Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population.
Obviously it is a hot-button issue. Most groups become hysterical when you suggest limiting their right to reproduce (especially if said group fears they will slip from being the majority to being the minority).
They get even more hysterical when they are prevented from reproducing by being put to death.
However there are other troubling questions. The main one is exactly what sort of measuring standard are you using to define "improved"? Almost as troubling is "who decides the measuring standards, and who does the measuring?" Obviously those in power can abuse this as a nasty form of ethnic cleansing.
More innocently, harm can mistakenly be done. For instance, sickle-cell anaemia is a genetically caused disease which occurs when the person inherits two allele of the sickle cell trait. People suffering from it rarely live past age 60. So that allele should be eugenically eliminated, right? Wrong! People with one allele are resistant to the even more deadly disease malaria. In this case, using eugenics would do more harm than good. The same holds true for the cystic fibrosis allele and cholera.
There is also the fear that such manipulation will reduce genetic diversity thus leading to inbreeding depression. In Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein, genetic selection for increased health, longevity, and intelligence has become so widespread that the unmodified 'control naturals' are a carefully managed and protected minority.
Finally there is all those hideous overtones of Nazi Germany.
A milder form of eugenics is when the decision is made by the parents, not the government. You generally see this in science fiction with in vitro fertilization and a doctor giving the parents genetic counselling. The doctor gives the parents a list with check-boxes so the parents can chose what traits they want in their offspring, and advises them to omit obvious genetic diseases. The choices are fed into the machine, there is some quick genetic engineering on the zygote, then it is ready to be implanted (or popped into the artificial womb). See the movie Gattaca.
There are many ways to implement eugenics.
Quote Brain Wave has been moved here.
A concept that appears in science fiction once or twice is that "humans have stopped evolving", specifically technology and medical science have drastically hindered the process of natural selection. For instance, in primitive times a person with the genetic disease Phenylketonuria probably would not be able to survive long enough to reproduce (natural selection will prevent passing on the genetic disease). But currently modern medicine can detect the disease in newborns, and treat it with a special diet. In other words the person would survive long enough to pass it on to their offspring, thus thwarting natural selection.
Sir David Attenborough stated "We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95–99 percent of our babies that are born." Others have pointed out that while that might be true of 1st world countries, it is far from being true for the entire world.
In the Alan E. Nourse novel The Bladerunner (no relation to the movie of the same name) the world of the future has free, comprehensive medical treatment is available for anyone so long as they qualify for treatment under the Eugenics Laws. Preconditions for medical care include sterilization, and no legitimate medical care is available for anyone who does not qualify or does not wish to undergo the sterilization procedure (including children over the age of five). The ideas is to stop thwarting natural selection.
Others say humans are indeed still evolving, all we have done is shifted a large number of selective forces. While modern medicine has averted many biological cause of natural selection, one can see many new versions of natural selection by just perusing the Darwin Awards. In other words: deadly diseases has been replaced by Jackass.
A tangentially related concept appears in the Cyril Kornbluth short story The Marching Morons (which later inspired the movie Idiocracy). In the story, married couples who are intelligent tend not to have children, while unintelligent couples breed like cockroaches. After several hundred years of this, the average intelligence is what we would currently call an IQ of 45. The few intelligent people have no idea how to stop the collapse of society, but lucky for them a con artist who had been in suspended animation for 300 years has an answer that is effective (abet draconian).
The main flaw with the story is that the possibility of genetically breeding for stupidity is unproven.
The vast majority of mutations either [A] have little or no noticeable effect or [B] kills the embryo before it can be born. The process of evolution is advanced by zillions of tiny mutations over zillions of generations, culled by the relentless forces of natural selection.
No, exposure to radiation will not turn you into a mutant. But if your gonads are irradiated, your future children might be.
Early science fiction authors either didn't understand mutations or found the actual process incredibly boring. So they jazzed it up.
They frantically waved their hands and breathlessly announced that mutation could lead to the Next Stage Of Human Evolution™ !
This concept contains two ignorant fallacies for the price of one. First off it makes the ridiculous assumption that there are "levels" of evolution (measured by what metric, pray tell?) then it compounds the stupidity by postulating that evolution is working towards a specific goal ("orthogenesis") and you can use these non-existent evolutionary levels to measure the progress to the non-existent goal. The tell-tale sign of the latter is the phrase "more evolved."
