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In a far-distant future Pascal enters the bridge of his intelligent space ship.

He's a lazy bloke who can't be bothered to sit or stand, so he flicks his fingers and in a moment of Clarkian magic a pillar, an object, a force appears.1

He leans against the pillar and proclaims: "I am the promise, which shattered in the most possible and well meaning way."2 As Pascal shifts his weight, the pillar instantly adjusts to provide for his comfort.3

Question: What "future" mechanisms could be used to create the pillar/object/force I've described? I've considered things like condensing air molecules and superfast nanorobots, but I am hoping with your expertise you could help me with additional insight.

Condition #1: This is an intelligent ship. It knows and understands Pascal and its own capabilities. It has the ability to analyze the situation and use the resources available to it to solve the problem.

Condition #2:  The effect should be "instantaneous" in that between the the moment Pascal "flicks" his fingers and the moment he begins to lean the problem has been solved and the solution implemented such that the pillar/object/force is there when his body expects to feel resistance.

 


1 I prefer the pillar to be invisible, but I'm more interested in the mechanics of the solution.

2  Or some nonsense like that…

3  As long as it's activated. While on, it would even shift to recapture his balance, should he lose it. Whether or not it should come on automatically (without the "flick" of his fingers) is an issue outside the scope of this question.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. If you could give some sense to your question so that we could understand what you are asking it would be of great help. Else I am voting to close this question as unclear. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 1, 2017 at 6:35
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Isn't the question asking for a plot device to explain the materialization of the pillar? What specifically is unclear? Knowing that might help them clarify for you. I don't personally know what to add beyond the nanobots though. That was my first thought until he suggested it. $\endgroup$
    – user41674
    Oct 1, 2017 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ The Halo universe has a notion of something called hard light. Might be worth a google. $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Oct 1, 2017 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Thomas In that case, I misunderstood the point you were making. My apologies. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Oct 2, 2017 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ Put on hold? Utterly absurd. I understand the question perfectly. Questions shouldn't be able to be put on hold without at least 20, preferably 40, votes. This is getting ridiculous. $\endgroup$ Oct 2, 2017 at 1:51

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Wow. This one had me thinking. But then I realized the key factor - an 'intelligent ship'.

So the ship is living. Quasi-organic. Not necessarily carbon-based organic. This pillar is part of it's body. Just like we can flex our muscles, or contort our face. The ship itself can contort and re-arrange its own structure. It is the ship itself, not the pillar, that is responding to the persons' commands. Not sure if this fits in with the rest of the plot, however.

Alternatively, the 'pillar' is, indeed, the clothes the character is wearing. A completely integrated whole-body suit. That is, the fabric of the clothing can harden and stiffen in just the right way as to SEEM like a pillar is supporting it, when in fact it is the clothing that is doing the supporting. The problem with this, however, is that if the center of gravity of the overall shape moved outside of the base, the form would topple. Thus, you would have to 'play' with either gravity or force fields - perhaps electromagnetic support generated by the walls and floor, and interacting with the suit, to keep it upright while providing support. Magnetic boots, strong enough to keep the feet flat on the deck, to ensure the form stays upright. The ultimate in laziness, perhaps the suit itself does the 'walking'.

Or, use sound waves as a levitation/support device. Strategically placed speakers, or even the entire walls and floor could become a speaker, that send out sound waves at sufficient energy to push against, or support, the body.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do like the suit idea, that's cool. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Oct 1, 2017 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ Quasi-organic could fit the plot - the ship might allready be so in a way. Interesting way to think about! The story actually features a space suit with functionality, that keeps people from falling - it's not intended for indoor usage, though, and it doesn't adjust the subjects horizontal movement, only up/down, so it wouldn't stop anyone from "falling" into the walls... Could the suits sound waves somehow be turned on/off by receivers on the respective suits, so they wouldn't effect everyone in the room? $\endgroup$
    – Undertonen
    Oct 1, 2017 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ See this for instance. the sound waves are computer-controlled to project and focus on just one spot, so no one else in the room would be effected. The result is localized. The sound would come from the walls and floor, not the suit. They would be controlled and directed by the ship AI. They could be out of the normal hearing range. $\endgroup$ Oct 2, 2017 at 1:48
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The entire deck is made of elongated rectangular prisms. The top sides of the prisms form the walking surface. The ship can elevate and depress the prisms very quickly; they are attached to pistons on the underside. On elevation they form a prism of any height up to the ceiling. On depression they leave a square hole in the floor.

This would be a cool way to make a deck in any respect; one could have different levels of flooring for different needs. I can imagine the configuration of the bridge might change for "battle stations". An ad hoc wall can be erected. Stairs on demand can emerge allowing transit to upper levels.

And of course your ship knows The P will want a pillar to lean on and shoot one up out of the floor the moment he needs it.


The concept would not let me go. My depiction: bridge

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    $\begingroup$ This could be a very cool stylistic choice for a Screen Version of the Story :) But I if the prisms are small enough, they wouldn't actually look like prisms, I guess. I could see some potential conflicts, when ship members are redecorating simultaneously on different floors. Cool depiction, btw, very futuristic ;) $\endgroup$
    – Undertonen
    Oct 1, 2017 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ Just hope no one's leaning over to pick up the quantum transmogrifier they just dropped as The P is thinking "pillar!" That could really put a dent in your face, what with the ship's floor shooting right up into your nose without any kind of warning! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 1, 2017 at 23:16
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I propose to have the "pillar" attached to the back of his pants, instead.

