof of a Shanghai hotel. It was ruled a suicide. Devastated, Takeshi abandoned Karen’s investigation, moved to Hong Kong and focused on raising Sean.

Early in Sean’s development it was apparent that he was brilliantly gifted. A age four, he had already constructed the family pet, and by age six he built a fully functional domestic droid and family companion. Sean was accepted into the Hong Kong Academy at age 9 and graduated in only two years. He went on to study synthetic systems design at the prestigious University of Advanced Cybernetics, and graduated at age 13. The next year he began work at the megaplex, government-owned, Almost Human Corporation (AHC) and received the coveted Chancellor’s Prize at age 16. A year later Sean became Vice-President of Design at AHC.

Getting to know the Governor.
Getting to know the Governor.

Meanwhile Takeshi became a successful attorney and gradually moved into the political scene where he was appointed to the Interior Ministry 2155 and made Governor in 2157. Despite the fact that outward displays of religiosity are illegal, the Governor has not kept his Christianity a secret. This has caused a stir in the media since there is still strong opposition to any religious display in public. Some speculate that his relative impunity is a result of a gradual trend in relaxing of the religious laws. He continues to receive the support of the Chancellor.

It’s always good to have a little background.

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Body Armor, and Kicking Butt in Hong Kong 2. The Lightstream Chronicles, online graphic novel continues.

“Director’s Commentary” p49

As Kristin Broulliard and Toei-N arrive at the waiting area for the intensive care regen unit on floor 212, it looks as though they might be a bit late. It looks like a cast of characters has already assembled. Col. Lee Chen is snapping orders at a couple of his elite enforcement droids, and there are a couple of folks in the background to whom we have not yet been introduced. Soon.

The question arises about body armor. As we noticed early in chapter one, Col. Chen wears his armor pretty much wherever he goes, but his reasons are different from the droids. Being a droid in DownTown can be a life threatening proposition. True, the droids need to look intimidating, but their armor is much needed protection. Killing or disabling synthetic, (aka droid) is not a capital offense, (which many believe to be discriminatory), but it carries stiff penalties and a mandatory, non-parolable prison term or erasure. As with any crime, however, criminals rarely plan on getting caught. Drive by shootings and snipers are fairly common, so the  armor comes in handy and protects the most critical operational functions of the droids, which are contained in the chest and head. In DownTown, whether you are human or synthetic police, there are sections where armor is strongly advised. Col. Chen has no fear when it comes to busting heads and kicking butt in DownTown. His elite droids have a nasty reputation and their sometimes brutal tactics, are rarely questioned by the New Asian government. As for why the colonel is wearing armor in TopCity, the answer is simple, he’s a badass.

Lee Chen and his armor.
Lee Chen and his armor.

For the record, when Col. Chen is in TopCity, he wears his white dress armor, when he’s in DownTown, it’s the more intimidating black version.

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The 22nd century medical center. A double-page feature and a new location for the digital, online, graphic novel.

Previously in The Lightstream Chronicles,

… Kristin and Toei received the report that another human was assaulted in DownTown. There have been a series of attacks where humans, primarily young males have been assaulted, “headjacked” and then killed, or dead on arrival; eleven in the last six months. None of these assaults were detected by the ultra-sophisticated surveillance “mesh” that supposedly protects Hong Kong 2 citizens.

Discovering that the latest victim was not only the renowned scientist and prodigy, Dr. Sean Colbert, but that he was still alive and  the step-son of the governor of Hong Kong province. This is big news and has obviously aroused the interest of Lee Chen, Colonel of Special Forces, Elite Corps Enforcement Unit. Lee’s elite corps of droids handle the heavy crimes. They are powerful, connected and operate with minimal government oversight. He also gets the job done. The recent spate of assaults are a thorn in his side and now that it has touched the family of the governor of Hong Kong, Lee is probably loosing patience.

Hence, Kristin and Toei make haste to the Prefectural Medical Center. They’re going to be interested in Sean’s condition. Aside from any other injuries, if he was “headjacked” like the other victims, he could be in a vegetative state, and mentally damaged beyond repair. Not all headjacking results in this but often, a random street “jacking” is not done under ideal conditions and the equipment could be cheap or even home made.