In reality, the only "goal" of evolution is for the organism to be able to survive and thrive in whatever the current conditions happen to be in this geological epoch. Since conditions change with time, the goal of evolution is a moving target.
Early SF writers who were evolution-theory morons assumed that "intelligence" was the goal of evolutionary progress, the "ultimate life-form" at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The ultimate intelligent life-form was some sort of giant brain. Examples include the Arisans from E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series.
This would lead more evolved females to demand Cesarean section. You see the relatively large size of the human baby's head is the reason why of all the species on Terra, humans are pretty much the only ones who suffer painful child birth. The evolution of a larger pelvis has not kept up with the evolution of larger baby heads.
Latter writers assumed that the goal was a set of superhuman abilities (you know: super-strength, advanced intelligence, immunity to various lethal things, and of course psionic abilities). Examples include Adam Warlock. Others cut to the chase and postulated that the end goal was to evolve humans into energy beings. Examples from Star Trek include the Organians, the Q, and arguably the Melkot, the Thasian, the Metrons, the Medusans, and the Zetarian.
The "levels of evolution" nonsense also lead to nonsensical stories where radiation from nuclear testing creates a crop of mutant children all with the same mutation. In reality mutations are more random than Pi. Not all such stories have this flaw, but there are enough to be really annoying. The only way to get lots of mutants with the same random mutation is if they share a common ancestor.
The stupid writers also got the mechanism wrong. In reality if somebody was exposed to a mutagen, their future offspring might be mutants because the DNA in the germ cells got mangled prior to procreation. But the writers were under the misapprehension that the mutagen would transform the poor exposed person into a mutant on the spot, much like the way cosmic ray exposure created the Fantastic Four. This erroneous concept was apparently created by Hugo de Vries in his 1901 story Die Mutationstheorie.
Mutants are not just people either, don't forget the radiation-spawned giant ants in the movie Them!.
None of this is scientifically accurate, but it is very exciting reading.
In Edmond Hamilton's 1931 story The Man Who Evolved, the concepts were twisted for a shock ending. The mad scientist Dr. John Pollard figures out that cosmic rays are responsible for evolution (sort of true) so exposing a person to concentrated cosmic rays will rapidly evolve them to the next stage of evolution (nope, author is unclear on the concept, it will just fry them to a crisp). With each treatment his brain becomes larger while his body becomes more spindly. At the next to the last stage he is nothing but a huge brain feeding on telepathic energy. Unfortunately for him the final stage is a pathetic primitive single-celled organism. Because apparently the levels of evolution are arranged more as a circle than as a rising staircase.
After 1945 science fiction writers finally got it through their heads that radiation would cause you to have mutant children, but not grant you any unusual powers apart from a drastically shortened lifespan. But they were still stuck on that goal oriented evolution nonsense.
The authors did however invented a brand new trope: a world wide rise in the number of mutants born due to either nuclear testing or in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war. "Children of the Atom" so to speak.
In science fiction, mutants from low level rises of background radiation due to nuclear testing tend to be superior beings with super powers. The X-Men and Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps fall into this category.
Post-atomic-war mutants on the other hand tend to be pathetic cripples with misshapen bodies and the wrong number of limbs. In Forrest J. Ackerman's shaggy-dog story The Mute Question, the muties have a proverb: two heads are better than none.
The muties of Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky fall into this category, though in this case the radiation is not from an atomic war. As it turns out the mutie Joe-Jim also has two heads.
In the X-Men stories there is often deep-seated prejudice against mutants, since average humans have the not unreasonable fear that mutants will supplant them. Draconian anti-mutant laws are passed, and periodically there are attempts at mutant genocide. Which just goes to show what idiots average humans are. Especially given the stupendous superpowers possessed by mutants and how angry they become when you try pulling that "final solution" atrocity on them.
There is also plenty of "mutants are evil" garbage in John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. Take a post-nuclear apocalypse community with about Amish levels of technology, mix in an oppressive religion with a paranoid fear of the new, and you have a formula for a real eugenic nightmare. Mutations are considered to be "Blasphemies" and must be either killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes.
In the Perry Rhodan novels, Terra discovers that the solar system is surrounded by highly advanced interstellar empires that would love to annex the planet. He needs an ace-in-the-hole or Terra is doomed. The Mutant Corps is a team of mutants with psionic powers which the alien empires cannot cope with. The 18 founding-members were mostly Japanese who were born shortly after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The X-Men are sort of the Marvel comics version of Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps, since X-Men issue #1 came out about two years after Perry Rhodan volume 6.
