Holistic Technology

Holism is the idea that systems and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts, and that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. In Altered States, then, one can consider “holistic technology” — because in Altered States, the Internet of Things has been taken to extremes (though not yet to absurdity. Yet.)

It all begins with the ubiquitous computers I mentioned in a previous post. A microcomputer is Complexity 3 and a dollar. Using the Altered States extended computer rules, we can add the modifiers Obsolete (-2 Complexity, CF -0.8), Dedicated (+1 Complexity, but limited to a single program, CF +0), and Light-Duty (Suffers a -2 in contests with other computers, CF -0.3). Using truly multiplicative cost factors1 that works out to Complexity 2 (more or less equal to the first smartphones) for fourteen cents. It’s limited to a single pre-programmed piece of software, much like many embedded devices today, and is at a penalty when working against other computers — but we don’t care about that.

What we have just provided stats for is the heart of the living object.

Living Objects

In Altered States, most significant matériel has one of those insubstantial computers embedded, along with cheap sensors and very-short-range transponders. Anything with this basic embedded package of hardware and software is a living object. It becomes a “smart” mesh-networked node, with a limited sense of self– and environmental awareness.

Self-awareness includes identity. This includes a universally-unique machine identifier and whatever common name its owner has given it; knowledge of its designers and manufacturers; and knowledge of its owners, current and previous. Environmental awareness, at minimum, includes knowledge of its location, both where it physically is and where it is supposed to be, as well as who is currently holding or operating it.

By itself this is still tremendously useful, if only in terms of theft recovery. If the owner of a device configured it even half-sensibly, it will not work for the thief. A mislaid phone will tell you who it belongs to, and let you call their designated emergency contacts or the local emergency services. A mislaid firearm will refuse to fire without some strong convincing. However, living objects can do so much more.

The tiny slips of embedded computer within living objects contain a great deal of storage capacity, much more than is obviously necessary for its task. Empty storage space is like a data vacuum, and like nature, the Internet abhors a vacuum. Practically every object more complicated than a hammer comes with reams of data which can tell you essentially everything about them: user’s manuals explaining how to properly use and care for them; specifications and product data; maintenance procedures and maintenance history; manufacturing location and component origins; the invoices from every sale; proper end-of-life recycling procedures; &c. For some devices — those the manufacturer is willing to support — this data is self-updating, with automatic notification of product updates and recalls.

And that’s still not all, because every living object is hooked into a mesh, the Living Object Network.

The Living Object Network

Every living object will connect with each other and with the local wireless networks, automatically and seamlessly, unless otherwise instructed. They can be queried for any public information they are aware of. They self-organise, hierarchically and into groups. If you unlock their access controls, those with agency can be remotely commanded and controlled, while those without still can offer their internal diagnostics and sensor data.

A living object can be searched for; typically with freedom on the local network (ask the nearest media wall where you left your keys, or your credit card), or via access controls over the Internet (“Honey, your phone says its in a hotel downtown. Who were you visting?”). It may be queried for the proper drivers to interface with any device-specific functions (i.e., things beyond the living object network protocols). A group of living objects can be asked to enumerate themselves — this seemed pointless to most people before the issuance of living object currency.

A smart house may be entirely made from and furnished with living objects, organised into a hierarchy underneath the living house’s computer brain — which is itself typically a limited AI, allowing you to query everything in natural language. The roof tells the house that it’s leaking. The house prices the repair job with several contractors, and tells you the estimates. You pick one and ask the house to draw you a bath while you get a snack. When you get to the kitchen, the fridge informs you that the milk says it’s beginning to go sour. You take the last two slices of bread out of the box for a sandwich, and the breadbox tells the house brain that it’s out. The house checks its standing grocery policies and orders more. As you start your sandwich, the house tells you your bath is up to temperature, and asks if it should keep it warm while you eat…

The Future

Even in a setting as science fiction as Altered States, the setting’s own fiction extends even further. Some imagine extending the Living Object Network to every manufactured object, down to each rivet in a tower. Environmentalists take that even further, to a world where the very rocks and trees can be queried for their information. Nanotech dreamers imagine decentralising the processing behind each living object’s awareness and imagine a solution to Theseus’ paradox.

Who knows? Give the world another few years…

  1. Multiply every CF together. In this case, $1 × -0.8 × -0.3 = 14¢. ^