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Suppose a civilization in which every possible appliance is a bio-machine. There are automobiles, but each one has a human-like head under the hood. Each datacenter is a bunch of over-grown brains. There are artificial udders that produce milk without a cow. Each house is living as well. When you sit in a chair it embraces you with its hands etc.

Everything is based on mutated animal and/or human genomes, but the civilization evolved from human society.

There are no steel/plastic machines, there is no use of mains electricity. There is no internet (but neural networks are possible).

What conditions may lead a human civilization to pursue advances in bio-engineering but reject other technologies?

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    $\begingroup$ This world sounds interesting but horrifying nonetheless $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 15 '17 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ I think this has been the answer to various situations proposed in questions here. If you could find those, it would suggest several reasons. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 15 '17 at 8:09
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Lots of this is very sci-fi, but I figure without a hard-science tag, I can let fly with the theories. Funtastic!!! Here's my list that I could think up.

  • Once they had regular tech, and that turned out badly, so they bioengineered everything.
  • Extreme gene plasticity is present and any material can be produced.
  • All the movie stars started using bio houses in the 1930s and it just took off!
  • There was a "naturalist" social movement.
  • Everything growing on this earth is already sentient, so the people took advantage of it.
  • A memetic, living bio gel was found which took on characteristics of whatever it touched. This lead to many discoveries, but first, some horrors...
  • Rolling EMP waves are present on this planet that would knock out anything run by electrics.
  • Anything on this planet WITHOUT a bioorganic base quickly degenerates and disintegrates. For some reason the bonds between atoms don't work properly without LIFE installed, so there's a need for bio-based steel.
  • Free market competition! There were solid, non-bio based technologies, but an important discovery made bio-based cheaper, easier to produce AND better at handling certain jobs, and it just took over the whole market.
  • Survival of the fittest. So someone invents bio-whatevers, and the bio-whatevers want more of themselves to be produced. The bio-whatevers actually send out spores or something like to either destroy anything that's merely matter or INFECT IT! Everything is bio-based because there isn't much that isn't infected with bio-smutz and for some reason, any matter material that humans work with starts to become bio-based. Humans figured out quickly that it was best that they guided the process rather than letting it run wild.
  • Like @Zxyrra says--maybe some crazy dude in power decided this was the way. And it was.
  • So, computers reached their zenith. We found we could not do more without incorporating bio-tech. And so, we did. And then we kept doing it.
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Trendy cosmetics

The cosmetics industry grew tenfold after many advancements in biomedical technology, genetics, and general surgical procedures. The trend of self-modification spiraled out of control, and people became effective enough to do most tasks. This technology was then applied to other fields.

Employment / economic competition

After machines became more skillfull and more prevelant than most humans, upsetting the global economy, some scientists took matters into their own hands. So what if you're an abomination when you can compete with the machines and feed your family?

Biodegradability

While the climate changes, plastics and other synthetic products we push out do not. In an effort to create green infrastructure and industry, biological machines became the norm.

Computation

As @CameronLeary said, organic tissue - especially the brain - is incredibly good at small-scale tasks, such as computing. Supercomputers are big, bulky, and expensive, but people can do the job at a lower cost. And so they do.

No good reason

After a cruel, demented dictator took charge of society, they implemented these changes as a way of suppression - and to instill great fear. It worked.

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I see some good answers here, but I'll add one more that deals with the motivation of moving away from existing technology: perhaps they had a bad time with purely mechanical robots, and learned the hard way that AI is not to be trusted (TV Tropes link, be warned). A civilization that had intelligent robotic creations rebel against them would not be keen on rushing to recreate anything similar. There are many instances of this in fiction, but I'll point out the Geth from Mass Effect as a particular example of this scenario; the in-universe result of that rebellion was for all races to utterly ban research and development related to true AI.

Warhammer (the 40K version) actually has what you're looking for, to an extent: the Imperium uses servitors (lobotomized humans, usually criminals, with robotic augmentation) instead of purely mechanical robots because of an ancient rebellion by artifically intelligent robots (the Men of Iron) that is believed to have effectively wiped out humanity's power in the galaxy at the time. As a result, it is a grave crime to attempt to develop artificial intelligence; robotic creations like the Titans are built to have pilots, not think for themselves. For more detail, look at that universe's Dark Age of Technology.