The archtypical superhuman mutants are the Slans from the eponymous novel by A. E. van Vogt. Every subsequent novel with "Homo Superior" mutants owes something to the Slans (though the novel is sadly unknown nowadays). When it came out, science fiction fans embraced the concept. This is because they naturally figured that they were Slans. The fans started using the pejorative term "mundane" for non-fans, sort of a science-fiction-fan version of the term "Muggle." A house or building where lots of SF fans lived was called a "Slan-shack."
There are a couple of science fiction novels dealing with mutants and galactic empires. They imply that mutants tend to appear when an empire is in the "decline and fall" stage. In his immortal Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov has the mutant the Mule appear during the Dark Ages after the fall of empire. In Andre Norton's Star Ranger the historian mentions that the current time of galactic empire collapse is when "change mutants" make their appearance.
Other novels mention dark rumors about how mutant occur on those planets beyond the rim of the galactic empire. An example is John Brunner's Altar On Asconel.
In Jack Williamson's Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock, the children of asteroid miners occasionally are born with abilities useful in the space environment. Rob McGee is immune to radiation, and has an ability to sense gravitational masses. This allows him to navigate the asteroid belt with relative ease. McGee is the first evidence of asterites evolving into humans suited for living in space.
Controlling the weather has been a dream for hundreds of years, especially for farmers (as David Drake said in one of his novels, nobody ever fooled a farmer into thinking that life was fair). The first mention in science fiction was in the 1759 "Rasselas" by Samuel Johnson.
Sadly, the forces of weather represent such huge amounts of energy that a hurricane would laugh at nuclear warheads (hurricane energy is the equivalent to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes, for the duration of the storm). The main real-world weather modification is the wimpy cloud-seeding technique. NOAA talks big about stopping hurricane with laser and dumping liquid nitrogen, but none of this has actually materialized. It would probably be more cost-effective to build a dome over vulnerable cities.
Weather modification would also come in handy if you were terraforming a planet. The planet's weather is liable to become quite frisky before it settles down.
Like almost all other scientific techniques, weather modification can be weaponized. One example in science fiction is Leonard Leokum and Paul Posnick's Weather War. In William Cochrane's Weather War, the US military give their weather combat unit a gizmo that can initiate a tornado in certain types of weather conditions. They are surprised when a hurricane makes a ninety-degree turn in course and heads straight for US cities. This is an obvious attack, and the obvious location for the controlling equipment is the eye of the storm. The US weather combat unit frantically initiates multiple tornadoes in the eye, until hurricane hunter aircraft observe a tornado wadding up a Soviet warship like used aluminum foil. The hurricane abruptly dissipates.
Back in 1890 in Victorian England, society decreed that a woman's place was in the home. Their only approved jobs were child-rearing, cooking and cleaning. They were not suppose to leave the house unless accompanied by a husband or father. They certainly were not supposed to have anything approaching independence. Let alone being involved in business, politics, or education.
Just to assure that totalitarian state of affairs, there really was no way for an independent woman to get around short of using her two feet. An average person earned a weekly salary of $10. Horses were outrageously expensive ($150 in 1890 dollars) and required stables and fodder. Horse and buggy had most of the disadvantages of a horse along with the added expense of a buggy. And an automobile was out of the question ($750).
But then came the bicycle. Only $3 to $15. A very affordable price for freedom. Suddenly women were everywhere. They were no longer at home, out of sight and out of mind. They were no longer segregated. And they started seeing what they were missing. Women started advocating for themselves.
Bicycles changed everything. At least when it came to woman's rights.
Predictably the men lost their freaking minds.
Women on bikes were immoral, bicycling ruined their health, it would give them the horror of "Bicycle Face". I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the anti-bicycling propaganda leaked into the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. You know, the scene where the horrible ugly Miss Gulch on her bicycle transforms into a horrible ugly witch riding a broomstick. Real subtle, that.
But the real reason the men were incandescent with rage was because bicycling kick-started the Suffragette Movement.
In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling, I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." It allowed suffragettes to move from town to town, spreading the word about female emancipation. They could do canvassing to get laws changed. Bicycles became a symbol of female emancipation. Bicycling showed women that they could go out and do everything they'd been prohibited from doing for centuries. And if they could do that, what else were women capable of?
OK, now lets transpose this into a rocketpunk future, with asteroid colonies and stuff.
