Here is a preview of how things will shape up for the conclusion of Season 2 and the kick-off of Season 3.
The sort of sexy, double-page conclusion to Season 2 will be published a couple of days early on June 25th (no blog) and then I will take a short break on July 4. During that time, I will be uploading the new — that’s right new — website. I will be keeping the homepage and WebComic links in tact but if you have chapter 1 and chapter 2 bookmarked you probably won’t get there from here. In addition to a refreshed look and feel, there will be a new approach to the weekly featured page, more like a conventional webcomic format. Season 1 and season 2 will be archived pretty much as they are now and I will be offering a season 2 PDF that is paginated like the option that is currently offered for season 1. So if you’re into having the highest res possible and neatly paginated like a real book, then you can request that.
Starting on July 11 we will have 7 full weeks of bonus material as prologues to season 3 (that’s 14 pages) with the official season 3 start on August 29. I think there is quite a bit of cool stuff in the prologue content, everything from a primer on headjacking (complete with diegetic prototypes) and a trip into the V.
I’m also working on some transmedia links but I don’t want to make any promises yet.
In The Lightstream Chronicles, telepathic communication, the sharing of experiences and memories, and direct cerebral connection to the Lightstream are commonplace. That’s why Kristin Broulliard and Col. Chen can have a conversation without speaking and they can do it separated by miles. In the same way that we can rifle an email to someone across the planet within milliseconds, the society of the The Lightstream Chronicles can communicate with virtually anyone. In a similar fashion to our current smart phone technology, however, you must have an “address” and the requisite “permissions” to share memories or experiences with others. All very neat and tidy, except just as we are quick to adapt to new technologies, there are those who are quick to hack them.
An article last year in i09 author George Dvorsky posed questions to a professor of cybernetics, a neuroscientist and a futurist about telepathy and the plausibility of direct mind communication. The idea of brains connecting and transmitting is, apparently not that far fetched. The technological concepts exist and numerous experiments have proven the viability of brain transmission. The only thing missing is probably the funding to make it seamless and painless. But data transmission, whether it is in the form of texts from your smart phone or thoughts from your head, will be subject to the similar dangers. From the aforementioned article, futurist Ramez Naam states, “There’s the risk of malware or viruses that infect this. There’s the risk of hackers being able to break into the implants in your head. We’ve already seen hackers demonstrate that they can remotely take over pacemakers and insulin pumps. The same risks exist here.”
But a good hacker won’t have to intercept your thoughts to determine what you are going to do next. The right hack, to Google, or Facebook, or Twitter will reveal so much data about your whereabouts, your proclivities, your favorites, your daily schedule and all of your other preferences, that they will quite accurately be able to predict exactly what you will do next. For that, I recommend The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?
If you follow the blog you know that privacy is a recurring topic here. If you are concerned that it is just a matter of time until someone hacks “the Cloud” to get all of your sensitive documents and digital data, then the danger will likely still exist when it’s your memories and experiences that are stored there as well. Yet evidence would show that possibilities like this don’t really concern most people. There are lots of Clouds, lots of data and lots of people using it. In other words, the possibility of bad things happening doesn’t deter us from participating and adapting to these changes.
I guess we would have to get into the philosophy of privacy to really knead this topic. So I’ll save it for another time. What do you think?
This week we introduce Marie-D. If you check out Marie’s bio page, you’ll see her features and options. When you buy a synth, it’s kind of like buying a car. You have to check the ratings, the mileage and the trade-in value. Marie is BMW quality, from Almost Human Corporation, (the world leader in synthetic humans).
