Chapter Four: Bringing Back the Future

[Cut to the living room, where something akin to brainstorming is happening]

STRAX: Perhaps we could use a grenade to . . .

[EVERYONE]: No!

[STRAX grumbles]

THE DOCTOR: Okay, what DO we have?

CLARA: Well, we know they can do it, right? That whole ‘people can get along peacefully and have fun’ bit. . that’s got to count for something, right?

JEN: We can’t use the future as an example though.

STORMY: We don’t have to. There are some contemporary examples. . . the Semai, Amish, Fipa, Hutterites. . . it’s a big list. The only catch is that most are pretty low tech… which is kind of the opposite of the way we went.

GRIFF: That’s just an artifact of way commerce works here. I’m not an expert on how our economic system worked back home, but near as I can tell theirs is backwards.

CLARA: Backwards.

GRIFF: Well. . . wow. I honestly don’t know where to start.

DOCTOR WHO [Holding Alfie/Stormageddon awkwardly] Babies! Start with babies!

JEN: I’ll hit that, Strax and I were hitting education. So apparently here it’s kind of a crapshoot. When you’re born you’ve got a nationality and that determines what rules you have to follow in general and how things get started. There’s some variety but it’s more a random distribution thing.

CRAIG: You mean like. . I’m born British so I go to British schools?

JEN: Yeah. That. With us all kids start out trying a whole smattering of different things to see how they learn and they’re encouraged to gravitate towards whatever they think works for them. We don’t have those weird things where everybody that’s the same age does the same thing. Plus WHAT we learn is a lot different.

CLARA: Like what?

JEN: Well, first off we’re given four basic principles to learn right off. Consent and Respect, Think Responsibly, Do useful things, and Spread the Awesome.

GRIFF: We sometimes describe it differently in different places, but it’s generally the same sort of thing. Consent and Respect is a catch-all for the basic ‘nobody has any power over anybody else’. No gotcha moments, that sort of thing.

STORMY: And Think Responsibly’s kind of a catch-all too. That’s your basic logic, reason, and critical thinking stuff and we put a lot of emphasis on not just how to apply standards of evidence, but when to apply them.

JEN: Right, like if I want to believe in a flying spaghetti monster and it makes me happy then nobody has any right to say anything about it. . . but if I try to get other people to believe then I have to back it up with facts and the like.

GRIFF: But it’s really an analog scale, and we get that. We want to have some people who believe wacky things . . every now and then they lead us to some deeper truth. They just don’t get to be jerks about it. We make it easy to be odd without forcing people to make others agree with them until they start drifting into territories where evidence is needed.  You know, actual science.

JEN: Yup. And the last two . . . Do Useful Things and Spread the Awesome, they’re kind of self explanatory. We try to spend our lives doing things that matter when we can, even in small ways, and we’re encouraged to share delightful things and allowed to find our own places when we need to be alone so we don’t rain on other people’s days.

GRIFF: That really frames everything else. That’s how our teachers teach and our educational system is defined. We define citizenship as a combination of desire to join, age of consent, and our educator’s feeling that you’re going to play well with others.

STORMY: Basically, that gives us people that we don’t have to write a bunch of rules to deal with and who we can trust.

JEN: And we can still do useful things before we become citizens. My sister invented a new sort of synthetic muscle when she was eleven and Stormy probably named a thousand species before she was ten.

STORMY: [Slightly embarrassed] It was maybe six hundred at most.

CRAIG: What about child labor laws and the like?

JEN: I still don’t even get what those are for. If you can do useful things you do useful things. Are you all magically useless until you’re 18 or something?

STRAX: My people are born in clone batches. Far more efficient that way.

CLARA: We can’t really offer that up as a solution here.

STRAX: Nonetheless, it had to be said.

CLARA: So. . . what about when you’re an adult? How do you get a job?

GRIFF: We don’t have jobs the way you do. Every quarter people get to choose between any of a number of spheres they’re invited to and qualify for. Every sphere is encouraged to do what they like best when recruiting people and we always have unlimited openings in research, development, support, maintenance, education, and a number of other realms.

STORMY: He defines them by what they do, but that’s just an artifact of design. . . we didn’t realize how overproductive we’d be at first. There’s generally a little of everything out there.

GRIFF: Right. About a quarter of all the spheres are always open.

JEN: It’s basically choosing a life. We just log into the lifebuilder and search around for somewhere that we’d like to try that works for us, or you just talk to a scribe, that’s part of what they’re for. Sometimes there are requirements. . either adherence to additional principles or having some past experience, but like Griff said you can use your vacation to try new things. It looks sort of like . . . . umm . . . . I saw something (closes one eye and starts tapping her leg). Ah! Yes. Like a character builder for one of your role playing games!