Pages 47 and 48

The way I designed this page, there is really no way to deliver it but as a two page spread. Not a lot of dialog here, but I’m hoping to set the mood of this eerie hospital setting. I imagined the opening scene at the medical center to be this massive white expanse, pristine and almost silent. The occasional synthetic voice calmly directs visitors throughout the space. Maybe there is some creepy, almost imperceptible 22nd century musak playing hauntingly from somewhere. On pages 47 and 48 we hear the hushed chime of the elevator and a disembodied, but remarkably soothing female voice introduces Kristin and Toei, far off in the distance, to the intensive care regen unit. As the panels continue we hear the echo of footsteps as our team approaches the waiting area.

Can't you hear the 22nd century muzak?
Can’t you hear the 22nd century muzak?

A few notes on the medicine of 2159

Medicine has eliminated nearly all forms of disease. Genetics has enabled zero-defect births and isolated the genes that cause aging. The aging gene can be switched on and off (usually in a human’s 2nd decade), through a simple medical procedure.

The wealthy can afford to have themselves replicated and stored as back up in the event of accident or overall wear and tear, Their consciousness can then uploaded into the replicated self. Though some contend that the soul is left behind in this process, many aspire to have this option.

Most organs can be grown in the laboratory for emergency replacement. Some humans, known as “agers” have decided not to have their aging genes modified, relying instead on technology and “original” genetics. Their life expectancy is usually only 150 years even after replacements.

Next week:

The waiting area, where Lee Chen is… waiting.

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Design fiction and harmless genetic upgrades. It’s all good, right?

Page 46

If you were wondering whether Sean Colbert was dead or alive, the technical answer is, alive. The story has not yet revealed what state the young prodigy is in, coma or conscious, vegetative state, or permanently damaged. All in due time. There was lots of activity this week beyond teaching Design Foundations and feverishly writing lectures. I spoke to a small group of design grad students this week about my research, the idea of design fiction and how, it can participate in future thinking and foresight. I was gratified to see the excitement level and how these topics, specifically from The Lightstream Chronicles online, digital graphic novel and webcomic helped to raise these issues. The discussion included such provocative topics as the prospect of immortality, digital implants, surveillance and security, privacy, mental telepathy, the perfect human body, and technological Darwinism to name a few. Unfortunately the discussion ended just as we got to the real meat of the design fiction future and that is what our role will be in it, not only as designers, but as human beings.

Are you looking into the future?
Are you looking into the future?

The question came up as to why everyone in the story is so perfect, muscled, slender and good looking. I covered this in a previous blog, but it bears some additional discussion. As I mentioned back then,

“…In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion. Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.”

But the short answer would be, “Because they can.”

This is an opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of our fictional characters. Take a couple of newlyweds who are trying for their first child. If the technology existed for a couple of non-invasive genetic alterations to prevent your child from ever having a “weight problem”, would you sign up? Pretty harmless isn’t it? And of course, every other couple is doing it so if you opt out, your child could be a pretty significant stand out from the status quo. As you think this over, you ask yourself, “Do I really want to saddle my child with a weight problem?” So you give pause, however brief, and then opt for the miracle of technology.

The next question would probably not even raise and eyebrow. Now that everybody is walking around and looking pretty darn good, it goes without saying that monitoring your body chemistry, and the weight gaining hormones would only make sense. Since a seamless implant or patch will do this for you, why not?

This is how technology subtly changes culture,society and behavior.  As society makes these seemingly harmless adaptations eventually we have The Lightstream Chronicles. Is that bad?

That is the whole idea behind my research into design fiction. These scenarios can bring cultural legibility to representations of the future and thereby provoke discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and encourage individual foresight and participation into the implications of today’s decision-making; perhaps a glimpse into, and examination of what gets made and how it will affect culture and humanity, rather than to simply wait and see.

 

Other news

There are currently 6 chapters in The Lightstream Chronicles, and I’ve been working away on the conclusion of chapter 2, struggling with rendering physically correct glass, and the resulting expense that it causes in render time and set up. Of course, most people probably don’t study the way real glass looks, unless you’re a CG artist, so most people wouldn’t notice if it was dead-on or just close. And I’m not sure it matters. Part of what makes up my day.

