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10 top gadgets from Iain M Banks' Culture universe

10 top gadgets from Iain M Banks' Culture universe | science world | Scoop.it

It's hard to know what to do when a literary idol announces their imminent demise.

 

This week, with typical deadpannery, writer Iain Banksbroke the devastating news that he is "officially Very Poorly" and has just months to live.

We decided that list-making is an appropriate response.

 

Iain (M) Banks' mainstream and science fiction has brought us much joy over the years – particularly his Culture series – about an anarchic, super-evolved, egalitarian spacefaring civilisation. Each time we've read a new Culture novel, We swear we've feltnew neural pathways fizzing into existence.

 

 

 

In the Culture, humans and Artificial Intelligences (AIs) enjoy equal societal standing; crime, personal wealth and disease are so far in the past as to be considered bad taste; and everyone has ready access to technology that's indistinguishable from magic.

 

Basically, Culture citizens are enlightened and weaponised space-Scandinavians.

 

Here are ten other perks of the Culture:

 

1. Sex, drugs and eugenics

 

Culture humans are so evolved that eugenics are de rigeur across the species. Humans live 300 years plus, can change gender at will, and have sexy bits that are genetically optimised for pleasure. Cor.

Most people are also born with natural "drug glands" which secrete non-habit forming mood and sensory-altering substances. These include the trippy 'Crystal Fuge State' and 'Quicken', which speeds up mental processes so people can talk to AIs without having to ask them to repeat themselves.

And there are no hangovers or comedowns, so nobody's buzz is harshed.

 

Like we said, enlightened space-Scandinavians.

 

2. Switching off pain

 

In a society of planet-hopping poly-centenarians, physical injury is inevitable. But Culture humans are hardy. Severed limbs grow back, bones thicken and thin according to gravitational need, and autonomic processes like breathing and blinking can be switched to conscious control.

Best of all, though, is the ability to turn pain off at will. Which begs the question: would Fifty Shades of Grey even work in a Culture scenario?

 

3. Body modification

 

Want to look like an Aspidistra? You can in the Culture. Four arms? Not a problem. Chewbacca? Be my guest. In The State of the Art, one character looks like a Yeti. Most people look like people, though, although some choose otherwise.

The book Excession describes some outré past, where: "as the fashions of the intervening times had ordained – people ... had resembled birds, fish, dirigible balloons, snakes, small clouds of cohesive smoke and animated bushes".

 

4. Starships, warships and drones

 

Culture starships are sentient and planet-sized, and tend towards the whimsical, with names like Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read The Instructions. Even warships come in the gleefully aggressive Killer, Torturer, Psychopath and Gangster classes. Daww.

Should any human passengers feel weird about padding round a giant space-bound conference centre and addressing the air around them, the ship can talk to them via a human-sized drone. In my mind, this drone always has the voice of Captain Birdseye, and is something that P&O should maybe look into.

 

Get a robot to fire you into the heart of the sun. YOLO

 

5. Grid energy

 

Can a universe technically count as a gadget? It can when you're a super-advanced spacefaring democracy. Everything the Culture uses – from coffee machines to seriously scary space weaponry – is powered by limitless energy from the Grid, a field which separates our universe from a mirroring antimatter universe.

Grid energy is also indirectly behind technology that allows people to do things like hack computers light years away.

We like to think that this is because, no matter how evolved the Culture is, its citizens still receive parental requests to "debug my computer while I pop to the garden centre".

 

6. Knife missiles

 

Contact and Special Circumstances are the Culture's spy and military arms. They're under the radar and engage in the odd dodgy practice but, most importantly, they have all the cool toys. One of these is a knife missile – which remains a normal utensil until its owner is in danger, at which point it takes to the air and slices and dices the enemy before they can react.

If it feels like it, we mean. Knife missiles are of course sentient, and sometimes a bit chippy.

 

7. EDust assassins

 

These are sentient nanomachines made of EVERYTHING ("Everything- Dust" or "EDust") which can take the shape of ANYTHING (you, me, that dog poo) and level entire buildings. EDust assassins are one of Special Circumstances' "Terror Weapons", and they impress me so much that I'm slightly worried that I'm actually North Korea.

