Classifying Progress

There are different ways to look at technological progress and its influence on a setting. GURPS primarily has two sources which talk about this: UT and Space. This seems to be something that’s missing from 3e, by the way.

Ultratech: Technology Paths

Ultra-Tech offers a list of nine (plus one) fixed tech paths as inspiration for building a setting. These are:

  • Conservative Hard SF Characterized mostly as a “cautious extrapolation of present-day science”, we could also call this “today, just better”. It explicitly calls for no new gadgets to be invented after TL9 - everything just becomes better. An example for this would probably be the Expanse, which does not introduce any radically new technology (in the first books).
  • Radical Hard SF Emphasizing transformational technology (the description mentions AI, genetic engineering, nano-stuff, robotics, uploading, and mega-engineering), this essentially takes Conservative Hard SF and actually thinks about possible results of introducing this technology. Poster boys are probably THS and Eclipse Phase 1.
  • Cyberpunk Emphasizes cybernetics, medical science, and computers. The idea is to produce a climate in which constant change (and the corresponding societal stress) becomes the norm. I’ll note Shadowrun in here.
  • Nanotech Revolution This is essentially the idea that nanotechnology not only becomes possibly but useful and ubiquitous. Ultratech mentions the Singularity as a common trope. An example is Diamond Age.
  • Emergent Superscience This concentrates on introducing a single (or several) advanced technology which is introduced and then follows changes that occur because of this invention. UT calls the Culture series an example; I don’t think I’d agree with this.
  • High Biotech Essentially replacing metal with flesh (and plant fibres). I’m not sure this is sufficiently different from the other paths - it’s mostly a flavour to take. Look at the Night’s Dawn trilogy for two contrasting flavours (bio and tech)
  • Retrotech This is a previous TL but with SPACE (UT claims TL6 or TL7). Robots etc might exist, but advanced computation doesn’t. These might not be as bad as slide rules in space, but don’t include good AI or guided weaponry. Star Wars.
  • Safe-Tech This is mostly a switch you can choose to remove the more revolutionary things (genetic engineering, neural interfaces, cybernetics, nanotech, swarms, and AI or mind emulation). This produces far fewer questions for the GM to answer.
  • Psi-Tech What if everyone had psychic powers (or tech like that)? Nah, I’m just not interested in that.
  • Unlimited Technology A very short description to just allow everything, and the consequences are that “it allows for future worldbuilding on a grand scale” (although it does warn that it might be challenging to the GM, that’s rather an understatement).

n-body politics is somewhere between Conservative Hard SF or Radical Hard SF; I’m not yet sure. It’s not Cyberpunk (too optimistic), not Nanotech Revolution (the problems seem quite large), and neither Emergent Superscience (FTL travel has been around for decades). It has a technological rather than a biotech focus. Retro- and Safe-tech are right out, and so is Psi-Tech.

Space: Miracles

Gurps Space talks about Miracles, which are “some area of technology that has a significant effect on the environment in which adventures take place.”

These are

  • High Industrial is essentially the same as our world, but more. Better tools, not different tools. There are two subforms, Retrotech and Safetech, both of which are somewhat similar to the UT definitions.
  • High Biotech, for which they even note THS as an example, is again essentially the same as UT’s definition.
  • High Cybertech is, too. They again note THS as an example.
  • High Nanotech, yet again.
  • Many Miracles is somewhat similar to UT’s unlimited technology option. It too warns of more effort for the GM and an issue with familiarity.

My own Thoughts

For me, the categories mentioned in both UT and Space don’t quite fit - they combine flavour (biotech) with consequences (retrotech, safetech, revolution) and stories (emergent superscience).

Instead, I see those as orthogonal axes on which to place your setting: Those are

  • flavour, for example biotech <–> metal tech
  • radicalness, safetech <–> radical
  • plausibility, for example what UT calls hard SF <–> PsiTech

In these, n-body politics would be classified as rather towards metal tech, rather towards revolution, and rather towards hard SF:

biotech   <----*-> metal tech
safetech  <----*-> radical
plausible <-*----> kitchen sink

Disruptive and Revolutionary Tech

So, what’s tech that’s disruptive to the setting (i.e. leading to one that’s quite different from today)? UT does list a few, namely AI, genetic engineering, nanofactories, robotics, self-replicating machines, uploading, and mega-engineering. Let me also add Memetics, which THS seems to be very fond of, cybernetics, and information technology.

I’ll be looking at these technologies, how using them might transform a setting, and which ones I’ll use over the next posts.

  1. As vicky molokh pointed out, Eclipse Phase has sufficient strange things in it (Psi, most things created by the TITANS) to push it out of the Hard SF part. It definitely is radical, though.