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Chapter 19 - Ross




Ross, Mary's partner is developing a biologically based haptic skin to replace woven body stockings, brain sensing balaclavas and gloves.  

Last time Bertram and Ross talked Ross had explained the project:

"The synthetic ones are woven from a combination of cobweb-like fibres providing several types of stimulation and detection. These include: conducting polymers to transfer charge to specific nerves and muscles; piezoelectric polymers, like overwound fibres of polyvinylidene difluoride, that both detect movement and physically contract or expand, applying or releasing pressure; bi-metallic sensors that detect and adjust skin temperature; Hall effect elements to detect small currents and magnetic flux; and electret elements that detect nerve signals and can reproduce vibrations at audio wavelengths.   Thousands of haptic 'nodes' cover the body like a net.  So the synthetic total body stocking or leotard is not 'day wear'.  It covers the entire body in a fine mesh that is open enough to allow the wearer to sweat but produces a visible, scalelike effect, even under clothes."

Bertram had responded:  "But people get used to wearing it and many think the scalelike effect is cool or sexy.  Nowadays many people want to maintain haptic connection at all times.  Mainly so that they can send and receive their 'feelies'."    He wanted to defend the technology.  After all his Agency had helped to develop the first generation.

But Ross is involved 'at the grass roots', developing a new generation, and went on:  "So as you obviously know, haptic underwear has been a recent boon for the fashion underwear business. Hence those advertisements on public transport:  'Does your bra have active uplift?'  'Do your nipples show him you're interested?'  And of course a big increase in sales of panties and underpants with: 'Wear them once and throw them away after...' "

Then he went on to explain his new project:  "Unfortunately, the old devices are not always convenient or inconspicuous.  For example long gloves must be worn for the full haptic effect, because there are many more nerves in the fingers and the actuating muscles are in the arms.  Gloves are back in - but you don't want to wear them all the time! "

"So have you got something better?" Bertram had asked.

"Much better!" enthused Ross "A new haptic skin that integrates with your own."

"You're kidding!"  Bertram had exclaimed. "It sounds like Science Fiction! "

"It's science but not fiction," Ross had explained.  "A few of your own skin cells from your dermis are extracted, genetically modified and reinjected using a device like a tattoo gun to 'draw-in' long strands within your skin.  The cells grow together and throw out side branches to any nearby nerve cell, creating a treelike conduction path connecting to an implanted computer chip, that transmits and receives microwave radio to the Cloud.  The living wires created record from, and stimulate, your own nerves directly.  Just as they connect to your brain's nervous system, your muscles create the upload signal recording your sensory experience and of course respond to the download when experiencing a remote event or recorded entertainment. It's all powered by your own metabolic systems, temperature and movement."

"So it really works well?"

"Better than well.  Because it envelopes the whole body and integrates with all nerves we have found that after a few months the user's brain learns to interpret the enveloping sensations holistically and 'see' images and 'hear' sounds directly, in addition to the more physical skin and muscle sensations. Very soon users no longer need glasses or earphones to experience what they report to be vivid three dimensional images and amazingly clear sound. The technology has potential to eliminate blindness and deafness.  But disappointingly to date, it only works where users have functioning sight and hearing for the brain to reference."

"How did you manage to get permission to trial such invasive technology on Humans?" Bertram had asked, amazed.

"People volunteered," said Ross.  "Since the Ten-two legislation was enacted worldwide, informed consent is all that is required.  The trial users are simply given small additional credit as an incentive."

"How could they be properly informed, most are functionally illiterate," Bertram had objected.

"We made an animated cartoon showing skin, tattooing and so on.  Many of them are 'into' body modification already and would have volunteered on the basis of the 'cool movie', even without the credit.   And, fortunately, they universally love the product so it's spreading by word of mouth and social media."

"How is the trial going?  Surely some are alarmed at the real probability of being manipulated?"

 "Because availability to the trial is limited some are offering to pay us - so social media driven demand is enormous."

"This is fantastic! And I don't mean in a good way!"

"We expect very high market penetration. People love the idea of experiencing something completely new.  It's like drugs.  We don't even have to play down the potential danger of being manipulated.  It's that hint of danger that makes the prospect of new sensations and experiences more exciting."

"It sounds like a costly business, genetically tailored to each individual's cells. Will it accumulate sufficient credit to cover the cost?" Bertram had asked, hoping for a problem.

"Our sponsors will pay almost anything to have access to the 'promotional opportunity offered through our proprietary operating system'.  As expected, the trial participants can't resist the sponsors' products when confronted with them or their advertisement.  They experience a range of pleasant feelings, from a warm relaxing glow as they approach the goods, to full erotic stimulation as they approach the moment of purchase.  Equally, advertisements for competitive products can be quiet unpleasant, engendering chest constriction, stomach cramps, or the sensation of being burnt.  We can even initiate vomiting if they actually make contact with the product.  Businesses selling carbonated beverages and fast foods have been very quick to sponsor the trials."

"Don't the trial participants realise that they are being manipulated?"

"Well it's not actually conscious," Ross had explained.  "It's the same as if you have a normal longing for a particular thing or an aversion to something. And it can be like sleepwalking.  In one trial, a user was induced to leave her bed while still asleep, go to the refrigerator, take out the sponsor's drink and open it.  Not until she had raised it to her lips and almost drowned did she wake up.  All the team did was replay back her muscle/nerve recordings from a previous night.  Her brain was distracted by 'white noise' fed to the receptors in her scalp and so was oblivious to what her body was doing.  The sponsors were delighted by the demonstration."


Bertram puts his reservations about this new technology aside.  Thankfully, given that he has only two days left to live, he will not be confronted with any peer pressure or temptation to use it.  But he is concerned about the children becoming victims.  Might Charles or Alex be at risk of being manipulated by a soft-drink manufacturer?




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