Sufficiently Advanced Technology
Is indistinguishable from magic
“What we usually consider impossible are simply engineering problems. There are no laws of physics preventing them.”
- Dr Michio Kaku
Jacob sat down in front of the monitor and blinked once in excitement. The screen lit up and his personal dashboard appeared across the LEDs. He took pleasure in the old school 16K display, as satisfying as reading a traditional book. Being a hipster had a coolness to it that no technology could reproduce in this day and age.
Today, Jacob was going to build a dinosaur. It was a high school side project that many of his peers had already done, but his was going to be different. Jacob had an idea to make it seem like he created it out of thin air… like magic. THAT would be really impressive. Hopefully impressive enough to get into the University of Waterloo.
At first he planned to use an open source blueprint of a velociraptor, but those are pack animals and really only impressive when you have more than one. Jacob wanted something big, something different. Everyone was doing decentralized stuff nowadays, so he was hoping that going old school would be a differentiating factor. Jacob was going to make a T-rex.
When he was younger, Jacob would spend hours just browsing the endless library of pre-built organisms and printing them in his garage. Writing DNA base pairs from scratch was something he had always wanted to learn how to do, but never got around to. There were a lot of distractions from the infinity of leisurely activities available to youths, but luckily learning itself was embedded directly into the games. By age 14 he had already created his own pet — the Tigger Cub.
Pulling up the T-rex’s saved file from his hippocampus, Jacob got to work designing the skin accurate down to each hair. By noon he had a working model and enough time to watch some cooking videos and order lunch. It was always satisfying to see the artists create their dishes from scratch… so authentic and raw. Definitely worth the premium on price, not that the artists really needed the coins. Money wasn’t as much an issue of survival as it was a measure of social fame. Maybe after lunch he would spend a few hours live-streaming a Twitch.tv play-through of the conquest of Rome. Jacob had always thought that was such an interesting time to be alive.
“What one man calls God, another calls the laws of physics”
- Nikola Tesla
More hours than expected past, and by 8pm Jacob was exhausted and ready to tune-out of his VR console. As he watched the sky outside his apartment window shimmer in blending hues of sunset grey, he couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed in himself. Another day spent living in a simulation instead of seizing the moment and making something real. Jacob did not want to be another mindless human, but that was really difficult to not do considering how addictive EVERYTHING was. Even the toilet seat he sat in was pure aesthetic and perfectly ergonomic. It wasn’t uncommon for people to spend hours in the bathroom: pants on the ground, eyes to the sky, and excrement floating in the toilet water. A hilarious notion until you see it at scale.
The next day Jacob woke up early to catch the sunrise and continue with his project. The T-rex blueprint was ready to be printed, but upon loading his MakerBot™ discovered that his carbon cartridge was empty… again. Why is it that the most commonly used element always disproportionately gets used up before all the other elements in the pack? It’s not like the manufactures don’t know exactly what everyone is printing, so is it really that big of an ask? No matter, 10 minutes online delivery meant Jacob had 10 minutes for a quick round of GameLynx — but no more. This T-rex had to be made today.
An hour later Jacob loaded the carbon into the printer and set it to ‘EXPORT PACK’ mode. Within 60 seconds, the exact amounts of carbon, hydrogen and all other ingredients were outputted into one small ink cartridge the size of a human hand. Jacob unlocked his chest and placed the ink cartridge beside his artificial heart. Before closing the chamber, he kissed two fingers on his right hand and touched the warm rubber of his heart, thanking his parents for purchasing the device for his coming of age. Investing in a good heart was the best thing a parent could do for their child, and came with many advantages that heartless people couldn’t have.
Feeling extra happy, Jacob decided he would walk to the park instead of calling a Lyft. He didn’t need anything else besides a backpack with two drones, some thread, a camera, a prop magic wand, and his amateur set of Ant-Assemblers. Just in case, he also brought his augmented reality contact lenses.
As Jacob walked along the skywalk and peered down at the people below his bridge-level, he wondered what their lives were like. Everyone was well fed and enjoyed every available leisure, but not all were alike. Why do some people accept the pleasures of the status quo while others looked to the stars? Back in the revolutionary days, people would argue over expanding outwards into the galaxy versus expanding inwards to the virtual world. Expansion outwards eventually won the political agenda, but both futures were realized as breakthroughs in quantum computing and AI became the norm. Although their bodies were physically present, most peoples’ minds were in the virtual world.
“The more I study science, the more I believe in God.”
- Albert Einstein
At the park Jacob searched for the perfect spot to set up. Occasionally he would spot another person and wave in response to their friendly greetings. In general, anyone you meet at the park is someone you can trust because you know your realities are similar. After finding the perfect spot to unload his gear, he began to unspool his thread. This was his plan:
Step 1: Hook up each drone to a thread and have them weave a shell.
Step 2: Release the Ant-Assemblers and have them build along the chassis of the shell using matter from his Ink Cartridge.
Step 3: Assemble the T-rex embryo and continuously produce nutrients to grow the creature.
Jacob identified a few key points about this strategy.
First, there was technically still a physical printing chamber, but it was created on-demand and hacky enough to not suffer from most of the constraints.
Second, the Ant-Assemblers were slow and not as sophisticated as those military grade nano-bots. They could not stitch together bare atoms and had to work with manufactured molecules, which ultimately depended on Jacobs’ heart to produce in its internal fusion chamber. What this really meant was that he could not physically go anywhere else while his T-rex was being made, and he would be bored.
Finally, the drones, the thread and the tube from his heart to the egg would all be visible. That was not so magical, so to counter this, he had a very low tech solution. He would spray reflective paint over all the equipment (except the magic wand) to reflect the consistent blue of the sky. On that particular day, Jacob knew the clouds were being used elsewhere and thus the sky above the park would all be the same colour. On video, all you would see is blue.
With his camera set up and all the equipment ready, Jacob began the process. The drones danced around to create a dense fibrous net which soon crystallized into a shell. His heart pumped a continuous stream of nutrients to the shell which grew larger every few minutes as drones flew around to spray more reflective paint on new surfaces. Although Jacob had done the calculations on how long the entire process would take, he did not anticipate how long he would perceive the passage of time. Even with augmented reality contact lens, he could not distract himself from the anticipation of waiting and found himself just staring at the reflection of the sky. There weren’t even any clouds for his imagination to distract him — just blue.
6 hours later, the T-rex was ready to be hatched. A tired Jacob looked at the camera and forced himself awake to begin his theatrics. Cue the music, hype the viewer, and with a wave of his magical wand he hit the thin shell and shattered it. Blood splashed everywhere, and like magic, out fell a full sized Tyrannosaurus Rex. The massive dinosaur roared as proof to itself that it was alive, took a few steps forward and fell to the ground. Despite knowing how to roar, it could not walk nor comprehend the world around it.
Although Jacob had created life many times, he had never created something so large. Cautiously, Jacob walked towards his creation in sheer awe, both animals’ eyes locked in a mutual gaze. The camera captured their interactions, each eye interpreting its own version of reality: mechanical, biological and virtual. None more real than the others.