STORMY: Oh! That works really well. Okay, yeah. Imagine that you’re making a character, but it’s you. You’re choosing what sort of city you live in, what perks you have, what sacrifices you make in return, and so on. Everything’s worth points, so you can choose to live somewhere that’s cheaper to maintain in exchange for other perks and toys.

JEN: And there are also ones that don’t have a point cost. You just point out things that are important to you. So if you’ve got a bunch of people that really like sloths they can get together and maybe do some sloth specific things.

STORMY: Jen likes sloths, in case you hadn’t guessed.

JEN: What?  Sloths are cool!

GRIFF: Of course you there also plenty of generic options for people who’d rather start simple. . . but the more specific you get the more you end up making yourself happier while lowering your overall cost to the system. Like those tiny private parks everyone here has.

THE DOCTOR: Lawns?

GRIFF: Right, lawns. Nobody really has those where you have to cut them and water them. We’d treat that more like a luxury if you want one. . . but if you’d rather have something that’s environmentally positive or neutral then you basically end up with points to spend on other things, like having an uberbutler, the chance to push a project you care about, some rare first edition books or ancient fossils, or you can save up to live in a castle for a year.

STORMY: Oh, and we probably should point out Griff. . . it’s kind of good we have one of him here, he’s one of our lynchpin roles.

CRAIG: Really?

GRIFF: Not me. But the scribes in general. We added the role when we started seeing groups that were becoming a bit distanced, but it’s worked great for a whole lot of reasons. The main idea was just to have people who could stir things up a little but would have to be respected.

CRAIG: So like fly-by managers, but weird?

GRIFF: [pausing to move some invisible objects around] Yeah. . . yeah that kind of works. Except we’ve also got a lot of training as counselors, we have the ability to take people to safe places, we’re held to a consistently increasing set of standards, and are expected to balance out the group with a range of specializations.

CLARA: So your gypsies are in charge?

GRIFF: Ha! Not so much in charge . . . but when we say things people listen to us, and it’s our job to earn that respect every day.  Plus that’s kind of the point.  People tend to gravitate towards similar people and we didn’t want to have the sort of racism and culturalism we used to have.  So instead we make sure a group treats everybody well by having our scribes be amazingly diverse.

STORMY: And he’s pretty good at his job, despite being disappointingly normal.

JEN: I liked the genginereed guy with the spikes!

THE DOCTOR: Okay, I think I’m getting this. But what if somebody doesn’t want to join up?

GRIFF: *shrugs* then they can go where they want. We set up a few places for them and will give them the basics, or they can go join some other group that’s out there. We keep a big catalog of the ones that are inviting people in and the big deal is that they have to return the favor.

STORMY: [Proudly] We have most of the people

THE DOCTOR: How many?

STORMY: Almost three billion. Over nine-tenths of the world’s population.

CRAIG: That can’t be right. We’ve got way more than that now . . . oh. Something happened, didn’t it?

JEN: Yeah. Lots of things. We fell under a billion for a few years.

CLARA: Wow.

STORMY: That’s why we’re here. So that doesn’t happen. So what else do we need to cover?

CRAIG: Do you get to choose whether to be a democracy or not too? How does all of that work?

JEN: As little as possible!

STORMY: Ha! They’re really emphasizing that in training now, aren’t they?

JEN: Yup. That’s solidly in the ‘lessons learned’ category. People can still pick something legalistic if they want, but there’s solid across the board effectiveness boosts for letting citizens form groups with maximum autonomy. . . more bonus points.

GRIFF: When you choose a sphere it has a system and there are all kinds of ways other spheres can be connected.

JEN: We’re Proxies and Pennies, that’s actually the top tier one now too.

STORMY: But we have an agreement to use New Bangladesh’s consensus system for any resource issues between our two groups.

CLARA: Proxies and Pennies?

JEN: Yeah. Instead of voting on things all the time we just proxy our authority on any topic . . no matter how broad or narrow. . to somebody else.

THE DOCTOR: And?

GRIFF: Hmm. Okay [To Craig] Is there anybody who is a public figure that you would generally trust to make good decisions about science in general?

CRAIG: Like Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

STRAX: Oh! He’s also quite amusing when slowed down!

JEN: Umm. Okay, so sure. [Does tapping thing again] He works. Okay, so you decide that he’s generally okay with big science issues, but if he accepts your proxy he has to be transparent to your satisfaction, and we have a progressively larger delay on implementing things the more people it impacts so that there aren’t any ‘gotcha’ moments.