When chapter 2 concludes we will be at page 84 and my renderings are getting close to this landmark. That leaves about 130 to 140 pages until completion. Sound daunting doesn’t it. Eh! No stopping now, in fact, I’ve just envisioned a new scene to insert into chapter 4, probably 4 to 6 pages.

Let’s get some dialog going. Comment damn it.  I say that in the nicest possible way. 🙂

 

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The Future Surveillance State Will Prevent Most Crime — But Not All. It Sees You and Knows What You’re Thinking.

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As we saw in a previous post, the mesh is a pretty reliable means of monitoring the “public safety”. With a decent, albeit monochrome, three dimensional image, government security sentinels can spot suspicious behavior, illegal speech, and other possible crimes even when you are alone in a closed room. The ubiquitous use of active surface technology (AST) in combination with human sensory implants, (that are as common as a flu shot in the 22nd century) provides a sharp, clear picture of what’s going on anywhere in Hong Kong 2. The prevalence of AST nodes and their long-range signal is so effective that large portions of the network could be disabled, such as a city block, and the network would “self-heal”. Some criminals, however, have created sophisticated “blocking” devices that have successfully cloaked transmissions.

Why didn't we see this coming?
Why didn’t we see this coming?

Decades of visual data that have been correlated with real emergencies have contributed to an almost fool-proof catalog of what constitutes “suspicious” activity. When behavioral anomalies are cross-referenced with immediately accessible bio-data from humans within proximity of suspicion, the system can confirm through heart-rate, blood pressure, adrenaline output, and other secretions whether something illegal is going on. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the observed behavior may trigger something as minor as a telepathic alert to the offending party, to an all out assault by police security. The law of the land is contained in the multi-volume, Hong Kong Protocols where most of what is considered to be illegal is that which infringes on the rights of another. Therefore, almost anything that is individual, or consensual is within the law. The mesh surveillance network is a successful deterrent to most human crimes, however suspicious behavior is not as easily detected in synthetics, since they are absent the bio-data, and can be laced with complex algorithms that belie suspicious activity. Most synthetic humanoids leave the factory with highly secure encryptions that prevent anyone but the most sophisticated techo-criminals, from tampering with synthetic behaviors. As law, synthetics are required to follow the synthetic code which was derived from the robot code, a 20th century imagining of author Isaac Asimov. The ancient robot code stated that:

A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm 

A robot must obey human orders, unless they conflict with first law 

A robot must protect itself if this does not conflict with other laws 

The synthetic code is much longer and more complex than its 20th century predecessor but still leans heavily on the idea that synthetics cannot injure or allow a human to come to harm. Hacking into a 22nd century synthetic, drone, droid, or robot to enable it to commit a crime or harm another human is called twisting. It is considered a capital crime. Nevertheless, twisted synths are responsible for, or complicit in nearly 70% of the crimes in Hong Kong 2.

Most of the public has grown accustomed to the idea that every waking and sleeping moment of their lives, including their thoughts can be, and is monitored. According to recent polls, the public takes comfort in government assurance that no humans are interpreting their activity, and hence, not making any judgements on their behavior no matter how bizarre.

Now you know.

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Rendering trickery is part of the process for the digital, online graphic novel — The Lightstream Chronicles

Page 43

This week, two of the stars of our web comic, graphic novel continue chatting it up in the public security command center at Police HQ. I will let the conversation speak for itself and focus today’s comments on the challenge of rendering these control room scenes.

As I have stated before, everything is “shot” on location. That means that Kristin and Toei are on in virtual space, in a control room location, atop the same police headquarters featured on page 41 with a view of the built city of Hong Kong 2 that has been featured on pages previously. (The latest being chapter 2 prologue pages ix2-x2). Hence, when the camera is framing our cast the view is exactly what is “outside” the windows, or with them “in the room”. One would logically think, then, after all this “building” that it would be a simple matter of lighting and “shooting”. Alas, it’s not so simple. And the problem is focus. Using a real camera, in a situation like this would most likely yield a background out of focus so that we could capture crisp focus on our characters. Unfortunately, in Autodesk Maya, incorporating the rendering algorithms to calculate depth-of-field into all of these renderings would have increased rendering time astronomically, and probably not yielded a realistic look when it was all finished — if it ever finished.

