1. Mr. Blue Dot
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    Mr. Blue Dot Member

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    Why would something be expensive in a post-scarcity society?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mr. Blue Dot, Apr 5, 2011.

    In my story mankind has spread a bit into space and has started mining asteroids. The resources from this, combined with advances in automated manufacturing allows Earth and all her colonies to become a post-scarcity society. This is great for the man on the street because even the "homeless" still live in paradise.

    However, this is not so great for me the author, because I have a piece of technology that only certain people can have. :mad:

    It's called an Interface, and it's a neural implant that allows easy interfacing with a variety of equipment and robotics. For example my MC used his once to send a cleaning robot to a different room because it was bugging him, then another time he disconnected from his own vision, and used his rocket ships sensors as eyes and he was able to see radar and x-rays. It also works as a communicator, he can talk through it, when he opens an email it appears to float in front of him, ect.

    So, you can see how this would be useful, and how basically every person in the solar system would want one. The problem is, I can only have two of my characters have them, but in this post scarcity society anybody who wanted one would be able to get one. So I need to come up with a reason why people wouldn't want it, or figure out some way of making it too expensive for the average person.

    I've come up with 2 potential solutions. The first is to make it into a very high skill procedure. Since goods and resources are so cheap, what will really have value is services. If neurosurgery is still only performed by human neurosurgeons it could drive up the cost of the interface. But I'm worried that this might confuse the reader unless I just infodump about the economy. I don't want to do that though, because the reader doesn't need to know anything about the economy.

    My second thought was to instead make the surgery a huge ordeal that people wouldn't want to put themselves through. I remember reading some where that patients are kept awake for brain surgery. This would probably be very disturbing if eyes had to be removed from their sockets so implants could be inserted. If the surgery takes several hours to perform, do you think people would think twice before getting it done, considering all the benefits that come with it? I guess there's some cons as well, the hardware can never be upgraded or installed over for instance, but would you get one? Keep in mind the surgery itself is gonna be painless. It's the future after all.

    I'm open to any thoughts and suggestions.
     
  2. Norule
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    Norule Member

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    Why dont you make it so that one of the materials that is needed doesnt exist anymore and the two that are made were prototypes while the material still existed
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    how about have it made from a family heirloom brought from Earth - made from a substance that is unidentifiable - or scarce or no longer available like maybe coal or gold that was mined so much it no longer exists.
     
  4. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    Does the common man need to know about the implants? I'm thinking some sort of mad-scientist experiment where the technology just never got released to the general public. Maybe it's not FDA approved, or the implants are being suppressed because it would cause too much social change.

    But having the procedure being both horrible to go through and needing a highly-trained specialist can be added on top of everything.
     
  5. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Just some ideas here:

    1. Legal restrictions. Many states (including Singapore as the most prominent example, but there are others such as Vietnam and Denmark) artificially raise the cost of owning an automobile so that only the rich (or very rich) can afford one. Procedures include high import tariffs, special taxes, high registration fees, or in the case of Singapore, a "certificate of entitlement". Such certficates could be auctioned, with only a hundred on offer every year.

    1b. Make the technology illegal, obtainable only through the black market.

    2. Rare materials are still rare. Sure, you might find an asteroid consisting only of Europium, but the chance is pretty small. Rare earths, Indium, and many other materials will always remain scarce. This being in the future (how far, may I ask?) you could even invent new elements. There is a potential "island of nuclear stability" in the nuclide chart some distance away from all human endeavours so far, why not make this new element stable and essential part of the device?

    3. I like your idea of surgery being painful or perhaps also having long-term effects. Few people like the idea of voluntarily giving up a visible organ or limb, I could imagine that an operation that required you to lose your eyes would put a lot of people off.
     
  6. Mr Grumpy
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    Mr Grumpy Member

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    The technology is only compatible with certain strings of DNA or mental make-up - and the certain DNA or mental make-up is possesed by these characters...
     