Here are the specs:
Name :: Marie- D
Mark Date :: April 2, 2156 | Hong Kong 2, NA
Commission :: April 22, 2156 | K. Broulliard
D-CLASS :: Specifically designed for domestic labor/companionship
:: domestic chores
:: empathy and encouragement
:: high loyalty quotient
:: child rearing
:: no sexual programming
Programs ::Au pair
:: basic medicine
:: teaching skills | art | music
:: 8 more
Designer :: S. Nakamura
Manufacturer :: Almost Human Corporation. NA
Feature set :: medical diagnostics
:: personality package
:: human-synth telepathy
:: family values
:: empathy circuits
:: 18 hour power integrity
:: luminous implants
:: memory belt porting
:: biometric shut-down
:: liquid circuit infusion
:: 2 infusion ports
:: latent/dormant equipped
:: turnstile encryption
:: type II nanoprene exterior
:: titanium headwrap
Note: D-Class synthetics are the highest rated, non-sexual, domestic synthetics
::::3 years of 4-star customer ratings
Don’t you wish you had one?
If you were an early follower of the comic, (and I mean really early – there were only a handful of you) then you might remember Marie with rather prominent breasts and details. This caused way too much controversy and I changed her to a sort of androgynous version, albeit quite pretty, I think. Based on this design I think that a synth can have a very female demeanor without the requisite breasts.
Interesting to note that Sean Nakamura was also the designer of this particular domestic synth model. Of course in this day and age, the name Sean Nakamura is the counterpart of today’s Jonathan Ive.
By the way, do you think she should be called, “her”, or “it”?
Editorial note: An artifact from the future is a kind of reverse archaeology whereby we look at something the future might produce and ask ourselves how we got there and how these things came to be. This “news item” is its own little diegetic prototype.
Dateline (HONG KONG 2, NEW ASIA) 31 May, 2159
Eyebrows were raised in HK2 this week as the New Asia government released the latest figures on V addiction. Each year the NA Ministry of Social Happiness issues its recommendations for health and eudemonia. This year the guidelines have created a stir among some citizens especially for those who are engaged in the V, which by all estimates is nearly 90 percent of the population. The Ministry has lowered V-time recommendations by 25 percent over 2158 levels. With the new recommendation, the average ninety-six hour stay in the V would be reduced to seventy-two.
Government spokesvoice, expert system synthetic (ESS) Linxiao-P, stressed that, “The government is reminding everyone that this is still a recommendation and they are hoping that the public will voluntarily comply — that there will be no need to regulate the V. They are also emphasizing that vacation V is still at the user’s discretion. Of course, using common sense V practices.”
Experts are certain that the government recommendations are based on figures released on Tuesday that the V addiction rate is at 18.5 percent—up 1.5 percent over last year. Though the percentage is relatively small, it equates to an additional 267 million people.
According to Linxiao-P, the government recommendations are based on data from millions of V experiences, (gathered anonymously). Analyzing the behaviors of these individuals, many have extended their V time into the three-day workweek, which has had a negative effect on national productivity. Though the government will not verify the correlation, the increasing V addiction rate may also be related to the increase in suicides.
As they did in 2158, MSH published the popular day-in-the-life, typicals for both men and women. The free V program is automatically loaded into all V time logs and viewing is mandatory before beginning any individual V experience. Most V participants have found the program to be extremely entertaining. Typicals include recommended levels for various chems as well as V time.
James and Momo
This year’s typicals bring back James and Momo for a first-person tour of their weekly V habits. Whether or not James and Momo are human, synth actors or constructs remains a popular guessing game, but with this year’s intimacy section of the program, many people are more convinced that certain “body functions” are uniquely human. In the safety section, as James “performs,” Momo explains how our bio parents may have selected different gene partitions than other human, necessitating different chem protocols, but easily programmable guidelines should keep everyone well within health boundaries.
In the program Momo asks a question that many everyday V users ask, “Shouldn’t we be able to adjust chems levels to ward off V addition?”
As James explains in his inimitable way, the answer is theoretically, yes. The power of dopamine, however, the chem that is released at climax, for example, has undisputed addictive properties. Statistics show that 86 percent of V experiences result in a flush of dopamine. Most scientists agree that extended periods in the V living out fantasies is a continuous dopamine roller coaster. The user wants more. Unlike the V, a natural sexual climax is has a definitive ending point, at least in males. The high dissipates quickly. In the V the dopamine can keep on coming, depending on the program the user is in.