First the science fiction author needs a plausible excuse to turn the clock back and negate decades of womans rights. Actually, there is an all too logical reason this may well happen, at least in non-planet-based space colonies.
With any new settlement, with respect to increasing the population of a settlement, women are a more critical item than men. Meaning the population growth of a settlement will be more drastically slowed by losing females than losing males (for obvious reasons you can read about in the link). "Losing" can mean either by death, sterility, or enough radiation damage to the gametes that fertilization results in a non-viable embryo.
This means any settlement that wants to reverse the demographic shift and drastically increase the population growth is going to have to protect the females from hazards. And encourage them to become baby-making machines. In other words: negate decades of woman's rights.
This will really mean lots of cloistering if this is a space habitat. The space environment is just buzzing with deadly radiation, which can fry one's gonads at a much lower radiation levels than lethal doses. Men can make deposits into lead-lined sperm banks to avoid this, but while a woman can do the same with ovums they cannot do the same with their uterus. So the males get to leave the bounds of the space colony and fly around in spaceships, while the women have to stay at home. And take care of her five babies.
All this is a plausible excuse to explain a neo-Victorian attitude towards women in a rocketpunk future. Please note that this in no way mandates that it will happen, it is just an excuse for the science fiction author.
Now, stage 2. Just like in 1890, the space habitat will have grown to the point where it has a viable population size. Women no longer have to be baby-making machines. It is time for equality. And predictably the conservative men are going to foam at the mouth and fight like cornered rats for the status quo. Because change terrifies them.
Gee, ain't it just too bad that woman can't travel around in space, what with spacecraft being prohibitively expensive? Tsk, tsk. I guess you gotta stay at home dearie, no matter how much you want to go places and do things. Now make me a sandwich.
And in the sky, a constellation called Susan B. Anthony smiles.
This used to sound like a silly over-the-top sci-fi warning back at the turn of the century. Nowadays, anybody who tries surfing the web without an ad-blocker knows it is cold hard truth. It is really annoying that we are living in the future, but instead of rocket packs we got pop-up ads.
Advertising is everywhere, especially in places with no obvious way of monetizing. Such as newspaper websites.
It does seem like a truism that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and the middle class vanishes. Since science fiction can turn the volume up to 11, it can play with Extreme Speculative Stratification
Since the wealthy enjoy looking down upon the peons, they often try to make the process easier by living at a higher altitude. Some readers might remember the British comedy show Upstairs, Downstairs. Turn this up to 11 and soon all the aristocrats are living at the top of skyscrapers. The peasants live on the ground in wretched hives. The skyscrapers are cross-connected with elevated walk-ways and flying cars, so the rich do not have to descend into the slums in order to visit an adjacent building. Often the tops of the skyscrapers are Arcologies.
This is the sci-fi version of "the wrong side of the tracks." Only the separation is vertical, instead of horizontal.
Compare and contrast this with domed cities.
In the classic nove The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, the decadent Eloi live in beautiful gardens while all their food and other needs are supplied by troglodyte Morlocks who labor underground and hate the sunlight. But in a bit of ironic justice, the Morlocks eat the Eloi for food.
In the classic movie Metropolis, the rich live in skyscrapers which depend upon subterranean laborers being worked until they drop.
In the comic book Magnus Robot Fighter, ordinary citizens live in kilometer-high skyscrapers, while the malcontents who despise civilized life live in the shadowy valleys at the base of the buildings. Malcontents call the citizens "Cloud Cloddies", while the citizens call the malcontents "Gophs", short for gophers.
In Isaac Asimov's The Currents Of Space, all the cities have two levels. The upper level is for the Sarkite masters and bottom level for Florinian serfs. The Florinians have to make do with the little bits of sunlight that come through the limited gaps in the Sarkite's floor. All the rest in in shadow.
In the extreme case, the rich live in a floating city flying in the sky.
In the Star Trek episode "The Cloud Minders", the privileged Ardanans live luxuriously in the antigravity city of Stratos flying in the sky, while the miserable Troglytes are forced to labor in the mineral mines underground.
In the Firefly episode Trash the antigravity Bellerophon Floating Estates are home to the rich and paranoid. Since they are flying over a remote spot in mid-ocean, it is almost impossible for the riffraff to get to the rich. Even if they could somehow sail a boat to the site, then there is the minor problem of getting from sea level to an estate floating a couple of hundred meters in the air. This is an extreme example of a gated community.
