(Vernor Vinge: A Lightness Upon the Deep)
Kinkajou: Food production has always featured heavily in your experiences. Tell us about what you have seen over the years.
Pham Trinli: Food production technology and farming have always been one of the most limiting factors underlying civilisation. Of all the civilisations with which I am familiar, including Canberra and Brisgo Gap, it is the ability to produce food that often lies at the centre of a catastrophe. Most civilisations have the capacity to produce just enough food to feed themselves. Rarely does the capacity to produce food substantially exceed the requirement for food?
In early human development, storage technologies gave us the first ability to even out the peaks and troughs of food production. I remember reading about the fruit cold storage warehouses on the Gold Coast near Brisbane on the planet earth. Huge quantities of apples, oranges and even bananas were stored in cool oxygen modified environments. Ethylene oxide gas was commonly used to stimulate ripening. This meant that many of these fruits were now available all year round, not just seasonally.
Hydroponic production and vertical farms provided optimised growth environments for plants. Perfect elemental nutrients, perfect humidity, temperature, water availability and light became available progressively especially with the advent of the chlorophyll frequency LED.
But always as the capacity for production rose, so did the human population requiring food rise as well.
I believe civilisation is a process of increasing optimization driven by population density. As a population increases, more and further improvements are made to increase production.
Food production is the most critical necessity. If food is unavailable, conflict arises, damaging the optimised infrastructure and resulting in further food production drops. I remember seeing the Utopia that had been Neumars fade into an over populated dictatorship, the whole civilisation becoming slums for billions. 70 years later, when I returned from a space voyage, I found a world with a population of 1 million, a world of small villages, of savages with painted faces and hand axes and songs of heartbreak.
Pham Trinli: But Neumars was lucky compared to other worlds. Old earth has been recolonised from scratch four times since the human diaspora began. Eventually, civilisations with billions of people reach an optimally optimised state with production maximized and optimised. A single failure in a critical subsystem leads to a progression of collapses that pushes the entire system into failure. Routinely, billions die.
Canberra died. Canberra was once the most powerful human civilisation in human space. I had been born on old Canberra just before the Qeng Ho Landing. I was there at its ascendancy. Brisgo Gap was also a shining high point in history of Qeng Ho. Here we traders saved a civilisation and billions of lives.
Technology including food technology has always been critical to the survival of the human race. But human leadership is important as well. Pham Nuwen was our leader at the time. He was an Alexander to all human space. But as with Alexander, his empire had not lasted. The man had been a genius of conquest and organisation.
And yet people look at me and all they see is the image of an irritable old man trying to look important.
Over the millennia, we Qeng Ho have accumulated substantial food production technological know-how. Two major processes in my experience have allowed the human population to burgeon. The extraction of glucose and other organic materials from lignocellulose usually will allow the population of a planet to increase tenfold. The production of organic food from inorganic materials such as mined and extracted hydrocarbon or petroleum products, has also been important in supporting and feeding the populations.
Our biological technology was substantially in advance of that of the “Emergents”. Putrefaction in the biofilm bactries was a common problem in their technology, but much less so than ours.
Even if there were a number of out-of-control gene lines in the biofilm factories, the symbiosis of bacteria in the bacterial biofilm factories minimised failures of some of the subunit bacterial lines. The problem was more the eradication of the stench, rather than dealing with any real danger.
Pham Trinli: Our workers have been able to make fully enclosed “High Treasure” bonsais. Some had been in existence for 200 years, complete and well plant ecosystems, even supporting fake evolution. One of my friends Ali was particularly gifted in constructing small-scale life support modules such as these bonsai. He was both “focused” and a genius.
Something that would normally take a Qeng Ho specialist team and deep search of fleet’s Databases years to do, he would do himself in just a few mega seconds. He would often tell me the hardest part would be the integration of the bacterial and mitochondrial level functions.
Our skill in working with micro environments allowed us to balance much more complex and larger environments easily. If you can balance the ecology of the micro bonsai, you can balance the ecology of a spaceship and very easily an entire planet. If you are capable of ecological balancing at a genetic and mitochondrial level of function, anything can be integrated. At the height of the civilisation, the entire ecosystem can be convinced to produce food for humans.
Computers and the layering of technology became the next step in food production. There is no way the ship’s crew can know everything it takes to analyse a star spectra or to make a vaccine against some wild change in the bactry or understand every deficiency disease they may meet.
That’s why there are programs on computers. That’s why we can’t survive without our technological Internet. In our civilisation there are programs that have been written 5000 years ago, before humans had even left Earth. And unlike the useless artefacts and relics, i remember from my past in the middens on Canberra, these programs still work.
The ability to automate and to program reduces the need for human supervision to the system. A computer system can assign a carer to every single plant to ensure that each plant’s health and growth are optimal. A single human can look after the broad picture. But a computer system with its incredible processing power can indeed look after every single plant as an individual. Vertical farms are a logical beneficiary of this type of food technology.
Unfortunately, with these technologies assisting optimization, new problems result. Every program has its exceptional circumstances, the situations the designers assumed were outside the scope of the responsibilities. Commonly, in times of crisis, loopholes were exposed and shaken open.
Even when you are aware of the potential for disaster, it can be easy to miss all but the most blatant developing problems. You have to guess the method of failure to recognise its consequences.
Kinkajou:Germ Theory Of Disease
Dr Xxxxx: Paill Spectrum is the most intellectually destructive organism on the planet. It destroys human memory. It destroys human intellect. It creates poor judgement and bad behaviour – destroying communities. It is almost a wonder that there is a civilisation on this planet considering this organism.
It is responsible for destroying a plethora of lives. People who will never perhaps even be able to look after themselves or to make the most basic decisions regarding their own lives.
People who must stay on antipsychotic or antidepressant or antianxiety medication is their entire lives. People who develop strange ideas and thoughts or obsessions which colour every action every day in every way.
And yet so invisible. How can we possibly not see it?
Goo: I doubt that fleas on a dog concern themselves much about the shape of the dog or the mountain on which the dog is sitting. Paill Spectrum destroys humanity. It creates vegetables of humans. It reduces an intelligent species to my own level – numbats. And the tools exist to control it – easily – today.
Dr Axxxx: Humans are fools. Most of them never learn what they are not taught. Until they can all nod knowledgeably about how clever they are – they can just keep on nodding knowledgably just thinking how clever they are. All the while, their brain just cooking off bit by bit.
No loss – the fools. And you know the icing on the cake. The disease face the fools have difficulty working with each other – when the only way forward is to work with each other.
Dr Axxxx: Quite clever really, how they're being done over.