According to Linxiao-P, ” This is why it is always good to use the manufacturer’s recommended chem pre-sets so that when it’s time to leave the V there is a sufficient release of prolactin to satiate you before coming back to the real world. Of course, keeping your oxytocin levels up is important at all times.” Linxiao stresses that there are apps for this. “All of these optimum chem levels can be modulated seamlessly. Many of these apps can be infused free from the Lightstream.”
Whether or not the population voluntarily complies with the new government recommendations remains to be seen. As Linxiao-P says, “By far, it’s the best way to stay healthy. A little dopamine every day is fine, but too much and you risk a lot of other side effects.”
Before we dive into this week’s discussion, I need to pull a few definitions from glossary 1 and glossary 2.
Accretion (brain) – brain accretion is quantum storage of all mental, cognitive and experiential data from a living brain for transference to a progenated being or synthetic.
Progenation – (aka genning – slang) this is the counterpart of replication in inanimate objects though the process is very different. This is under strict government control to insure that only fully enhanced, and socially beneficial humans or endangered species are progenated and to insure that population planning limits are enforced. Progenation involves “replicating” an individual’s life forms in the lab through using duplicated DNA and then transferring their brain accretion. Gifted surgeons, scientists and other “social contributors” can be genned and leased to other parts of the world where their specific skills can be utilized for maximum affect. Due to high demand, territories throughout New Asia bid on such individuals. The government has begun to designate certain promising births as potential “progens.” These children are given special governmental benefits and opportunities to help insure that they will be able to be genned upon reaching maturity.
Saming – Slang for the purchase of an identical synthetic version of one’s self for the purposes of companionship or a sexual relationship.
In 2159, determining what is real and what is virtually real can be something of a challenge. With world population figures nearly 12.7 billion, experts in the 21st century feared that there would be a catastrophic food shortage, but advances in molecular replication put those fears to rest. Essentially this level of replication enables society to “print” any inanimate object including food of all types. The ability to “print” averything from an apple (without seeds and core) to sophisticated recipes and vintage wine has all been perfected. The level of complexity is dependent on the quality of replicator device. So, while it is possible for a peasant in Guangzhou to print his own rice, a machine that prints chocolate soufflés and cabernet sauvignon is a more expensive proposition. Recipes and templates for everything are available through the Lightstream with enough credits or Yuan.
Artisan farming and making is still seen by many as a superior option and has attained a connoisseur status. Farmland for crops and livestock, however, became the most significant casualty of population growth making those who were able to retain their land some of the wealthiest members of society. Real meat and made items command top credits. Amidst this, the question arises: How do you tell the difference? If you are in the market for the real thing then you can probably afford to own a sophisticated analysis device that breaks down the molecular components of the item in question and compares it with the extensive database of templates for replicated goods. Nuance, it appears, is the difference between items that are authentic and those that are replicated. While the majority of the population is satisfied with chicken breast that is molecularly identical to every other chicken breast, some are convinced that the missing nuance of natural process is the veritable spice of life.
Nuance, it appears, is the difference between items that are authentic and those that are replicated.
Now there is the matter of life itself. Living tissue cannot be replicated, per se; it involves a complicated process of growing tissues from duplicated DNA and knitting these tissues together into an interdependent life form. This is known as progenation (aka genning). The process is both expensive and tenuous. Many consider it to still be in the experimental stage and inhumane. Scientists believe that some of the problems with successful progenation come from the rapidity of the process. Because the genning process takes weeks rather than the decades required to form an adult human from the embryonic state, something is lost most often in the formation of the brain and it’s complex connection to the countless number of bodily and cognitive functions. Similar failures brought on by rapid cellular development were also at the core of the decision, nearly a century ago, to abandon human cloning — now thought to be barbaric.
