Technology: Biomachinery

“I loved my chosen. How then to face the day when she left me? So I took from her body a single cell, perhaps to love her again.”

— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “Time of Bereavement”

In SMAC, Biomachinery represents the seventh-tier fusion of the mastery over biology represented by Retroviral Engineering with the Mind/Machine Interface. The tools now exist at this point, in principle, to build virtually any combination of man and machine one might desire. Intriguingly, though, a look back over the prerequisites that fold into this technology shows that it does not include Pre-Sentient Algorithms. That means that anything that would be recognizable as human-level intelligence in these mixtures of man and machine must still come from the man.

It’s also worth noting by now that the colonists on Planet have progressed two full tiers past the technology which represented the ability to conquer death by so-called natural causes. Commissioner Lal’s quote seems to imply that the next step is potentially the reconstruction of the dead. It may now possible to reconstruct a dead person from little more than a single cell’s worth of DNA and some fond memories.

The player certainly knows from common experience that DNA itself is not sufficient to create what we would naturally think of as a copy of a person. Identical twins obviously aren’t the same person in any meaningful sense. But for Lal’s quote to be meaningful now, it would seem that the differences in life history that stem from biological factors can now be machined away: epigenetics; the effects of the bacterial biome; the aftereffects of infection; even the differential impact of nurture can now presumably be accounted for.

For such a seemingly-amazing technology, it only has one immediate effect. It allows a faction to produce The Cloning Vats. These are a secret project – not a base facility as one might expect from the name – that cause a permanent population boom and eliminate the negative effects of a couple of social engineering choices. This is a nice benefit, but it’s not nearly as earthshaking as it seems like it ought to be, given that it can only be applied to the one faction that builds them.

Again, though, SMAC models most of the incredible potential of such a technology by its location on the technology tree and not through its direct effects. It must take a while for the children constructed along these new modern lines to be born, polished, and then go on to have some impact on the broader society. And that presumes that they even know right away what point in futuristic cyborg/person space they even want to aim at.

Reconstructing Lal’s lady is a trivial problem in comparison. After all, it’s a well-defined goal. There was once a woman with this DNA, these beliefs, and this personality. The Commissioner wants something cooked up that meets these requirements, plus or minus a percent or so. So the boys in the lab go to work. And a few weeks later Lal has himself a high-octane miracle. His beloved has been quite literally resurrected.

This is powerful stuff. But it’s also a nice narrative touch on Reynolds’s part to have it be Lal who’s pining for his long lost love. He could have chosen most any faction leader for this purpose. But Brother Lal is a great choice because it fits his theme so nicely.

See, he’s fundamentally rooted in the past. Lal’s whole program is to rebuild the parts of the past he treasures: free elections; free expression; human economic and social flourishing; and, of course, the dignity of the individual. Even the U.N. itself once existed in roughly the same form as the one Lal has recreated on Planet. So it’s an inspired choice by Reynolds to give him a personal as well as a political reason to want to resurrect the past.

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One thought on “Technology: Biomachinery

  1. Not Zakharov in Disguise

    If you read the pre-story created by Firaxis, it becomes clear that Lal’s devotion to his wife is almost a flaw.
    (Spoilers Below)
    In it, it describes how he rigged the personnel selection process so his wife (a mediocre doctor with naturally weak health) was selected to go on the journey. Things then become tragic as Santiago’s rebellion takes over the landing pod Lal’s wife is in. Meanwhile the ship’s Captain managed to capture Santiago in Deirdre’s gardens, and imprisons her in a cell somewhere on the ship. Lal ends up using Santiago’s location as a collateral in exchange for the entire pod. However, just as the trade was going to happen, the soldiers find Lal’s wife and attempt to use her as collateral. The whole thing backfires, and a brief fight ensures where the Spartians get the data, but are forced to retreat. As they run, however, one of them manages to hit Lal’s wife. She dies in his arms just as the pod starts descending onto Planet.

    This makes the Peacekeepers standout as the only faction to start their story on a tragic note. Zak was trying to fix the ship, but eventually gave up and isolated himself and his followers in a pod (while trying to capture Miriam). Miriam was fleeing Zak’s minions when she stumbled into survivors in what was thought to be a destroyed pod. Yang converted most of the non-Spartian security forces to join him, inspiring them with his mental and physical prowess. Santiago was rescued and joined her forces in a pod they already secured. Deirdre’s gardens (which provided air and food to the ship) already served as another pod, so she didn’t even have to move. And Morgan essentially bribed his way out of his ‘prison quarters’ and into a pod. Meanwhile not only does Lal lose his wife, but also his best friend (the Ship’s Commander). Even Zak’s so called ‘best friend’ survives the trip down.

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