  7. Louis Farizee
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    Louis Farizee Member

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    The technology is cheap and the transplant readily available, but training to use the transplant is risky with a high failure rate. In a post scarcity society, I'd imagine people would be incredibly risk averse, far more than they are now.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Every implant must be individually designed and fitted. It is a very time-consuming process requiring a highly skilled professional, and very few of these professionals exist. It requires years of training and a natural aptitude, and these rare Neurograft Masters can demand a fortune for each procedure.
     
  9. Louis Farizee
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    Louis Farizee Member

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    Ooh, I like that one.

    Resources can, theoretically, be synthesized, but talent can never be.
     
  10. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    How about government security and responsibility?

    People are always a wild card because you can't predict how they will use power, so only certain people qualify for the implant. You wouldn't want a criminal type or mentally unwell person to have it.
     
  11. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like Smoke's idea of making it some mad-scientist type of experiment thing. That way you have things backfire at some point -- the technology starts to malfunction, and MC starts hallucinating, going crazy perhaps. Maybe the mad scientist implanted a virus in the machine so that it has a mind of its own . . .
     
  12. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    Read "A Girl and her Fed" online webcomic.
     
  13. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, just read the first few pages, and this looks cool . . .
     
  14. Mr. Blue Dot
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    Mr. Blue Dot Member

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    Porcupine: I like the idea of legally restricting it. They're on a space station, and it makes sense that the owners would want only authorized personnel would to have it. A black market for this and a few other restricted items might make a good side story along the way as well.

    Cogito: Totally, and then all these neurosurgeons could be employed by various corporations effectively restricting access. Thanks!

    Sidewinder: I can't do the mad-scientist part, it needs to be a reliable working technology. Only 2 of the main characters have them, but other background characters also need them too, like mechanics and robotics managers. But I do plan on messing with the MCs that have them in interesting ways that will have the reader questioning at times what's real and what's not :D

    Smoke: Hah! Looks like an awesome comic. That's a pretty awesome idea too, digital assistants that manifest as hallucinations. I'm not going to use that, I've already described it as more of a sixth sense for electronics, but I can tell that comic might give me some inspiration :)
     
  15. nzric
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    nzric Active Member

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    I don't get it. I can do pretty much the same thing right now with my universal tv remote, an iPhone and google earth with links to public cams that I can remote control over the internet.

    and we're not even mining asteroids yet.
     
  16. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    That's one reason why I don't write science fiction. There's not much that I can imagine becoming reality that isn't already available in some form. Heck, even the technology they "showed" in the movie Avatar is 90% available in labs.
     
  17. Mr. Blue Dot
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    Mr. Blue Dot Member

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    Any good technology of the future has to do everything that current technology can already do. It doesn't even have to do more really, it just has to do it better/faster.

    Do you assume that technology is just going to be wildly different in the future than it is today? 100 years after the Ford Model T cars are still a box on 4 wheels. Fireworks made in 12th century China used the same basic principles as modern day ICBMs. The only significant differences between the first PDAs (1980s from Apple, I think) and todays smartphones are processing power and screen quality. Technology evolves, and if you look at its history you can take fairly educated guesses on where it's going to end up next. All the technology in this story is pretty much what I consider the next logical step from here.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would question this assumption. Many innovations in technology do things more efficiently and economically, but often the quality is not as high.

    You can see this all the time in mass-produced food technology, but it is not limited to that.
     
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  19. Mr. Blue Dot
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    Mr. Blue Dot Member

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    If you look at most consumer electronics you see the general quality going up over time. There's always a cost vs. quality factor involved in everything mass produced.

    And perspective plays a big part too. Take your mass produced food example for instance. You say the quality is going down, and yes it is, but only if you're looking at a greasy burger in a fast food joint. The buns on that burger are probably from a batch of thousands made by a machine some where. That machine is only one of several in the bakery. Food production itself has become so advanced that you barely need people at all. Modern farming techniques are growing more crops in less space than they did even 50 years ago. Food can be transported faster, meaning fresher food from more distant places. Plus, the food itself stays fresher longer because of advances in refrigeration and preservative technologies. I would argue that all of this means that the quality of food production has increased, even though you still get a greasy burger.
     