A successfully generated adult human will have a fully developed body in every respect. The brain, however, remains an empty mass of tissue. The final phase is “brain accretion transference” (BAT), where all mental, cognitive and experiential data from the living brain, natural human donor, is transferred to a generated being. If successful, the progenation process is complete. The government reports the success rate for transference at around 50% but some leaked reports put the number as low as 1 in 20. When transference fails, the living body must be terminated. There is no way to repeat the process. Even successful progens, after years of life, can die suddenly without explanation. There are also reports, though suppressed by the government, that progens can display psychotic episodes after a number of years.
Science is working on this.
It is much easier to build a synthetic human than to grow a natural one. The booming synthetic industry is evidence of this. In a synthetic, there are separate controlling computations for processes and behaviors. There is no physical “grey matter” rather a tightly weighted and configured quantum brain for handling the countless input-output calculations. Therefore, uploading your brain into a Synth for the purpose of an identical synthetic version of yourself is commonplace. Though not at all inexpensive, many people save for years to be able to purchase their identical — those who prefer their own company to anyone else’s.
The word of the day is primasapien. It would probably be fair to attribute this term to Kristin Broulliard. If the synthetic humans of the 22nd century were actually human then the terms racist, or bigot might apply. A primasapien holds the conviction that no matter how life-like the technology, the near human characteristics, the genetically grown organs or the super-human strength, intelligence, reaction time, etc., humans will forever be superior. It’s a controversial topic in this day and age. Much of the belief centers on the idea that the distinctively human aspects of synths, such as those involving emotions or pain, no matter how believable, are still not intrinsic. They have to be designed-in to the programming, whereas humans are born with these traits. However, this distinction is becoming more tenuous. Proponents of synthetic rights cite the hundreds of enhancements that human beings infuse over the course of their lives, that these are no less “programming” than the characteristics that are built into synths. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone with unadulterated human emotions, attitudes or behaviors. With the rapid advancement of genetic and biotechnologies, the material gradually gave way to the internal and the invisible. The materialism—the collection of things—which typified the early 21st century evolved into a society that was preoccupied with internal enhancements, better bodies, better eyesight, internalized, escapist entertainment, and the accumulation of information. Eventually it could all be summed up in the visceral experience of living—and living forever. It became a mandatory process for humans to compete in society.
For the primasapien the argument is further complicated because of the use of progens — genetic doubles that are lab replicated and then their brains are transferred through the brain accretion process. There has been a long debate on whether gennedhumans are real humans, since the transference process is not always successful. In failed brain transfers, a fully matured human is left in a vegetative state and must be terminated. With synthetics there are, at least, fewer legal problems: it is still legal to simply shut down a synthetic human, in-effect terminate them as long as they are employed by, or owned by you.
An additional complication come from a segment of society who insist that humans conceived in artificial wombs, or are the combination of unknown genetic bio-parents, are not whole humans.
Next week: The hidden secrets of genning.
Today’s rendering was quite the challenge. As you know, everything in world of The Lightstream Chronicles is built, as close to possible, to true scale. Thus, 60 stories is somewhere in the vicinity of 800 feet. The medical center in this concluding scene is roughly that height. The TopCity Spanner begins around 50 stories from street level. If I had my way, I would incorporate physical “rooms” into every building so that exterior views would give us an unlimited and random appearance, and the occasional evidence of human activity on the building’s interior. This would probably take a couple of lifetimes for one individual to produce. If we were living in New Asia in 2159, we would have 3-dimensional data for every nook and cranny in a given city. Replicating the world would be relatively easy.