Some kind of repulsive force (perhaps magnetic, relying on eddy currents on some superconductive insets in the ship bridge) will keep "the pants" afloat and reasonably fixed by means of active control (Segway style).

In a far future it's thinkable to make MagLev very controllable and directional, so not to disturb surrounding equipment.

Room-temperature superconductivity is another "common item" in the far future.

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  • $\begingroup$ Like this but futuristic? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 1, 2017 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ A giant pillar emerges from his pants when he snaps his fingers? Z, I like the way you think. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 1, 2017 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Will well he has been referred to as "The P"... $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2017 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ I guess this would give The P the option to simply float around on this bed. $\endgroup$
    – Undertonen
    Oct 1, 2017 at 22:36
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The deck, the consoles, indeed everything within the hull that isn't a self-contained system like an engine, a life-support system, sensor, weapon, fuel, etc. Is composed entirely of Claytronic Utility Fog. Which allows the ship to reconfigure its internal structure programmatically.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, that could be the answer to everything! It's just almost too easy... :) $\endgroup$
    – Undertonen
    Oct 1, 2017 at 22:43
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You have plot problems. If you have the technology to instantly manifest a 'pillar' then you don't really need to be in a 'space ship'.

P, the spaceship, and the universe can be seen to be a hologrammatical representation of universe - or, if you like, a 'rendering'. So by manipulating the underlying universe you can switch a pillar in or out where you like. But then you don't need to worry about distance any more, so you don't need a space-ship - unless it's just some sort of vanity object.

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    $\begingroup$ Ouch, sarcasm-gasm I LOVE it. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Oct 1, 2017 at 16:02
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Obviously the ship uses it's Safe Working Environment Forcefields™ to stop anyone on the bridge from falling over so when P leans past a certain point the ship automatically catches him before he can fall. This is my none too subtle way of saying that a being who appears to be modeled on Q can get away with whatever you like, so don't overthink it and don't over justify it either.

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A different take on the idea is to look at quantum physics.

Many interpretations of quantum physics suggest that for a particle to be in a certain place at a certain time, an observer needs to be present to observe it (this is much like the riddle of a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it-does it make a sound?).

For pillars or other things to manifest themselves, or other effects to occur, there needs to be a means of calculating the probability of the particles in the object being in the certain place at the certain time (or alternatively not being there, for example, walking through a wall). Obviously, these sorts of events are not very probable, since we rarely or never see these things happening. The next thing we need is an "observer" to collapse the quantum wave function so that the improbable event happens in the way that is desired.

Since the ship is intelligent enough to accurately sense the moods and needs of the character, we can presume it is a "supercomputer" in todays terms. Given enough computing power and fast enough processors, the computer can sense "P" is slumping to lean against something, rapidly calculate the probability of an object being there and "observe" it into existence. P leans back and the pillar appears where and when needed.

Reversing the process is probably (heh) much easier, sending things "out" of existence seems far more probable than conjuring them into existence. It also speaks to the dangers of this sort of technology, if you guess wrong, or calculate the probabilities incorrectly, you could manifest a pillar intersecting with P's body, manifest a lake of fire that he falls into or eliminate P from this universe by accident instead.

There may be other issues with this sort of manipulation of quantum reality, outside of the rather outrageous amount of computing power needed to calculate and "observe" things in and out of existence. There may be some sort of limit to the number or amount of manipulations that can be done in a confined space like the interior of a spaceship. People with competing visions could cause quantum decoherence and shatter the creation or destruction of objects and events inside. Indeed, this could be done maliciously (making the pillar vanish under P just as his back touches it would be on the level of a practical joke, but weaponized, this could become extremely freaky).

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer is great. I almost stopped reading it a few sentences in, but reading on gives a better appreciation. It breaks disbelief, but it does so in an acceptable manner which adds value. This is the kind of hand-wavium that can add a lot of cool mysticism to the setting or even be used to further the plot. +1 $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Oct 4, 2017 at 20:08
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Clearly this is a job for a star trek replicator.

e=mc2

Input a bunch of energy and get mass. That is what the replicator does, converts raw energy into whatever is requested of it.

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As Konchog observed in his answer,

You have plot problems. If you have the technology to instantly manifest a 'pillar' then you don't really need to be in a 'space ship'.

To solve the quandary, let's remain scientific and remember that given the distances involved and the interstellar speed limit of 1.0c, as well as a practical limit of say 0.2c, the travel takes a very long time.

So the pilots and the crew aren't biological humans - they're digitised minds living most of the time in a consensual artificial reality in which they pilot the ship - the next stage of technology was the "fly by dream".

In a ironic reversal of what might have happened millennia earlier, now what they see in their monitors is real (or at least based on the outside reality) and what they see all around them is fake. There is no bridge, no engineering room, no Auxiliary Command One. The physical ship is at its core an engine strapped to a VR supercomputer.

So all the Captain has to do is to look at the table and, as a courtesy, say rather than think "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot", and the required beverage appears literally out of nothing. Same holds for pillars, clothing and everything else.

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