Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thoughts Regarding The Mote In God's Eye

I was reading The Mote In God's Eye recently, which is one of my favorite works of fiction, as is its sequel, The Gripping Hand, written by Larry Liven and Jerry Pournelle.  Given that science fiction tends not to age very well, and that the first of these was written in 1974, that's quite an accomplishment.  Now, I've had several thoughts related to these books, but perhaps a bit of background so I'm not just talking to myself.  Ah, spoiler alert, if you're thinking about reading these books.

The Mote In God's Eye is a first-contact novel, where humanity has interstellar travel capability, and discovers a sentient species which because of authorial fiat and convenient wormhole location, is nicely bottled into its home solar system.  This species, the Moties, has been sentient for somewhere on the order of a million years, and is driven by biological necessity to be in a state of constant population explosion.  The Moties sequentially switch sex, and when they are female they must become pregnant or die of a hormone imbalance.  After giving birth they become male, which lasts for a few months before becoming female again.  Because of this, and the fact that they have been bottled into one system for close to a million years, they have had a constant population explosions and crashes and have evolved a genetic predisposition for technology, in addition to a very high tolerance for pollution and wiping extinct most other animal life in the system not descended from them.  They've diverged into a variety of castes specialized in various things, the Engineers, the Warriors, etc.

Now, this has given me a number of thoughts ranging from wariness of environmental damage, to wanting to see an RTS game based on this world, something in the vein of Homeworld perhaps, except that you'd be fighting your own population pressure as much as the other players.  Actually, I'm mainly just thinking Homeworld because of the 3D system in that game.  Of course, to deal with the population pressures it would have to be multi-generational, and then you'd have to figure out how the player is supposed to interact with there being successors, and where the user's path of control goes, which is a problem I have with Civilization and the like...  Ah, but I'll go back to that later.

The reason I started writing this post, before it turned into a commentary on The Mote in God's Eye, was thinking about one specific aspect of this book and how we might be seeing some of it not too far into the future.  In the book, the Engineer caste personalized everything for its users.  Handles on toothbrushes, shoes,  beds, chairs; all were custom made and fitted for their owner.  That got me thinking about how with various 3D printing and more customized web services, such things might be possible for us in the future.  Now, I can't say I've ever had a tailor-made suit, but imagine a world where every piece of clothing is tailor-made.  That opens up a number of interesting possibilities.  I imagine that carpal tunnel would go down as our laptops and mice are made specifically for us.  Things are just going to get more attractive and comfortable.  Things will still be mass-produced, but will at the same be more individualized.

I believe a good bit of demand is waiting to be unleashed for such products as soon as the price drops dramatically.  I'm not sure how easy it will be to create such things, we need that 3D printing to get a good bit more advanced, but at some point I think there will be quite the market for systems to automatically measure people and convert that into instructions for the creation of equipment.  And a brief search around the net reveals that it's already being worked on.

Of course there are a lot of other benefits to widespread 3D printing, such as the decentralization of industrial development and the whole maker culture.  I could also go into how more precise and cheaper measurements and finely crafted delivery/construction will improve a tremendous number of things beyond clothing and gadgets, such as fertilizer usage and personalized medicine.  Ah, but it's 6am and I'm starting to ramble.  Let me see if I can get to sleep.

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