Wednesday, April 28, 2010
A trip to the mall confirms body modification interests
(no, not me.. I am decidedly "factory" and un-modified)
So, in pondering all this Cyberpunk stuff I really wanted to design a believable game world. All too often game worlds are designed almost based on a drawing or single frame of reference regardless of how such a thing can be explained. For example, I think "Rifts" was designed based upon a visit to a custom car show -- "Man, that van with the airbrushed Dragon fighting a wizard in a mecha was awesome!" And BOOM a game world was created...
I am joking, Rifts is a favorite of mine (not really to play but to read and look at all the great pictures and ideas). But I didn't want to create a world without valid explanation.
So, as such I am forced to ignore Sci-Fi cannon because some things just are not realistic in my setting of the year 2032. Robots and space living might exist but only slightly more common than the present day (there are Robots with minimal AI and there are people living on the International Space Station, but tell that to a kid in Mogadishu).
I am totally ignoring Cybernetics and Bionics for the same reasons. It is not that people are uninterested in body modification and it is not that people don't want to spend money on gadgets, it is that I don't think that is a combined interest. Body modification has two classes, both want to control what they see in the mirror but they have divergent ideas of what they want to see. One group could never be young or skinny enough and choose the more socially acceptable route of cosmetic surgery. The second group is interested in a different aesthetic, and chooses piercings and tattoos.
While people are willing to do strange things to their bodies (things we should not get into but a quick Google will reveal), I don't see people ready to cut off arms and legs to get robotic ones. Without demand, the development of robotic limbs is and will be stagnant. Recent advancements based upon war injuries (young men who are injured and want to return to active duty military) has given us some life-enhancing technologies. In 2008 a runner who had prosthetic lower legs was disallowed to compete in the Olympics because his prosthetics gave him a mechanical advantage over runners with flesh ankles and feet. But these are not the prosthetics we think of when the topic of bionics is discussed, but rather his prosthetics were metal "blades" which act more like springs attached below the knee (far cry from the art in Rifts).
As DARPA and other groups research these prosthetics and the technologies to accurately control them, the central question to forming a Cyberpunk market for Bionics must be addressed: "Will the technology and the demand meet at a point prior to 2032 where consumers will willingly hack off perfectly good limbs to have mechanical prosthetics installed?"
Before you answer there is a critical factor to consider, Sex. Will a prosthetic make a man more or less attractive to a woman? Would a Rifts "Full Conversion" be able to meet a woman at a bar or even on Harmony.com? Well there is "Acrotomophilia", or the attraction to people who are missing limbs. I just think that the present and near future population has a long way to go before such body modifications are mainstream enough to support a demand for mechanical replacement of limbs, and that was provided the technology provided even similar levels of performance to normal biological functions.
I feel the future is in Biogenics and the generation of living tissues via cloning or growth in laboratories. Presently ears and noses have been grown in labs and the technology is developing to use stem cells to regrow adult tissue (http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pgen.1000915).
I think it would be far easier for Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Conan the Barbarian) to meet a woman than Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the Terminator). Biogenically grown tissues would be natural and could offer better performance than tissues a person might have via birth.
But, what has me doubting this is a trip to the mall. I went to Teavana and was waited on by a group of heavily modified twenty-somethings. The woman who waited on me had pierced cheeks, the bridge of her nose, ears (of course), several tattoos and a sub-dermal implant. Now I consider I have an open mind, but I can't say I get the sub-dermal implants. Hers looked like a misshaped heart (it was hard to tell because of the scarring). But, if my attitude about her modifications when our age differences are about ten years what about twenty years from now?
Would the world trend toward real horns and perhaps functional tails in twenty years or will people be willing to have hands and feet taken to get robotic ones in their place? Which would you rather have?
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