This week I’m picking up on a thread from a couple of weeks ago on how adaptive we are as a society and how that can be good and not so good. Gradual change is something we are less likely to notice than abrupt changes in the world around us. One could argue that our adaption to the abrupt changes are more survival oriented — we quickly adapt and then eagerly make efforts to revert to something we think is better. When confronted with things like natural disasters, wars, shortages or catastrophes we tend to adapt quickly, even band together, until the situation can be corrected, or together, we correct it. When we look at the incremental changes of technology, or augmentation, or bio/genetic modification, these changes (though they are coming increasingly faster) are much slower. Adaptation is not on a massive scale. It’s an S curve followed by another S curve, and then another. Before we know it, there has been a massive change. Technologies that enable us to rid ourselves of disease or poverty are one thing; they have less of an effect on an individual’s daily behavior. Technologies that enable us to cram more information into our brains at a faster pace, or stay awake longer, or focus better, including cosmetic improvements, or escapist entertainments may need to contain a warning label. It’s hard to deny that the onslaught of technology and information, of sound byte attention spans on a 24/7 time schedule has changed us. The question is: at what point will we no longer recognize ourselves.
The characters in The Lightstream Chronicles may have arrived at this question too late. Over a period of decades, society has gradually given up on the notion of privacy. It was exchanged, bit by bit for enhancements that enabled telepathy, to channel direct-to-brain, instantaneous entertainment or escape into the V, a brain-port to upload language fluency in two hours, protection from assault and kidnapping. Together with the demand for ubiquitous, “active surfaces” woven into every piece of their environment a 24/7, always-on picture of everyone, every minute became the norm. There seemed to be little question that the positives outweighed the negatives. So what if a computer or synthetic is watching me in my most private moments? It was awkward at first and took some getting used to, but government assurances that the “watchers” were only looking for laws that are being broken and putting citizens into danger, made things easier to take. After all, the watchers are just computers or machines; they are not making any moral judgments. And in a society where anything is legal as long as it is consensual, most people aren’t worried about breaking any laws. And if they feel like being deviant, well there is always the V. There they can delve into the darkest recesses of their imagination with impunity.
In last week’s The Lightstream Chronicles, weighing the rational against the emotional, Toei boldly suggested that perhaps a synthetic police detective could do a better job of apprehending the serial rape gang that has been successfully eluding Detective Guren for the past several months. These type of crimes — inflicting harm on another person — are top priority and usually solved immediately. With mesh imagery available for nearly every square meter of Hong Kong 2, the ultra-sophisticated surveillance that is capable of seeing everyone, anywhere, anytime would have quickly identified the imminent crime even before it was actually committed. Similar to matching a fingerprint, analysis of body language, gestures, heart rate and other data can predict almost instantaneously that an individual or individuals is about to commit a crime. The mesh, constantly “on”, looks for patterns of suspicious behavior and provides a 3D picture. When suspicious 3D mesh behavior is detected, computers quickly accesses the chipset of anyone in proximity. Readings from the autonomic nervous system of the victim(s) and/or perpetrator(s), provides evidentiary data. If it is determined that a crime is about to be committed, drones, police or sentinels are quickly dispatched to the scene. If the perpetrator(s) are synthetic, the job of detection is actually less complex than assessing human biometrics. Synthetics, even those who have been twisted, have “intent transmitters” which can quickly be identified by central security systems. In Detective Guren’s serial rape case, however, “outages” in the mesh prevented the first step initiation of this public safety protocol. Should he be held to blame?
Next week, I’ll talk about why crime continues to thrive in HK2.
Perhaps it doesn’t take much to get me excited when it comes to The Lightstream Chronicles, but this week, while working on Chapter 3, I built the first few panels with whom I think is going to be our number one star. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that Keiji-T will play a very prominent role in the remainder of the story. If we make a movie analogy and look at the six chapters that comprise The Lightstream Chronicles (at least so far), then Chapter 1 was probably the first 15 minutes of the flick, and Chapter 2, the next 15 minutes or so. That makes introducing a prime player and arguably the lead character, a good 30 minutes after the start of the movie, a bit risky in standard practice for film evolution. Then again, it might not be totally accurate to say that he (it) has not been introduced. In truth, Keiji’s first appearance was in Chapter 1, on page 17 and then again in Sean’s lab. And there has been chatter about him, but not what you would call an official speaking part as of yet. So, since i know what is going to happen, starting to render Keiji is a pretty big deal for me.
