Tattoos that move, a transpecies encounter or a borrowed experience — it’s all in DownTown.

p61 – artist’s commentary

As Kristin Broulliard begins to tread into touchy territory, I think we are catching a glimpse of a woman who is a strong character, professional, down-to-business, and clearly not intimidated by authority. We may also be getting the idea that Detective Guren is a bit of a bull in a china shop. I think that Toei complements the team well as the dispassionate observer. In some ways, he mediates the human’s side that is more emotional.

In panel 5, we see that Kristin has already done some checking into Sean’s intentions for visiting the notorious Mong Kok sector. She probably accessed the basics of his whereabouts en route to the hospital. At that point, she discovered that there was record of Sean’s voiceprint from his MagShuttle trip DownTown (page 24). In many ways, Kristin is treading closely to the insinuation that Sean was in search of some “action.” Most TopCity folks don’t venture into the Mong Kok sector unless they are looking for something, shall we say, outside the norm.

The evidence is back on page 24.
The evidence is back on page 24.

Some of the DownTown attractions include luminous tattoos. These are created via  programmable, luminous nano particles that are injected into the skin and then capable of reassembling themselves into static or moving visuals. They can be localized to a particular area of skin or cover the entire body surface. New images or moving pictures can be can be downloaded from the Lightstream. The imagery can also be “switched” off and all is controllable from the luminous implants on your fingertips. DownTown Mong Kok is also the clearinghouse for hundreds of experience exchanges, where people sell or trade brain recordings of anything from weird sex to cliff diving. There are also illegal experiences that have been jacked from rape or torture victims – some pretty sick stuff. You can also find all types of synthetic or transpecies sex brothels,  street vendors for concentrated chem boosters, like dopamine or adrenalin and there are lots of oxygen bars. Even liquor is still popular, but most of the 22nd century cocktails are infused with other specific sensations.

So it is this world that Sean ventured into a few hours ago. Naturally, our detectives are curious.

 

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A future crime. A 24-hour deadline and so many questions. A design fiction web comic continues.

p60

Last week we saw Toei’s reaction to being called a “Stupid synth”. This week we see, perhaps, a more human response to Col. Chen’s insults. Then Kristin Broulliard, handling things a bit more professionally, moves the group back to business. Of course, when you think of it, she was spared anything overtly insulting.

There is blog fodder here as I could spend a few hundred words discussing the humanness of our society when our bodies are less and less made up of completely human parts. In this future world, that which we might see as normal body chemistry is (or can be) modulated, and emotions tempered. There is no need to be tired and irritable or hormonally bitchy. Are these things, however, signatures of what it is to be human? Maybe they should be done away with, but what of love, and compassion, and forgiveness and the sometime pain that goes with them. Will these go by the wayside, too? And who decides what should be enhanced and what should be suppressed? <Something for another blog.>

Pivotal

This scene, in many ways, though with a bit of levity, sets the plot in motion. The three officers of the HK2 Police have 24 hours to find out who beat, raped and left Sean Colbert for dead in a rain-soaked alley in DownTown. It being the 22nd century technology, you would think so many advanced technologies would make solving a crime of this nature relatively simple. If they could get Sean out of the regen pod, they could just ask him, but of course, with a head-jacking and a skull fracture, maybe he won’t remember who or what attacked him. If you listen to Col. Chen, Sean might not even remember his own name.

There are a lot of of questions swirling about this investigation. We know, for example, that there have been a number of these, rape-jack cases and that Detective Guren has been investigating them for almost 10 months, and DownTown is loaded with malefactors, but 24 hours isn’t much time to question the usual suspects. Then there is the matter of the mesh. Normally the police could watch it all go down in 3D detail, and possibly even prevent it, but there was a rather convenient, and suspiciously isolated mesh outage during the crime.

Sounds like it couldn’t hurt to ask the Governor a few questions, and it looks as though that’s what Kristin has in mind.

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An adult web comic drama, a graphic novel, a design fiction and food for thought.

Web Comic drama

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.

The twenty-four-hour deadline.
The twenty-four-hour deadline.

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.

 

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Better humans? Design fiction graphic novel examines the technology pill.

Page 58

In today’s post of The Lightstream Chronicles, Col. Chen does a little snide face-slapping of his investigative team. Perhaps he’s just having a bad day. Nevertheless, it appears as though nastiness has not taken a holiday in 2159 and, despite all the transhuman enhancements, we really haven’t risen to a more enlightened state. But, really, did we think that technology could actually change human nature? I think that might be a bit naive.

