Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Technology Under Pressure

It was mentioned somewhere else that technology determines many features in an alien civilization. You could say that the development of some new technology exerts pressure on a civilization to change and adapt to it. The pressure might come via competition, for example, if one textile-maker in a clan figures out a new dye, members of other clans which trade with this clan might prefer textiles using this dye, and the textile-makers in the other clans would want to be able to get some, and perhaps would engage in some investigation or even some spying to bring the new dye technology over to their villages.

Pressure goes the other way as well. It comes from the Malthusian pressure that all alien societies evolve with, as Malthusian behavior is the behavior that drives evolution. Until late in the technology pathway, when that behavior might be deliberately modified, it exists and provides an impetus to use technology. It prevents the abandonment of technology, making its development a one-way street, with only a few exceptions, occurring perhaps through war or pestilence reducing the population.

The process is straightforward, but it has its own quirks. Someone develops an advance in technology, such as a better slingshot for hunting birds or whatever edible substitute there is that flies around on their planet, and uses it to increase the sustenance level of his/her/its clan. Two things happen. Assume the technology spreads all over the alien world, to all the hunters, over some period, maybe a thousand years. The first thing that happens is that the clans which have the technology have hunters which can support more offspring. The growth rate of the clans' population is jacked up a tiny bit. Of course, there are incredible randomizing effects that go on relative to population, such as weather and climate, predators, migration, floods and volcanoes, battles, personal disputes, and many more. But all in all, after all the random factors are averaged out, the population growth rate is a bit bigger, maybe 0.01% per year as opposed to 0.009% without the new slingshot technology. The clans with it grow in numbers, Malthusian-style, until the saturation effect happens, and there aren't enough birds available to satisfy the successive generations of hunters, and maintain the growth rate bump-up. So the growth rate drops back, but the population is larger because of the technology.

Now they actually need that technology to maintain their numbers. If slingshot-caught birds are not still added to the catch, the higher numbers cannot, on the average, be sustained. Again, there are so many random factors that have to be averaged over that listing them would be distracting, but on the average, they need the technology. They feel the pressure to use it, as without it there would be more hunger. In other words, they depend on the technology, and risk their numbers on its continued existence and availability.

Thus, the response to technology is to use it, and it creates a dependence, and it cannot be easily abandoned. This just keeps going on, but it takes on a new aspect. What happens when the technology begins to lose its productivity? In the slingshot situation, if the type of plant needed for the handle becomes less and less viable, due to some mutation of pests, and there is no substitute, what must happen? There are two choices for the clans facing this problem and one is to slide back to their previous level that existed without this particular technology, but the other one is to force the development of some alternate technology, such as snares. If snare technology is developed and can replace the slingshot productivity, they can maintain their numbers, averaged of course. So it can be said that the use of technology provides not just a pressure to not abandon its use, but to develop other technology, as technology sometimes disappears of its own accord.

When the alien civilization enters the agricultural grand transition, and grows whatever crops grow on their planet, their numbers will also increase. They can't stop farming. They can't stop husbanding domesticated animals. Whatever other parts there are of their agriculture, they can't be abandoned unless the civilization is willing to suffer a population decline.

The same process works when the alien civilization enters and passes through the industrial grand transition. Now they are dependent on whatever their planet affords for technology in this period, most likely the use of metals and other fabricated materials, energy sources such as hydrocarbon fuels, agricultural supplements gained by mining, and so on. Old functions such as transportation and new functions such as communication become completely enabled by some portions of technology, and there is no going back. The civilization now is not just being changed by technology, it is being made totally dependent.

When the genetic grand transition is entered and progressed through by the alien civilization, their dependence on it grows even stronger. In the earlier phases, if some horrendous event occurred, some aliens might fall back on the hunting traditions of their civilization, but after the genetic transformations that the genetics revolution makes possible, that becomes increasingly untenable. Genetic optimization for life in large arcologies, almost but not quite hermetically sealed, with most experiences generated artificially, will not maintain the abilities that the alien species evolved with. Perhaps the alien citizens could struggle to maintain some of these skills, but having a full set and having the training be realistic and stressful enough might not happen, especially in a civilization where work was off-loaded to robots, automation and intellos. Perhaps the civilization's members, being by this time universally more intelligent, would evaluate the risk of technological failure and decide there was too much redundancy for that to happen and that their risk analyses were even better than needed to maintain the current state of affairs.

This conclusion may be utterly true, but the point is that technology does not just change society, it transforms it not only into having ways that use it, but into having ways which depend on its continued existence and continued functioning. By the end of the genetic grand transition, there is no fall-back escape, unless there was some specific choices made. One choice, to ensure the continuity of the species in the event of something completely unexpected and unforeseen, would be the establishment of what has been called the 'left-behinds', alien citizens not taken into the arcologies, not upgraded genetically, not made part of the normal course of events in the civilization, but simply left behind at an early stage of technology. There are likely many ramifications of such a choice, and perhaps we can investigate them later.

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