This is inverted in James Blish's CITIES IN FLIGHT series. The antigravity "Okie" cities travel from star to star and visit planetary colonies, and are thus technically of higher altitude than the colonies. However, the colonists consider the Okies to be little better than tramps, hobos, and migrant labor. The Okies earn their living by being hired by the colonists. The motto of the flying city of New York, New York is: "MOW YOUR LAWN, LADY?"
But in the future, things may reverse themselves, sort of.
Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that there is sort of an inverse relationship between communication and transportation. What he means is the more advanced one becomes, the less you need the other. If communication develops virtual reality to the point where businesses can conduct meetings with members who physically are located all over the globe and you can't tell the difference, why go to the expense and inconvenience of traveling physically to a meeting? Already many corporations are experimenting with telecommuting.
By the same token, if transportation develops a teleportation device that can whisk you from Hong Kong to New York in a fraction of a second, who needs teleconferences? In other words: in many ways communication and transportation are two different techniques dealing with the same problem.
With respect to cities, the point is that if either technology becomes advanced enough, who needs cities?
A Time Capsule is a tiny mini-museum inside a preserving shell, deliberately buried for the benefit of future archeologists or interstellar visitors. A time capsule from a vanished alien civilization could be very valuable, since it would be actively trying to help the discoverer to understand the contents.
Some have suggested that an interstellar empire afraid of an impending Long Night might want to use time capsules as insurance. Capsules can be located in strategic areas and filled with Global Village Construction Sets in their secondary role as "civilization starter kits." When civilization starts its painful advance out of the dark ages, the kits will give a useful jump-start.
"Immortality" means being partially or fully immune to dying from old age. You can still die from starvation, being blown out an airlock with no spacesuit, or being drilled between the eyes by a laser rifle.
"Invulnerability" on the other hand is being remarkably difficult to kill with clubs, swords, or firearms. Having a body composed of diamond, Wolverine-levels of regeneration, resurrection like Count Dracula, that sort of thing.
Having one of these abilities does not necessarily mean you have the other. TV Tropes calls having both Complete Immortality.
Immortality is a perennial favorite, since practically nobody wants to die. I'm not kidding. The concept dates back at least to the The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BCE) the earliest surviving great work of literature.
The techniques vary, some are from machines, some are from exotic drugs.
But the invention of any new technique of prolonging lifespan is guaranteed to create major problems in the society and political power structure.
For one thing, unless you pass laws about term limits and maximum age of political office, you've suddenly got a gerontocracy on your hands.
For another, if the lifespan lengthens to past about 500 years or so, you'd better limit the number of children allowed to a family or overpopulation will make a reappearance. Once you have death control you have to have birth control or you'll be standing on Zanzibar. Logically, the reason any species has the ability to procreate is because they are mortal. Otherwise the species would go extinct. Remove the mortality and you remove the need for procreation.
Naturally, this becomes less acute if immortality is not for everyone, but just for a privileged few. Even if that spoil-sport Immanual Kant says it is immoral to do something that is only bad if everybody does it.
TV Tropes calls this the Immortal Procreation Clause: The fertility of a species is inversely proportional to its lifespan. Thus, as a species approaches immortality, their birth rate approaches zero. This can be the result of natural infertility, or because they don't want to be up to their eyebrows in squalling babies so contraception is employed.
On a broader level there is the problem that reducing the birth rate also reduces the evolution rate of the species. No children, no evolution. Keeping in mind that the invention of modern medicine has already put a damper on evolution.
There are other problems with immortality, over and above the literary motive of saying it is just plain immoral for some reason or another.
A couple of time the science fiction author wanted to make the immorality rather stark black-and-white. The immortalty treatment requires the death of another person (sometimes of an alien species but still...). Stories include Ben Bova's Stars, Won't You Hide Me? and the Babylon 5 episode Deathwalker.
It has often been noted that in society "the rich get richer." At least nowadays the super rich eventually die so their wealth is divided among the children. But an immortal rich person is just going to keep getting richer. The same goes for a politically powerful immortal. They keep getting to be more powerful and are never removed by death (well natural death at any rate, I'm sure the descendants will be busy hiring assasins).
In "The Martyr" by Alan E Nourse the invention of immortality puts the breaks on progress. They can only give the treatment to 500 carefully selected people each year, but after a couple of decades the effect is quite noticeable. The starship project stalls because there is no motivation to get things done in a timely fashion. Since each treatment adds another sixty years to your life, why not spend yet another year on starship testing just to be absolutely sure? And the politicians start becoming permanent fixtures. With each decade they just add to their repertoire of dirty political tricks, new novice politicians don't stand a chance. Stagnation.