CRAIG: Why?

JEN: So that you get a last chance to move your proxy to somebody else, or just to halt the issue until it’s explained to the satisfaction of enough people to get it going again. That’s basically that half of it.

CLARA: And the pennies?

GRIFF: That’s the fun part. Each quarter we each get a whole bunch of pennies and are given a bunch of stories that a few groups have helped us sift through. We put the pennies in the boxes with the stories that we want to happen the most.

STORMY: We could just use points or any number of other things, but we like the feel of the pennies. The tactile component makes us think a bit harder about our decisions.

CRAIG: Stories?

JEN: Of course. Stories. You know ‘This is a story about how a group of genetic engineers researching sponges managed to get the approval to follow up on what appears a way to use them to convert salt water into fresh’ or ‘In this story a plucky band of comedians gathered fifty new people and started mutual tour where they shared all their best jokes’. It’s a lot like that Kickstarter thing Strax was showing me. . . they can have stretch goals and that sort of thing.

STORMY: And it’s also the one we use for any organization-wide issues. But that’s just for the next two years. Then we have all vote between it and at least two other systems. . . using all three systems. . . and the consensus winner is the one we use for anything we can’t work out for ourselves.

GRIFF: We’ve only actually had a top tier vote maybe five times. Always for new huge projects, like the Tall Tower.

CRAIG: Okay, I see how a system like that could work if we had one. Now we just need some uber-powerful super nation that can’t be invaded and can just gobble all the people up into Civilization 2.0 or somethi . . [to the Doctor] Why are you looking at me like that?

THE DOCTOR: You’re brilliant! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, you’re far smarter than you look!

CRAIG: Did you ever know what sarcasm was? And thanks.

THE DOCTOR: Okay, I’ve got an idea. . . but we need two things. . . the first is an invention!

CLARA: An invention?

JEN: Like something people would want? Or something that helps people? That’s kind of vague.

THE DOCTOR: Yes! Exactly that!

JEN: [Sardonically] Thanks.

THE DOCTOR: You’re quite welcome.

STORMY: [To Clara] Is he completely impervious to sarcasm?

CLARA: It’s one of his more exasperating talents.

GRIFF: Are you thinking something that would be highly in demand? That has a positive environmental impact and gets us in front of warming? That saves lives?

THE DOCTOR: Yes!

CLARA: [To Jen] What about your bears?

JEN: No. . . I was kind of curious about them but it’s not like we lost any technology and they were pretty rudimentary at first. They were clumsy and slow. The first few variants we basically just had to launch at people or else send a swarm of them at somebody.

CLARA: These are the best mental images I’ve had all year.

JEN: That’s actually part of why they’re teddy bears. Small. . . soft. . . not very strong. We seeded the schools with them and let the kids take them home.

THE DOCTOR: You armed children with deliberately ineffective weapons?

JEN: Oh yes. . . but I don’t think people can transition there quite as easily as we did, and I don’t think the techs are mature enough to beat out the gun craziness that’s so prevalent. I think we need something better.

STRAX: [Perking up] What is this weapon?

JEN: Not a weapon. Better. Funnier.

THE DOCTOR: You can show off toys later

STORMY: Ohmigod! Guys! Guys!

CLARA: [Suddenly excited] What? what?

STORMY: I was running through all of our popular mature techs that I happened to remember, you won’t believe which one they already have he pieces for!

GRIFF: I’ve got nothing.

STORMY: The Wearable Holodeck!

JEN: Seriously?

STORMY: All the basics are here AND they’ve got a lot of the augmented reality already in play. They’ve got a huge range of small displays but they’re stuck on holographic and non-tactile interfaces . . . and they’ve also got tons of research into sensors, haptics, exoskeletons . . . and honestly better engineering than I thought they had back then.

JEN: Fat lot of good we’re doing here then.

THE DOCTOR: What do you mean?

GRIFF: Remember that huge city that surrounded us?

CLARA: Yes, it was lovely!

GRIFF: Pretty much all of them use Wearable Holodecks. None of us do.  Well, a little, but none of us has a suit or anything.

THE DOCTOR: What, everybody’s not like you guys?

STORMY: [Laughing] Nobody’s like anybody, but we’re a particularly odd group. In the city it’s a huge part of their life. We just have ocular implants and Jen has some of the latest endoskeleton tech, but that’s not going to do us as much good as it would if we had one of the outfits they have in the city.

JEN: Yeah, they’re like full body sensation exoskeletons . . . you can not just feel objects in space like we do but also have a wider range of sensations and are still really comfy. I got to wear some in training, it’s absolutely amazing.