Upcoming speaking engagements
I think I can safely say, now with travel arrangements in place, that I will be in London and Copenhagen this summer presenting papers on my design fiction research. The first appearance will be at Loncon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. It runs August 14 – 18 at ExCel in London. I don’t have a fixed time yet but I will be participating in the academic program in conjunction with the event. This is the place where they award the Hugo’s every year for the best in science fiction, and that is pretty exciting. The focus of the academic program is Diversity in Speculative Fiction. I will be presenting the intersection of my digital, online, graphic novel with the broader aspects of design fiction. Shortly thereafter, I will be presenting another paper more deeply focused on design fiction as design research and practice with in the “Design Thinking and Social Justice stream” of the The 2014 Art of Management and Organization Conference in Copenhagen, August 28-31. Both venues are very exciting opportunities. If you’re one of my followers from The Lightstream Chronicles or theEnvisionist.com, in either of these cities, stop by and say hello.
As many a CG artist will tell you, finding something productive to do between renders can be a real challenge. I’ve manage to submit an article to a magazine and an abstract for a conference in Berlin this summer, but that seemed too go awfully fast. To make the time a bit more productive, I have been immersing myself in the world of cyberpunk, via Tumblr. I’ve managed to post and research quite a few images, and there seems to be no end to the creative visions of whoever my fellow Tumblr’s are. The hashtags are pretty consistent: #dystopia, #cyberpunk, #urban, #urban decay, #architecture, #futuristic, #transhuman, #sci-fi, #science fiction, #tech, #cyborg, #android, #crime thriller, #design fiction. But the well is very deep. If you are interested in seeing what I’ve compiled thus far stop on over to The Chrons.
Need some cheap replacement retinas, a refurb on your artificial skin, a 50 finger massage, virtual, synthetic, or any other kind of sex you can imagine (or would rather not)? You’ve come to the right place: DownTown, Hong Kong 2, in the Mong Kok sector. Sean has arrived as of last week, his location logged by cyber-surveillance, and in panel 1, he has just crossed the street where he encounters throngs of people (using the term loosely) as well as all of the diversions DownTown has to offer. Sometimes I wish this really was a movie instead of still images, because in panel 1 the woman to the left of Sean has programmable skin that shows live action video of… whatever.
But Sean is on a mission and in panel 2, “A few minutes later” he has walked to a less crowded alleyway. Sean is a bit of a fish out of water here and the locals know it. A street urchin goads his friend to hit on the guy who looks like he’s from TopCity. Maybe the boots are a dead giveaway; too clean.
In panel 3, Sean has arrived a his destination, an antique electronics store that looks like it has all the most popular antique brand names from the 20th century (zoom opportunity).
This is another one of my favorite pages. Sean has just emerged from the MagShuttle that descended the more than 300 floors to DownTown Mong Kok. There’s lots going on with this page but I have not spelled it out hoping that you will download and zoom in to the high resolution image. I’ve discussed the mesh in previous commentaries, so you already know that the New Asia government prides itself on knowing where everyone and what they are doing at any moment. In the year 2159 just say, “Goodbye privacy.” The only consolation is that most of the visual record of your life is monitored by dispassionate synthetics or biocomputers that aren’t voyeurs and they don’t make personal judgements. That is, unless they determine that you are breaking one of the laws of the New Asia Protocols. Risky business.
In panel 1 Sean is being scanned by a Hong Kong Police surveillance drone TS-1. If you don’t speak Chinese, these signs highlight the fact that this section of town specializes in buying and selling experiences – some legal, some not.
The drone in panel 2 captures both a visual of Sean and his identity data stored on the chipset that you are implanted with at birth that lives at the base of your cerebellum. This chipset is continually updated throughout your life with memories, emotions and experiences. The resulting readout gives a complete dossier on young Sean, but there is some data missing.