The "lack of pressure" drawback is also featured in Between The Strokes Of Night by Charles Sheffield, in chapter 29.
In Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun the Spacers have a lifespan of 400 years or so. They become hypercautious and terrified of disease, since they have so many more years to lose than a filthy Earthman with their three-score and ten. Spacers are also unbelievably conservative and resistant to change.
In many science fiction stories the supreme enemy of an immortal being is boredom. After ten-thousand years or so it is almost impossible for an immortal to find anything new, or even anything they've only encountered five hundred times before. In The Lost Worlds of 2001 Arthur C. Clarke said "There were few things that an immortal welcomed and valued more greatly than surprise; when there was none left in the universe, it would be time to die." This is explored in Raymond Z. Gallun's The Eden Cycle and Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time sequence where the protagonists must go to extreme and absurd lengths to keep ennui at bay.
In the role playing game The Burning Wheel, the Elves are immortal. As a consequence they are elegiac, tragic, and constantly grief-stricken. After all, the longer you live, the larger the number of friends you have seen die (generally in combat). Us older people have experienced a mild version of this: the older you get, the more of your beloved TV and movie actors you loved from childhood depart for that big silver screen in the sky. Especially in the year 2016.
In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Captain Teague tells Jack Sparrow: "It's not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever."
In Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps people periodically make brain recordings as a backup. If they are killed, a new cloned body can be quickly warmed up and impressed with the latest recording for an instant resurrection. Sort of like playing a computer role playing game and saving the game periodically in case your player character unexpectedly dies. In fact, if the body of the dear departed has a brain that is not too damaged, it can be scanned to proved a back up more recent than the last brain recording.
However, since the powerful Houses in the novel are about as peaceful and innocent as the ones in The Game of Thrones, assassination is commonplace. So much so that a specialized weapon was developed: the skull-splitter. It fires a bullet of compressed metallic sodium which will totally fry the victim's brain beyond all hope of scanning. In other words is it a weapon specifically optimized to screw up the target's resurrection. Granted, it only eliminates the person's memories between now and the last backup recording, but that can be useful in carefully crafted political plots.
But immortality is not all bad. It comes in handy with slower-than-light space travel. Or even faster-than-light, the "anti-agathic" immortality drugs of James Blish's Cities In Flight series were developed because star travel at 20c still consumes a huge chunk of one's lifespan. In Robert Forward's Rocheworld, the drug No-Die slows the aging process to one-fourth the normal rate. Unfortunately it temporarily lowers intelligence by roughly the same factor. It is needed because the STL laser light-sail is going to take 42 years to fly to Barnard's Star, and a crew of retirement-age astronauts would do an exceedingly poor job of exploration.
Science fiction authors are also fond of teasing the reader about immortality. In Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo? by Gerald Kersh the protagonist meets the eponymous Cuckoo who was born in 1507. He suffered a severe head trauma, and was treated by mad doctor Ambroise Paré with The Digestive (a concoction of oil of roses, honey, turpentine, and egg whites). This makes Cuckoo both immortal and invulnerable. Cuckoo wants to buy a farm to produce the needed ingredients so he can make a fortune selling The Digestive.
The protagonist torpeodes Cuckoo's plan by pointing out the wide variations in bee honey, eggs, et al. The chances of recreating the formula by using such organic ingredients is zilch.
Tales of technology turning civilizations into worthless decadent people dates back at least to H. G. Well's The Time Machine (1895), with the pathetic Eloi and brutal Morlocks. Things have only accelerated since then. Some such stories have become quaint, overtaken by events. E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops (1901) has people living in little cubbies, their only activity is using a sort of video conferencing machine to communicate with others. Sounds to me like present day guys living in their mother's basement, doing little else besides trolling Facebook and Twitter.
I remember people predicting the downfall of Western Civilization due to the invention of the TV remote control. Just think about a generation of couch potatos too lazy to get up, walk to the TV set, and change the channel. Actually, such predictions were not far off the mark.
Many science fiction stories with faster-than-light starships feature civilian commercial starships that can ship freight over interstellar distances at about the same transport cost as modern-day cargo aircraft.
While an era where long-established starships exists makes for a safe and familiar sci-fi background for the readers, authors should keep in mind that in the historical era where casual FTL starships are first invented, times are going to be stark raving nuts. Disruptive innovation is putting it mildly.
