Sunday, February 26, 2006

3 technologies: Miniaturisation

It began as a manufacturing process for microchips.
Reduce the empty space between atoms and materials became tighter, stronger, smaller. Smaller components led to smaller machines, less resources consumed, less pollution.
The technology became an ideology:
More power, less waste.
And because the physics arrived before the philosophy, it was a unique environmental cause: you didn’t need to do (or believe) anything new to save the planet.
Small became the new big.

But the real tipping point was the mice. From the moment organic matter could be reduced to nano-scale – intact – there was no turning back. Four decades of animal testing before the first human trials, and now you can fit 50 human beings on a full stop.
In between then, we saw the pet industry bloom with everyone having hamster-sized dogs and cats that slept on computer monitors or work desks.
Animal protection agencies however found themselves fighting a new kind of black market – puppy-sized gorillas, cheetahs, pandas – which was worryingly easy to smuggle. But the trend died quickly. Smugglers focused on the benefits of shrinking the animals, and neglected the problems that came with their new size. Some animals just didn’t adapt well. The Great White Shark population has been effectively decimated after a short-lived but destructive period when poachers sold them as aquarium fish and they kept dying because of claustrophobia and stress.

Roughly a century after miniaturisation was perfected, the world’s full-sized population began to fall steadily as people began to migrate from the full-scale world – the ‘Big Bad’ - to build new lives in the Microverse: A nano-scale version of our world, our history, our species.

The first wave of pioneers had it rough.
Adaptation to micro-life was a steep, deadly learning curve.
  • Every little movement from the Macroverse (like walking) was magnified into earthquake-strength tremors. Steady rain brought tsunamis. Construction had to be rethought completely.
  • Crops grew differently in the Micro-verse. The proportions for everything from fertilizer to watering had to be rediscovered. Agriculture returned to its infancy.
  • Man was not the dominant species in the Microverse. Ants, earthworms, all caused unprecedented destruction of property and death. For the first time, man had to seriously think of defense on a near planetary scale. All those decades of planning for alien invasion, but not one scenario for giant termites.

In the end, the Microverse population, unable to cope with high human cost of adaptation (1.3 million lives lost in the first year alone) and desperate for a solution, decided to steal. They hijacked supermarkets for processed food, hospitals for medical supplies and transport vehicles from anywhere they could find. They came, they took what they could, and retreated back into the Microverse.

The UN, unable to effectively locate the Microverse population, passed a Security Council resolution banning miniaturisation. Thousands of miniaturisation substations across the globe were taken offline and disassembled over the next 15 years. Human rights groups criticised the UN for effectively committing genocide by choking off the Microverse’s only real supply-point: the world they so wanted to leave behind.

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