 

8. Atomic tattoos

 

In the novel Surface Detail, an indentured servant (belonging to an unenlightened non-Culture slaver, obviously) is branded with a beautiful tattoo signifying ownership. The tattoo is written into the structure of every cell of her body, replicating itself into infinite smallness inside her DNA.

When her owner murders her, the Culture revives the slave, and she uses her tattoo to wreak her revenge. Take that, Steig Larsson.

 

Not quite how we envisioned the atomic tattoo...

 

9. Mosquito drones – now available on Earth?

 

In the novel Consider Phlebas, a tiny robot mosquito collects a blood sample from a human. According to the rumour mill, this isn't a million miles away from possible military developments today. Maybe 500,000 miles away, but not a million.

 

10. Personality backups and goodbyes

 

In a move that's at once heartbreaking and reassuring, Iain M Banks has made the Culture's attitude to death a philosophical one.

Death is essentially optional in the Culture – many people "back up" their personalities in case they shuffle off the mortal coil accidentally (extreme sports are big in the Culture). Then a copy of the individual can be reborn in the same form, a different one, or purely in virtual reality.

If they're bored they may choose to go into storage and wake up some time in the future. Also, biological and AI individuals – and entire civilisations – can "sublime"; that is, leave the material universe behind altogether and segue into some mysterious immaterial existence.

 

And finally, should a Culture citizen's natural body give out, once the appropriate respects have been paid, they will be displaced directly into the heart of their home sun.

 

Want to read more? Check out the Culture series.

 

So long, and thanks for all the drones.


Via James Keith
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Star Trek: 10 Awesome-Sounding Projects That Never Got Made

Star Trek: 10 Awesome-Sounding Projects That Never Got Made | science world | Scoop.it

Over the 49 year history of Star Trek, the franchise spread itself across a lot of mediums, including TV, comics, books, film, and video games. But along the way to the Trek we know, there have been plenty of projects that never made it past the idea stage, including the Enterprise Vegas attraction pictured above. There’s no real way to figure out the total number of ideas for Treks that never were; there’s not a lot of documentation on the games, for example, so we have no idea how many great Trek games died at the concept stage before we got the final products.

 

And for a lot of the unproduced Treks we do know about, there isn’t all that much out there on the internet. While there are a few exceptions, most of the unproduced Trek ideas have only a few paragraphs on Memory Alpha, at best, as their obituaries. Most of them are episode concepts for the shows, but there are a few movies and show ideas there too.

 

In no particular order, here are 10 awesome Trek projects that never got made


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Twitter / Fascinatingpics: Volcano Explosion from Space. ...

RT @Fascinatingpics: Volcano Explosion from Space. http://t.co/pF3AHRDcdv
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Neuroscientists Discover New Molecular Mechanism for Long-Term Memory Formation

Neuroscientists Discover New Molecular Mechanism for Long-Term Memory Formation | science world | Scoop.it

The team investigated the role of a gene called Baf53b, also known as ACTL6B or actin-like 6B, in long-term memory formation. Baf53b is one of several proteins making up a molecular complex called nBAF.

 

Mutations in the proteins of the nBAF complex have been linked to several intellectual disorders, including Coffin-Siris syndrome, Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome and sporadic autism. One of the key questions the team addressed is how mutations in components of the nBAF complex lead to cognitive impairments.

 

The team used mice bred with mutations in Baf53b. While this genetic modification did not affect the mice’s ability to learn, it did notably inhibit long-term memories from forming and severely impaired synaptic function.

“These findings present a whole new way to look at how long-term memories form,” said Prof Wood, who co-authored a paper in Nature Neuroscience.

 

“They also provide a mechanism by which mutations in the proteins of the nBAF complex may underlie the development of intellectual disability disorders characterized by significant cognitive impairments.”

 

How does this mechanism regulate gene expression required for long-term memory formation? Most genes are tightly packaged by a chromatin structure – chromatin being what compacts DNA so that it fits inside the nucleus of a cell. That compaction mechanism represses gene expression. Baf53b, and the nBAF complex, physically open the chromatin structure so specific genes required for long-term memory formation are turned on. The mutated forms of Baf53b did not allow for this necessary gene expression.