For your scenario, you can easily hypothesize a similar rebellion that resulted in a more extreme answer: banning all purely mechanical technology, intelligent or not. If biotechnology exists, this sort of thing would be motivation enough to drive it into the forefront, and countless trillions of dollars (or credits, or whatever the currency of the time is) would be thrown at it

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Situation 1- global warming If the planet had, in the past, had issues with global warming and so found no way to maintain there current technological status without ruining their planet. Noticing this, they may use a combo of plant and animal genes to recreate and even improve upon all of the technology they had. As well as stopping global warming, the reason I mentioned plant genes would be that this would actually undo the harmful effects they have bestowed upon their planet by using water and carbon dioxide to fuel themselves. Removing carbon from their atmosphere.

Situation 2- technological advancement

If these new technology's worked as you have explained, the technological advancement would be huge. The computing power of the human brain is already very powerful. If you were to tweak this and recreate it on a magnitude equivalent to that of millions of individual brains then you gave it all the information your civilization possessed, it would be beyond all current computing capabilities.

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What it takes is simply for messing around with Biology to be easier than it is in the real world. Imagine Biology turned out to be much like Chemistry, there are relatively simple things you can try to get reasonable and reproducable results, and eventually you can create theories to predict how things will work before you even try them. It could be as simple as mixing some cells from one organism into another during development, with trial and error until you get a viable strain which you can then just breed.

No plastic is easy to consider, there are few uses for plastic you couldn't get from simply growing something in the right shape. Steel is harder, because it's... harder. There isn't an organism with the strength of steel, but you could perhaps simply have things grow out of hardwood but thick enough that it's strong enough anyway.

Brains might turn out to be super easy. Perhaps you just transplant them (after growing in vats) and they automatically create connections to any loose nerve ends you've built into your device. You'd have to say there is no such thing as biological rejection, all biological things by default likes to grow into each other (or perhaps theres an easy way to turn such protections off temporarily).

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  • $\begingroup$ Replace steel with bone or spider silk constructs. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Feb 15 '17 at 5:25
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I think one variant can be fear of technological singularity. In the past there were very complicated electronic machines who rebelled against humans. The humans managed to win the war, but since then prohibited any non-biological machines because they can unpredictably interact and be hacked.

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Genetic engineering: Creation of 1. XNA (artificial DNA - already accomplished.) 2. XNA has already been encoded with 100 bits of data can be attached to the DNA of bacillus subtilis, (a common soil bacteria) and shows great potential for data processing. 3. Modified E. coli can already be used to produce polyester for carpet (DuPont.) 4. Genetically modified silkworms have also been made to produce "Dragon Silk," which is 10 times stronger than conventional silkworm silk, and is being investigated by the US military (It's tougher than Kevlar.) 5. The seeds of a vultivated hybrid strains of a plant called "jatropha" is currently being produced in the laboratory as a biofuel (essential fulfilling the need for any petroleum based product.) 6. Using genetic engineering to modify animals for transport, scouting (slightly "enhanced" canine), enhanced milk production etc.

So: data storage and processing; pollutionless materials fabrication (from carpets to armor); and specialized chimeras. I suggest that all the basic "building blocks" you need can be extrapolated from these.

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You say the civilization 'evolved from' human society, is this on Earth?

Metal - poor world: If not, one possibility is a planet which is very poor in the elements needed for 'conventional' technology -- iron, aluminum, titanium etc. for structural uses and machines, copper/silver/gold for wiring, silicon/germanium for electronics, platinum group metals for a catalysts used for a wide variety of things, thorium/uranium for nuclear power, praseodymium/neodymium for strong magnets, etc. etc.

Of the above listed elements only iron, copper, and maybe silicon are biologically essential for humans, and only in very small quantities that wouldn't require the existence of practical ores of those metals on a planet.

No access to ores: Or those ores might exist, but not be accessible -- if a planet was, say, almost entirely covered by deep oceans with the only land being biologically deposited limestone islands, and all the useful ores are under five miles of ocean.

Or maybe the people even live on living, "floating islands" (island sized water lilies or something... a situation like this is found in Jack Vance's The Blue World). In that case the ocean could be something like 200 miles deep (a hypothetical ocean planet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_planet ).

Or the setting might be in an artificial environment - either a space habitat of some type (O'Neill colony, "Halo" type ring, Niven ring, Dyson sphere) or even a sealed 'arcology' type environment on Earth. Such a structure wouldn't allow access to ores, etc. unless that was intentionally incorporated in the design. (This problem is discussed in the original Ringworld by Larry Niven.)

Competition: Accessible ores exist, but if you make steel or aluminum structures or copper wiring, etc., they become extremely attractive food for some local pest. (The iron, copper, etc. in the human body isn't in metallic form but part of proteins, so wouldn't necessarily be a target just because the pure metal is.)

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