Living Object Protocol

So, a little while back I was having this discussion (scroll down) regarding starships, and where exactly the seat of their identity might be said to lie, with particular reference to the Ship of Theseus problem.

And, as it happens, Imperial technology already has a thing or two to say on this sort of question. Let me tell you about living objects, and about the Living Object Protocol.

Of course, the first thing to say there is that while, technically, a “living object” is just an object that implements the Living Object Protocol, it’s still something of an obsolete term. This is the modern age, after all, and you’d have to go to some barbarous outworld to encounter an object that didn’t implement the Living Object Protocol. Even shrubs and rocks, thanks to the nanoecology, implement the Living Object Protocol. In practice, therefore, they’re just called “objects”.

So what is it?

It’s ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things at its apogee. LOP turns the objects it’s applied to into smart, meshed (wirelessly connected to the dataweave and to objects around them), self-aware, location-aware objects.

At a minimum (the “base subset”) this supports limited self-knowledge. Every object is aware of its own identity (both hard-coded, by type, and whatever its owner names it); it is aware of its creator (designer and manufacturer); it is aware of its owner (and ownership history); and it is aware of its location.

(Which, as recent fic implies, makes it very hard to steal things if the owner left the ackles at default or set ‘em even half-sensibly. In some cases even more so – you stole someone’s phone? That’s not going to let you call anyone but Emergency Response. Steal their gun, and… well, let’s say getting into a firefight with that would be a real bad idea.)

Virtually every significant object – anything more than a bolt – comes with the “informational subset”, too, which in combination can tell you virtually everything about them; their user manuals and other documentation explaining how to properly use and care for them; customer support information and links to object-centric memeweaves; specifications and product data; maintenance procedures and history; manufacturing origins and components/ingredients; fabber recipes for customization; the purchase invoice; proper end-life procedures for recycling and/or disposal. Such documentation is self-updating, with information automatically appearing regarding product updates, recalls, and required service calls, along with geolinks to service centers or downloadable service packs.

Such objects are also readily searchable; it’s easy to track down your favorite mug with a simple query to your home dataweave for its location by name, or even for the locations of every object in your house identifying itself as a mug. Search engines can perform a similar task for objects in the broader world – at least, for objects that you own, or which are flagged for public accessibility.

With little effort, therefore, it’s easy to understand where and what anything is, when and where you got it, how much it cost, what it’s made from, where, and by whom, how to use it, how you should never use it, what other models are available, how it’s evolved from previous versions, how it might change in the future, what other users think about it and how they’ve tweaked it, what creative uses it’s been put to by heteroprax users, and how you might dispose of it safely.

More sophisticated objects also support the Interweave Command/Control Protocol (“WeaveControl”) enabling them to be controlled and commanded remotely, and providing access to both their internal diagnostics, and any sensors with which they’re equipped: your bath can report its temperature and the current water level; your chairs know who’s sitting in them; your milk bottles can tell you if the milk they contain is fresh; and so forth.

Objects which naturally come in groups support cooperative LOP and WeaveControl subsets to be queried or commanded as a group; of which the most obvious example is LOP enumeration. A handful of LOP-compliant Imperial coins, for example, can be ordered to count themselves and report their total value.

Likewise, hierarchical objects automatically cooperate and pass information up and down the hierarchy, the superior controlling and coordinating its inferiors. A vehicle or building’s structural members can cooperatively use their localizers to validate the structure against its blueprint, or compute current stresses and strains in the structure.

SO – in relevant context, want to know whose that starship is, or what that module was part of before you got it, or the maintenance history of that booster, or the fuel status of that drone, or the details of the current consist?

Ask it.

You’ll get a valid answer. The LOP protocols will reject any invalid transfers, identities, or assemblies you try to push through them. So it will always know…

Author’s Note: Hey, Y’All, Watch This!

For those wondering about some of the technical background:

The chief obstacles to using “normal” computers in space are heat generation (given the average spacecraft’s limited heat budget – disposing of heat in vacuum is hard), cooling (because in microgravity, convection doesn’t work – there go heat-sinks without a lot of active coolant-movement devices), ability to work in low air pressure and/or vacuum if something goes wrong, and the prevalence of ionizing  and other EM radiation, which tends to muck up delicate electronics.  For a large part of history, this was handled by many of the same compromises we made – reduced transistor density, specially hardened chips and designs, magnetic core memory, and so forth.

