The Fault, Dear Humans, Is Not In Our Tools, But In Ourselves

An interesting little article here from Charlie Stross (h/t Winchell Chung), concerning China’s new “credit score” system that incorporates all sorts of other social information and which looks to be shaping up into a horrendous mechanism of total social control, the way they’re using it.

This, of course, is relevant to our SFnal interests around here, seeing as the Empire, among other polities of the Worlds, is very much into the use of reputation networks and gamification for all sorts of purposes.

…of course, confronted with this sort of thing, the great and the good *there* pretty much shrug. Of course outworlder barbarians turn simple, benign technologies into grotesque engines of mass oppression! That’s what barbarians do, definitionally – what do you expect from korasmóníëdwelling madmen, hardwired for conformity and for seeing said conformity as a virtue, with no civilized sense of tratalmir ulkith? It certainly shouldn’t be that they’d use empowering technologies in rational, life-enhancing ways like us decent, civilized, letter-and-spirit-of-the-Contract-adherent folks.

In short: shit happens in the Periphery.

Sigh.

(It ruins their society-level rep score, though.)

Question: Technological Development

Another question to answer:

And finally, how much far advanced Imperial science/technology compared with other Presidium Powers?

Well, now, that’s a complicated question, covering a whole lot of different fields and people and… yeah. I probably can’t give you a full answer, but let’s see what I can say (with the additional caveat that this is the publically-known *there* view).

The Empire, by and large, does lead the edge of advancement for several reasons, including but not limited to (a) being ideologically and personally inclined to push the edge of progress For Science!; (b) being entirely comfortable with buying, imitating, etc., good ideas other people have for their own use, unlike more xenophobic cultures which often seem to reject ideas just because someone else thought of them first; and (c) being very flexible in using new technologies (the economy is laissez-faire, the ethical standards don’t wibble about much beyond informed consent, and so forth)…

…but it’s not nearly as far ahead as it might be, because the Empire’s set-up is diametrically opposed to keeping such things secret. Even if its governance could get away with imposing the sort of controls needed to keep technological secrets out of other people’s hands, which it couldn’t, it knows perfectly well that security by obscurity never works in the long term, that keeping technological secrets reduces the total amount of innovation you have to draw on, and, for that matter, that keeping other people mired in primitivism for your own advantage is, well, remarkably morally ugly.

(In relative terms, that is. An Imperial would point out that by giving up the opportunity to be further ahead in relative terms, they’ve actually made more progress in absolute terms.)

Specifically of the Presidium powers, the Photonic Network trails a short distance behind the Empire, and may actually be ahead in certain areas: the difference often isn’t much, because they have similarly sensible policies and are very good at information-sharing. The others make up a clump a little further back, with the League of Meridian bringing up the rear of that clump because their voters often issue knee-jerk moral-panic bans due to what amounts to squickedness; often they get over it when they see that other people have been able to use such technologies without causing whatever it was that squicked them, but the tendency is enough to notably slow the rate of adoption.

(Such is as expected, really: the Ephemeral Worlds, Rejectionists, and people whose planetary economies can’t support high technologies have other reasons to explain why they can’t make it into the Great Power club.)

Trope-a-Day: Machine Empathy

Machine Empathy: It looks this way – actually, it mostly is this way, thanks to those population demographics that made it necessary, due to lack of a large disposable workforce, for the Empire to adopt automation as early and as often as possible, and therefore ensured that lots of people not only had plenty of experience using machines, but also in customizing machines, fixing machines, and adapting machines to do things that the original builders didn’t think of.  Make those cultural universals for a few millennia, and you’ll have lots of machine empathy going on.

But anyway, in the modern era, a lot of what looks like this would be more properly described as Technopathy, even if the underlying machine empathy is still there.

Trope-a-Day: Older is Better / Lost Technology

Older is Better/Lost Technology: Subverted in that while there are some awfully nice bits of leftover Precursor and/or elder race technology around, and piles of interesting things buried in the archives (assuming that some leftover perversion doesn’t eat your soul when you go looking for it), it’s more or less absolutely averted within the lifespan of any given civilization.  Things get better, not worse, the more so for those people who are appropriately obsessive about not losing stuff along the way.

And in any case, in many areas, modern civilization has beaten the best (extinct) elder-race tech that’s been found.  After all, it became the starting point for development.

Trope-a-Day: Burn The Witch!

Burn The Witch!: Hardly unknown, both in the form in which advanced technology is considered to be magic (see: Magic From Technology) and in the form in which it’s merely considered about as immoral as magic, when dealing with more technologically or socially backward worlds  (This is another problem traditionally solved with orbital artillery.  As in, say, the Bombardment of Firital.)

Also, historically, what the Somárans did to the founder of the present mainstream eldraeic religion.  (See: Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions.)  It… didn’t work out so well.

Trope-a-Day: Magic From Technology

Magic From Technology: Played straight; it is a materialist, science fiction universe; any magic we see is, indeed, one or another form of technology, misunderstood.  Which seems to happen with truly annoying frequency every time a Sufficiently Advanced culture runs into an Insufficiently Advanced one, especially with any technology that doesn’t have big obvious machinery associated with it.

This is annoying as hell to most of the people on the wrong end of it.  (The Imperials, in particular, hate being stuck with the “magic” label because of several reasons, primary among which are disliking falsehood, disdaining the respect of people who are basing it entirely on ignorance, and being proud of actually understanding every tiny nuance of what they’re doing at its real level of complexity, and therefore considering having it labeled as “magic” to be depriving them of their rightful awesomeness, dammit.)  There’re always a few who are inclined to try to pull the “We Are Mighty Wizards – or Gods – from the Sky, Now Give Us All Your Liquid Assets” scam, but it’s just so tacky.

Also, more to the real reason it’s less done than it might be, quite unsafe, given just how many expectations people have for their gods.  After all, we nailed ours to a stick.