I wanted the reflections in the glass to be fairly crisp, but the buildings that were far off in the distance to be more out-of-focus. All this required separate renderings. One for our subjects, another for the glass, and a third for the cityscape. Then the appropriate amount of blur was applied to each layer in Photoshop and composited into one single image with a believable depth-of-field. All part of the process of making The Lightstream Chronicles as engaging and visually interesting as possible.

mask-demo
A few of the layers that made up the first panel of page 43. There were more.

 

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It’s time to get the police involved. The latest episode from the digital online graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles

We begin a completely new scene and location this week as we shift up to TopCity.

This week I am moving back to single pages. In he past month, between chapter 1 and the official start of chapter 2, I posted 6 double page spreads with 17 renders. But, alas, I can’t keep that up forever. In today’s post, page 41, we move from the depths of DownTown to one of the highest spots in TopCity, namely Police Headquarters. The scene opens up with a view from the cockpit of a police shuttle on the approach path to the landing deck atop the police headquarters building. The rain has subsided but the remnants of clouds and mist still hover over the city.

approach

Inside, we begin a conversation, though the participants are not yet identified.

Render notes:

The presence of palm trees may mislead us to think that we are really not that high up in TopCity, but as you can see from the latest update to the Hong Kong 2 cityscape on chapter 2 prologue page pix2-x2, many of the rooftops are populated with small palm forests — some of the last places in the city where there is greenery.

There have also been some tweaks to the website to lessen the clutter on the pages. Feel free to comment.

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The Lightstream Chronicles web comic, intro to chapter 2. Violence in the cyberpunk future.

For the last several weeks,

I have been serving up some seriously detailed double-pages culminating in this final 2-page introduction to chapter 2. Hopefully this season opener, pages 39-40 has been much anticipated and does not disappoint. Of course, at the end of chapter 1 Sean Colbert, frantically racing to the nearest shuttle to TopCity before curfew, was snatched—mid-stride— and hauled into a dark corner of DownTown. Confronted by an unknown assailant(s), Sean refused to cooperate. And then the violence started. This week we see that Sean was severely beaten and left in a puddle of rain and his own blood. Last week, in the final prologue pages to chapter 2, his body was discovered by a roving emergency drone that was patrolling the area. What exactly happened to Sean is forthcoming as chapter 2 unfolds.

Is this another act of random Downtown violence, or is it something more?
Is this another act of random Downtown violence, or is it something more?

Every page of The Lightstream Chronicles includes rather extreme details. The physical page size of a double-page spread is more than 80 inches across. As I encourage readers to zoom in and discover some of the fine points that I have taken such pains to weave in to the artwork, you can see Sean’s reflection in the lens of the emergency drone as well as the fine print of what’s going on in the “mind” of the drone. Since an ambulance was summoned immediately upon discovery of the body. the next thing that will happen is the emergency drone will try to determine whether the victim is dead or alive. The human chipset is located on the back of the neck. The drone will project optical beam and determine if there are vital signs being transmitted anywhere in the body. (You might remember another drone scanning Sean from page 26 in chapter 1).

This sets up one of the key mysteries of the story. Virtually every inch of DownTown and TopCity, including private living spaces, is visually accessible through the mesh. For your edification here is a definition of the mesh:

Mesh (The) – the massive proliferation of electronic image receivers, recorders, and active surface technology provides the ability to triangulate and decode a 3-dimensional image within virtually any modern environment. Using GPS coordinates any active technology produces a field which interprets the surrounding environment. Correlating data fields from multiple active technologies within contiguous environments creates a mesh, which generates a detailed 3-dimensional image of anything or anyone. There is no need for cameras or optical recording devices. The encryptions and addressing of millions of devices requires highly sophisticated decoding technology and is authorized for government use only. Because the resulting visual information has no regard for privacy, it is highly controversial. The government claims that mesh imagery of non-suspect activity is not collected. All mesh imagery, by law, is decoded and parsed using “impartial, non-judgmental” synthetic humans.

From an upcoming Glossary to The Lightstream Chronicles.

Welcome to the future.

 

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