CRAIG: So what exactly does this wearable holodeck do? I mean, I’m already sold because of the name, but what is it?

JEN: You know what a holodeck is?

STORMY: Yeah, Trek was from back then.

JEN: Oh! Cool! Then this’ll be easy! That old holodeck was a silly dead end. Imagine if you had a pair of glasses, but they could project any image in super high resolution.

CRAIG: We’re starting to have those. Google Glasses and Oculus Rift and such.

JEN: Okay, so you can picture seeing a keyboard to type on, and being able to put your fingers where the keys should be, but not feel them, right?

CRAIG: We have touch phones and tablets and such.  Is that what you mean?

STORMY: This is where you guys are stuck. You’re dreaming about holograms you can’t touch, huge projected images, and crazy things like that.  And with those little phone computer things with super smooth screens you pretty much have to stare at them to use them with any precision.

JEN: Yeah. Okay, so a little more complicated, but you’ve got a bunch of haptic technologies. . . things that allow you to feel things on your fingers that aren’t there. They sometimes use motors to make it seem like your finger hit something, sometimes pins to give you texture, and so on. But the illusion works best if you don’t move your elbows much.

CRAIG: Okay, I’ve got that

JEN: So if you have a little synthetic muscle, or just some kind of pulley thing that goes from your wrist to your elbow, and elbow to shoulder, and shoulder across back. . now you spread the illusion so that you can be squeezing a ball, or kneading some clay.

THE DOCTOR: OH! I see!

CRAIG: [nods]

JEN: Okay, now finish, have a little thing that connects down your back to your hips, down the legs, to feet. There’s a power/weight tradeoff, but basically what happens is you need stronger gear to simulate heavier weighs.

STORMY: But the sensation is already amazing just because you can apply a tiny bit of resistance realistically across the whole body.

JEN: They can simulate almost ANYTHING! You can walk into a room and make a huge bookshelf appear that you’d never know wasn’t real if you could smell it. You can make any musical instrument appear, any artistic medium and it’s just like a real thing. It’s really impressive.

GRIFF: They still generally have a few treasures. . . people like their toys. But there’s almost no packaging and no low-quality products, they use very little storage. They generally get amazingly comfortable furniture and great food and such, but the net effect was that a huge percentage of the population stopped needing so many things. . . they instantly became our best recyclers while having more toys than a king.

JEN: Some of them take it pretty far, but most of them are more like us. They have picnics and such and don’t wear the gear all the time, it’s not like they’re living in weird cyberland or anything.

STORMY: And it gets better, because you guys already have enough tech to set up a basic mesh.

JEN: No way!

STORMY: Yup.

CLARA: You didn’t know they had that?

STORMY: It’s harder than you think!  Go ahead and tell me exactly what order what technologies happened over the last 200 years and see how you do. This is a learning experience.

GRIFF: How much mesh?

STORMY: Well, we can definitely do some guides . .definitely visual and I bet we can do tactile too. [To the rest] Guides are things we use to improve our performance at some task . . . surgeons for example use them to let them be more precise and welders use them to weave multiple camera images together to see details that would be impossible to see otherwise while welding.

JEN: We can also do safety things! Distributed thermal sensors so you don’t accidentally step on a cat at night, that sort of thing

THE DOCTOR: I’m liking this! I’m liking this quite a lot! Can you guys make some?

JEN: I. . . I bet we could do something.  Depends on how much of a factor time is and what resources we can get.

THE DOCTOR: Now we need a way to get some attention.

STRAX: A small concussion grenade would . .

[EVERYONE]: No!

THE DOCTOR: We need some kind of inspirational public forum . . . one where people talk about big ideas and things.

STRAX: What about the Teds?

CRAIG: Teds?

STRAX: Yes! Teds! It’s people named Ted who talk about things.

CRAIG: TED Talks?

STRAX: Ted Talks! Yes. We just need somebody named Ted to talk for us.

CRAIG: I think TED probably stands for something, all the people have different names.

STRAX: Oh. I suppose that makes more sense.

THE DOCTOR: When do these people talk?

GRIFF: Well, if you don’t want to have to travel much, there’s one here in a couple of weeks.

CRAIG: Really? Can we go?

THE DOCTOR: Not just can. . we will go. Indeed we must go!

CRAIG: Wait a minute. . . this is turning into another of those adventure things, isn’t it?

THE DOCTOR: [Standing up enthusiastically] Indeed! We must collect allies! To the TARDIS! [Marches out the door]

[The Doctor returns a moment later]

THE DOCTOR: The TARDIS is gone, as we all well remember!

CLARA: To the internet!

[Chapter Five: Introspection]

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