Technology: Biogenetics

“We hold life to be sacred, but we also know the foundation of life consists in a stream of codes not so different from the successive frames of a watchvid. Why then cannot we cut one code short here, and start another there? Is life so fragile that it can withstand no tampering? Does the sacred brook no improvement?”

— Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Dynamics of Mind”

Upon discovering the technology “Biogenetics”, the player is treated to a voiceover quote from Chairman Yang talking about the ethics of gene manipulation.  This manages to achieve several effects in a brief quote.

First, it gives us some more insight into Chairman Yang himself.  Yang’s vision of a harmonious collective utopia isn’t historically unusual.  Many such attempts have been made in the past, and of these, many have foundered on the fact that people aren’t eusocial.  Realizing this, like Yang, these historical leaders have often sought to reshape their citizenry into something more congenial for their systems.  A real-world example of this pattern is the enthusiasm over creating the New Soviet Man in the early days of the USSR.  So, in the context of Yang and his social experiments, this quote implies that Yang is eager to use this new technology to rewrite his people to help them reach enlightenment.

Second, the content of the quote itself is intriguing on its own merits.  We learn in school that DNA is the foundation of life.  And we’re all aware that DNA can be edited or altered.  But that knowledge is of somewhat recent vintage and its implications haven’t really sunk in to the popular consciousness.  So seeing someone like Yang casually talking about hacking the very stuff of life in something like Adobe Premiere as part of his early-years efforts on Planet is bracing.

Third, it does a good job of summarizing to the reader what “Biogenetics” actually, literally entails without forcing the player to read the paragraph of text explaining it.  These first technologies are largely intended to represent the rediscovery of technology humanity had previously had access to, and so they’re pretty easy to grasp.  But getting the player started this way lays the groundwork that makes the more speculative upper reaches of the technology tree comprehensible.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Peacekeepers start with this technology.  The basis for this is that Lal was the chief medical officer on the Unity.  Presumably, his skill and his personal charisma led the Peacekeepers to come away with the key medical personnel and substantial stores of practical medical knowledge and equipment, such that the Peacekeepers have access to this tech from day one.

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2 thoughts on “Technology: Biogenetics

  1. northstar1989Blake

    I strongly disagree with parts of this interpretation- first of all, Yang isn’t *casually* talking about genetic engineering. He clearly *knows* what he is saying might shock some people, and he is questioning common assumptions- this appears to be his MO in most of his early works, it is only later that some of these things might be considered commonplace. Second, he’s not talking about using anything “like Adobe Premiere”- the technology at this point in the game certainly isn’t yet up to the point of routinized genetic engineering- in fact the first 2-3 tiers of biological techs in the game (through Gene Splicing) largely are about just recovering a level of knowledge we already have here on Earth, today… (I’m a biologist in real life- and yes Gene Splicing is perfectly routine these days…) Which can be interpreted as a combination of recovering and decoding actual Datalinks files (or re-discovering knowledge where the files were lost), and building back up the *capabilities* to do many things we consider routine today… (see my discussion of The Human Genome Project- it likely actually does represent simply sequencing the genomes of the population- as such a feat would be extremely difficult for a frontier society on a virgin planet that is struggling just to feed itself… It would be like trying to run a space program out of rural Africa today…)

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  2. personalworkshop

    The Hive’s design overall and this tech in particular make me think Reynolds was inspired by “Hellstrom’s Hive” by Frank Herbert. It’s all there: humans live like ants in underground warrens and the corpses are sent to the vats for reprocessing. Even the willingness to mess with people’s genetics, though in the novel it’s more about selective breeding than gene splicing.

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