  20. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    There's truth in this, and also in the post that follows. Another example is music recordings. From a purely technical point of view, you can't beat the analog technologies, such as a grammophone record. On a CD, music is digitalized, that is, instead of a smooth gradient you get a step function of tones - you lose information and therefore you lose quality. MP3s take this a whole step further, since they compress music information, losing even more of it.

    So, what is the net effect? The net effect is that the overall average quality of music recordings is still rising, because more people can afford CDs and MP3s than could afford a gramophone player. Furthermore, a crappy gramophone can't compete with even a cheap CD player. But for the top end of the market, quality is dropping from grammophone to CD to MP3.
     
  21. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    Actually, as far as being able to do the named actions today... I properly tricked-out smart-phone could probably do it, but it seems like it's been at least a decade since we've made too many leaps in trying to control a complex machine by mental power.

    I think retinal implants are higher-resolution than they used to be, but that's still not saying much, and I don't think there has been any experimentation involving a patient with functional eyes.

    I have another webcomic suggestion... Alien Dice.
     
  22. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    I'm not sure if this is what you mean but here is a thought.
    greed. just because there is enough for everybody it doesn't mean that everybody gets it. look at society today, we currently have access to enough food to feed the world two times over. yet people are dying.
    not sure if this is applicable or not
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you ever eaten a homemade chocolate chip cookie? Have you ever eaten a chocolate chip cookie out of a grocery package? Would you seriously argue that the homemade one isn't better? There are many areas where mass production results in a reduction in quality, not an increase, and food production is a huge example.

    Mass-produced snap beans are bred for "fiber" - code for being tough, not just in the truck or airplane where that toughness is needed to survive long transport without turning into mush, but on your plate, where that toughness turns the bean into the sort of thing that you have to beg children to eat. Sure, modern science rushed that bean hundreds of miles under refrigeration and kept it decent-looking for a week or more, but it didn't make it nearly as good as a bean picked yesterday from a farm five miles away, or twenty minutes ago from your own garden.

    And that's just one example of a quality-unfriendly characteristic bred into our food. Produce intended for mass production or long transport or long storage is bred for all sorts of characteristics - toughness, thick skins, resistance to fungus and other decay, tolerance of long refrigerated storage, the ability to pseudo-ripen after being picked green, tolerance of certain herbicides and pesticides - that have nothing to do with the eating quality of the food when it finally gets to someone's table and often, like the tough beans, actually detract from that quality.

    (And, sadly, studies are showing that conventional modern farming doesn't even have any particular productivity-per-acre advantage - it may in fact have none at all.)

    So how is this relevant to your question? My point is that quality is not always about bigger and faster machines producing more and more "good enough" product. It's often about something being truly _better_, fundamentally different and better. Often, highly skilled human beings can do something fundamentally better, and highly skilled human beings are expensive.

    ChickenFreak
     
  24. Mr. Blue Dot
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    Mr. Blue Dot Member

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    Like I said it's all about perspective. I didn't say the food tasted any better, just the production process. Home cooking and mass production are two completely separate things. Either way, this kind of isn't relevant to the thread.

    If anyone wants to discuss my views on technology, send me a PM, but this is getting off topic.
     
  25. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    lol. coming to the end of this thread, that's the impression got, but interesting to hear everyone's views.

    as for your story, i do actually get the technology. the awesome benefit of wireless communication and, as a consequence, possible manipulation of any electrical/computerized "smart" system is great. but i agree with dave c. as long as their is an economy, there will never be "post-scarcity" unless that is the thing all the people in your world are convinced they have. the need to profit will have people control the supply and distribution of resources. the chips are included, but even more so because they're potential can't be quantified yet. In a world run by computers, who knows what this small piece of technology would do in the mind of a hacker who is experienced in bypassing any security protocols leading to the systems of say, "national defence" or "national nuclear energy grid" "satellite weapon" orbiting and instructional codes" fear of it's potential can be a limiting factor such that the person who created them only created two. one, and one to counter the possibility that an individual would take an abuse the potential of the first. in a world of the blind, the one eyed man is king. in a world where everything is technology, the person with the universal remote is king, and thats what these chips could be. that could be why there is only two, and so on and so on
     

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