This article is part of a series exploring the technology and concepts found in The River.
Working for a telecommunications company and writing for a technology blog I have to state I’ve a strong vested interest in the content of this article. But then again, who doesn’t? Because in life, as in The River, communication is key.
And, as a science fiction staple, I quite simply couldn’t have gotten away with writing a story set thousands of years in the future without devising my own communication system.
But when setting on the road of attempting to create something fairly unique, where the heck do you start?
Have you met my Father?
Having written fifteen articles its near-amazing that I’ve gotten this far without mentioning one major element of my upbringing. Throughout my teenage years as I suffered a present-absent father and the daily horrors of High School my one trustworthy friend and role model was, quite simply, Star Trek.
Star Trek’s bold utopian vision along with its amazing technology, interesting storylines and empathetic characters expanded my mind and gave me a weekly joy to look forward to.
But, unfortunately, Star Trek has suffered. No, not the frenetic JJ Abram’s movie which was good but sucked all the life out of the original universe, no – my issue with Star Trek is how much it has dated.
I can’t watch the bald-headed flute-playing captain of the Enterprise-D in almost any scene. My issue isn’t the graphics, which are forgivable, or the writing, which still stands the test of time. No, my issue is the technology. And specifically, for this article, Star Trek’s communication technology.
In the Original series, Star Trek had flippable communicators which worked much like today’s mobile phones (albeit with a greater range and better reception!).
In the Next Generation communication is made through a gold and silver coloured combadge which is fairly indescribable as to the how-to’s of its operation. Other than the fact it’s got a gold pin in it somewhere which can be used to reprogram Lt Data or make a daring jailbreak, the description of how this neat little piece of kit works was always left out from Trek.
So knowing Star Trek’s history as though it was that of a loved family member, along with the Stargate’s, Babylon 5’s, Battlestar’s and many, many other shows the desire to create a fairly unique communication method was always going to be hard. So, where to start?
What Works Wins
Once fiction is exhausted there’s only one other place to look – fact, or, specifically – nature. Humans and all animals communicate by taking sensory input from the environment or other animals and interpreting that information in their brain prior to making their own response (which is also started from within their brain). Think about the entirety of the animal kingdom, the many sensory inputs available and the many ways a message can be delivered and realise that it’s the brain (or, if you’re nitpicky, certain nerves and nervous systems) which is the one common factor in all this multitude of messaging.
So, for my communication method I looked to the future and decided that humankind will continue to do what we’ve been doing for ages – replicate the best of nature. Focussing on the brain itself I came up with;
The River’s solution to communication is an enhancement added to our genetic code which develops a new area in our brains. This area is capable of receiving through-the-air input (like radiowaves) but also integrates itself directly to our optical cortex, auditory areas, olfactory senses and, quite simply, everything else. For example;
Men can receive the feeling, sense and happiness of a baby kicking within a non-existent womb because another’s brain has been able to capture the memory, thoughts and feelings.
With genetic enhancements added to certain animals it’s possible to feel what it’s like to be a cat, horse or other brain-wielding being.
Inner-screen applications can be made which link to the rest of your body and given you a heads-up-display of your current health and wellbeing. Or inner-screen applications which link to other systems such as GPS – meaning you never need a map again.
My proof reader Claire probably most aptly described it as a ‘smart phone in your head’.
Like today’s phones inner-screen’s can ‘fail’ or break. But instead of modern day cracked screens or broken batteries inner-screen users suffer headaches and blinding lights should they try to use a broken system.
The main challenge when devising system’s for a future world is to go beyond what the modern day can do. With so much technology at our fingertips (and working where I do, I see the latest mobile products months before they’re launched) it can be hard to see beyond this to a future where our highest technology is just yesterday’s ignorance. With the inner-screen I hope I’ve made a step in the right direction.