 

“The results from this study reveal a powerful new mechanism that increases our understanding of how genes are regulated for memory formation,” Prof Wood said.

 

The researchers believe the discovery of this mechanism adds another piece to the puzzle in the ongoing effort to uncover the mysteries of memory and, potentially, certain intellectual disabilities.

 

“Our next step is to identify the key genes the nBAF complex regulates. With that information, we can begin to understand what can go wrong in intellectual disability disorders, which paves a path toward possible therapeutics.”


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Where Are Our Bright Science Fiction Futures?

Where Are Our Bright Science Fiction Futures? | science world | Scoop.it

Whatever happened to science fiction that was, you know… fun?

 

I asked myself that question while watching trailers for this summer’s crop of sci-fi blockbusters. On the one hand, there’s the charmingly-titled Oblivion, in which Tom Cruise returns to an Earth ruined by ecological disaster, and discover new ways in which man’s inhumanity towards man has impacted the development of society. On the other hand, there’s After Earth (pictured), in which Will Smith and his son return to an Earth ruined by ecological disaster, and fight for their very survival while confronting their inability to relate as a family.

 

Both films are filled with the eye-popping special effects that make for box-office smashes these days, and the presence of such big names as Cruise and Smith won’t hurt things, either. And yet… There’s something particularly hopeless about the tone of both films; unless either film (or both) has a climactic Deus ex machina, it’s likely they’ll end with the Earth essentially destroyed, no matter how happy the ending is otherwise.Congratulations!, the message would appear to be, The day has been saved, but we still killed out planet — call it a semi-win?

 

There was a stretch of time — from the early 20th century through the beginning of comic books — when science fiction was an exercise in optimism and, what is these days referred to as, a “can-do” attitude. There appeared to be no problem that couldn’t be dealt with either by the one-two punch of positive thinking and, well, punching— or by intellect and inspiration: New inventions were dreamed up that automated everyday tasks and made the impossible not only possible, but commonplace.

 

The zenith of such optimistic science fiction was arguably the original Star Trek,  which presented a vision of humanity that had transcended societal ills like racism and bigotry, resorting to violence only when the situation called for it. (Which, admittedly, seemed to happen on a weekly basis). Such strong belief in the ability of humanity to overcome its worst impulses continued all the way through the 1980s revival, Star Trek: The Next Generation, with an almost off-puttingly perfect crew demonstrating how boring life could be without outside stimulus.

 

Of course, Star Trek returned to life with 2009′s JJ Abrams reboot, and there’s a new installment this year. Surely Star Trek Into Darkness offers an antidote to dystopian science fiction?

 

Or maybe not.

 

The redirecting of Trek into a commentary about the nature of terrorism and revenge is an interesting choice, and one that seems at odds with traditional Star Trek values. That’s perhaps intentional; producers have spoken about making this movie for those who don’t like Star Trek, and it’s clearly been judged that this is the best way to reach new audiences. After all, while the idea of a humanity that’s evolved past its basest tendencies may seem far-fetched, the idea of wanting vengeance after a terrorist attack is, in this world, all too easy to understand.

 

That’s the edge that downbeat science fiction has over the more hopeful alternative. It’s easier to imagine a world where things go wrong, rather than right to believe in a future where we manage to screw it all up.

Such pessimism and fascination with future dystopias really took hold of mainstream SF in the 1970s and ’80s, as pop culture found itself struggling with general disillusionment as a whole. Certainly, at the time, there was much to be disillusioned about; the optimism and hope of the late ’60s fell apart as the hippie dream of a new Age of Aquarius came face to face with a reality filled with an unpopular war, civil rights riots and all-new reasons to feel suspicious of and disappointed in those in authority, so it’s hardly any surprise that the future became a darker, less inviting place.

 

The problem is, science fiction seems to have become stuck in a rut of hopelessness. It’s difficult to remember the last mainstream science fiction project that didn’t include at heavy dollop of cynicism and surrender at its core, and that strikes me as a failure of the genre as a whole. Science fiction is all about imagining the new and unimaginable, surely. If we can’t imagine a world that isn’t a mess because of what we’ve done, shouldn’t we try harder?



Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/03/29/where-are-our-bright-science-fiction-futures/#ixzz2P2rpal8G


Via James Keith
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