(Fun fact: this problem was particularly bad back in the Apollo-era equivalents of Projects Phoenix, Oculus, and Silverfall, because they were using Orion-style nuclear pulse drives.  Which is to say, during atmospheric ascent, a crapload of EMP happening right near the flight computers.  Back then, they were using “electron plumbing” machines, because despite their space program being relatively later in their technological timeline and thus having better ICs available, they still were by no means EMP-immune.  “Electron plumbing” is a technological path we didn’t take – essentially, evolved thermionic valves/vacuum tubes to higher orders of complexity.  Never widely used, because ICs were still a better technology overall, but for this specific use, excellent.)

But in the modern era of spaceflight, they can use standard commercial computers, because those use optronic nanocircs.  Those run cool (no need to wiggle significant electrons about; photons are much easier to handle) inherently, and care much, much less about passing ionizing and other EM radiation.  Also, all but the most cut-down “standard” ML runtimes or hardprocs (a processor that implements the ML runtime directly in hardware) incorporate all the real-time and safety-critical features that you’d need for spaceflight applications, because those features are also used in general automation and robotics and other applications that are pretty close to ubiquitous downside as well.  And so does the standard IIP networking protocol, and so forth, and for much the same reasons.

As for WeaveControl, it’s more formal name is Interweave Command/Control Protocol; for reasons of technological evolution, plus much more prevalent hackerish tendencies in the population, just about every device manufactured – cars, lightbulbs, drink-makers, ovens, coins – comes with an IIP interface and a WeaveControl endpoint, which lets you run all the functions of the device from an external command source.  (It’s become such a ubiquitous open standard that there’s no reason not to spend the couple of micros it takes to install it.)  You really can script just about anything to do anything, or hook it up to interfaces of your choosing on any device you have that can run them.  Things as simple as programming your alarm clock to tell the appropriate devices to make your morning cuppa, lay out suitable clothes according to the weather and the style of the day, cook your breakfast, fetch and program your paper with the morning’s news, order a car to come take you to work, and program its music system with a playlist suitable for your mood are downright commonplace.

But they’re serious about anything/anything compatibility.  You can program your bath from your car, drive your car from your PDA, operate an industrial 3D printer from seat 36B on the sub-ballistic – hell, run your building elevator from your pocket-watch if you can think of any reason why that might be something you’d want to do.

Some of these applications are, ah, less advisable than others!

Hey, Y’all, Watch This!

“…things have changed since the old days, gentlesophs.  If you were paying attention in history class, you’ll have learned all about the exotica they had to use to compute in the early days of spaceflight, but anything you’ll work with on a starship now will be familiar to you already – optronic nanocircs, ML-based runtimes and hardprocs, IIP networking, WeaveControl command/control protocol, self-organizing technecologies, and so forth.”

“For those of you whose eyes lit up at the mention of WeaveControl – who have doubtless heard all the usual tall tales in spacer bars – yes, this does mean that technically you can fly a ship, from a shuttle to a dreadnought, using a portable slate or even that fob terminal you use to call your car.  If you pass this course with flying colors and buy me a few drinks, I might tell you some true stories about when it’s really been done, and how a few of those people even survived doing it.”

“But there’s a reason they give the flight-control chairs those surround displays and fancy hand-rigs, and for that same reason, if I catch any of you trying it during this course, however high your rating from flight school or even if you are Ithával’s own special gift to piloting, you’re going to be spending the rest of your time here cleaning the airlocks from the outside.  That’s because I’m old and kind, and you’ll be young and stupid.  What your future employers, insurers, space-control authorities and the gods who look after fools and spacers will do to you if you try it after graduation without your bridge and auxiliaries both being shot off first won’t be nearly so nice.”

– introduction to ‘Introduction to Starship Computers’, Academician Airin Silverfall-ith-Adae

Because You Deserve It

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