The assumption strikes at the heart of this science fiction/design fiction story. It looks as though I will be discussing this topic in Copenhagen this August, at the seventh International Art of Management and Organization Conference where I have been invited to present. There are a number of legitimate motivations for pursuing the design fiction, but I see it as a form of future research. Through the use of diegetic prototypes, we can use future stories to look a possible futures and, make it seem real enough to us that we want to talk about it, assess it, and ask ourselves if this is really the future we want — and if it’s not — what might we do about it, how might we change it, refine it, or avoid it altogether. These scenarios come to fruition within science fiction storytelling, and 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.

Sometimes these visions become uncomfortable or dystopian. Sterling (Shaping Things, 13) sees a role here for design fiction. “Design thinking and design action should be the proper antidotes to fatalistic handwringing when it comes to technology’s grim externalities and potentials for deliberate abuse.”

As we look at our possible enhanced selves three generations from now, I submit that there will always be a Col. Chen: adversarial, confrontational, insulting, or worse. It would be naive to think otherwise. Does technology fix it or just make it more insidious to deal with. Instead of imagining that technology will be the magic pill to solve the ills of humanity, design fiction can help to acknowledge our humanness and our propensity to foul things up. Design fiction embraces the art critical thinking and thought problems as a means of anticipating conflict and complexity before these become problems to be solved.

Think about it. That’s the whole idea.

 

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The Lightstream Chronicles Glossary Part 1: Design Fiction Definitions from the 22nd Century.

Page 57

Happy New Year, 2014. I thought I would pull some excerpts from a glossary of terms that I have been working on for several months. There is a lot of terminology that gets thrown around in The Lightstream Chronicles, online graphic novel/web comic. As mentioned, the science fiction that I use in the story is based on threads of current technology that are teased out and extrapolated to some possible outcome a hundred and forty years from now. The glossary is a work in process and will likely not be fully complete until the story eventually ends in chapter/season 6. Nevertheless, much of this is at the heart of my design fiction explorations. I always wished I’d had something like this for books like Neuromancer and so many other cyberpunk epics. Comments are welcome.

Active surface – the evolution of ubiquitous computing. Active surfaces can receive or transmit data and images through via the Lightstream (see Lightstream). Nano receptors, transmitters and emitters serve to receive, send and display images directly from their surfaces. Virtually any surface can be made active.

Lightstream – The evolved Internet. Through nano photonics, large amounts of data can be transmitted without circuitry or wires. Nano receptors are implanted into everything from surfaces (see active surfaces) to skin implants and even beamed directly into the retina.

Synth – Slang for synthetic. A synthetic is an artificial humanoid form. Synthetics may take many forms of appearance from mechanized to indiscernible from actual humans.

Headjacking – The unauthorized recording and/or removal of memories from a human. Unlike selected erasure, which is, a medical procedure to remove unwanted or traumatic memories from patients, Downtown gangs have used headjacking technology. Human gang lords use roving bands of synths that have been twisted to rape and/or torture their victims while recording everything from the victim’s perspective; a process called head-jacking. A small device, called a jack, clamps itself to the invisible port behind the victim’s right ear that connects directly to the chipset and the memories of the incident—complete with all five senses—are recorded. The experience is then sold on the black market. Depending on the quality of the device and trauma the victim is subjected to, if the victim survives the crime, headjacking can result in partial or total memory erasure, and in some cases, death. Headjacking is a capital offense.

Swig – A medically sanctioned device (under medical supervision) designed for patient authorized erasure of selected memories and/or transfer to another recipient. Swigging first appeared in 2157 and is still a relatively new diversion. Selective erasure between 2130 and 2157 was sanctioned only as medical procedure. Memories—complete with their accompanying sensory experiences are recorded and extracted directly via the port (see brain port) to the swig and then can be transferred to another person in the same manner. 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. Unlike the illegal version known as a jack, (see headjacking) a swig under proper protocols can safely remove or transfer selected memories. Large-scale erasures are considered a medical procedure with serious risks.

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.

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, an 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 without the need for 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 archived. All mesh imagery, by law, is decoded and parsed using “impartial” synthetics that evaluate activity on a strictly legal, amoral basis.

Saming – Slang for the purchase of an identical synthetic version of one’s self for the purposes of companionship or a sexual relationship.

Is there something you want to know more about? Comment here.

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