For instance, corporations found it most lucrative back in the days of company mining and logging camps. The employees were not paid in money, but instead in company scrip. The company scrip could only be spent in the company store. Due to this Truck system, the employees more often than not wound up owing their soul to the company store.
With casual FTL travel, they can set up company planets. Located light-years beyond the jurisdiction of any Terran nation. Most disruptive indeed.
Casual interplanetary travel may be similar on a smaller scale. However, sharing the same solar system as Terra means warships from various nations will be closer at hand to keep corporations et al on a shorter leash.
The idea is that every person will be given a computerized device at birth which will will stay with them, teaching them and learning their owner's personality. They could even take over dull routine tasks like answering the telephone. They would also record more or less everything their user sees, hears, and otherwise experiences for their entire life. Sort of a backup memory.
Stealing such a device would be tandamount to stealing a person's entire life. Example: movie Taking Care of Business, except more so. There will also have to be laws against the police subpoenaing a person's electronic companion, something along the lines of spousal privilege.
Also, the device could assist a child while growing up; example: the nanotechnology educational book given to Nellodee in The Diamond Age. Such a device could also mold and brainwash a child; example: I Always Do What Teddy Says.
With respect to an electronic companion substituting for you over the telephone, there was a recent article titled: Tired of texting? Google tests robot to chat with friends for you. The Fark.com version of the headline was "Google tests robot to chat with friends for you, so you could be dead for weeks before they know it"
Drugs that amplify intelligence (temporarily or permanently) are called Nootropics (aka smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers).
Examples from science fiction include R-47 from Gordon Dickson's THE R-MASTER, “VC” (viral coefficient) from John Brunner's THE STONE THAT NEVER CAME DOWN, "Hormone K Treatment" from Ted Chiang's UNDERSTAND, Methuen Treatment from L. Sprague de Camp's THE EXALTED, NZT-48 from the movie LIMITLESS and CPH4 from the movie LUCY.
A Brain-Computer Interface replaces the standard interaction between person and computer via monitor, keyboard, and mouse with something a little more intimate. The comptuter is connected direcly to your brain via implanted electrodes or something like that. Imagine a USB port in your skull. See the above link for details.
In the intelligence amplification category, such an interface can allow such IQ accelerating techniques as querying Google at the speed of thought and providing a math coprocessor for your brain.
In William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive are datachips called "skill softs." If you need to speak Mandarin Chinese, pop in a Mandarin skill soft into the chip port on your skull. Ditto nuclear physics, cordon bleu chief, or military strategist. Skill softs for physical skills like karate, sharpshooting, and jet fighter pilot will require additional interfaces to your reflex nervous system. Skill softs are Upgrade Artifacts.
In James White Sector General science fiction novels if for instance, a human surgeon had to operate on a Melfan patient, the surgeon would be temporarily imprinted with an appropriate memory tape. This is a brain recording of an alien surgeon who is an expert in the required surgery. The trouble is the brain recording is not just the surgical skill, it is all the alien's memories. So the poor surgeon has an alien split-personality as long as they are imprinted. The memory tape is erased from the surgeon's brain immediately afterwards. Diagnosticians are entities who have such mental stability that they can hold multiple brain recordings simultaneously. They use this cross-knowledge to do original research.
The movie Brainstorm noted how such an interface can be used to record an experience on tape and play it back so another person can experience the same things. Eating a meal at a five-star restaurant, sky-diving, traveling to exotic places. Not to mention pornographic applications. They didn't go into it in the movie but such an interface can be used to directly connect two people together, creating a sort of computer assisted telepathy.
From the person's standpoint, it appears like their mind is moved out of their meat body and transferred into a computer.
From an outside view it looks more like an incredibly advanced computer program is written which can perfectly simulate your memories, thoughts, and personality. The meat person still exists, they are a little dubious about this perfect simulation software running in the computer in the next room. Yes, this opens a screaming can of flailing worms full of questions about what is identity and related matters.
This is part of the Digital Crew Concept for slower-than-light starships, since uploaded people only require a computer, they have no mass and require no consumables.
Note this can result in the extinction of the human race by Existential Risk 6.1 Take-over by a transcending upload.
In the science fiction realm, memory can become a problem if a person is immortal or very long-lived. It is unknown what the maximum memory storage capacity is for the human brain. And even if there is plenty of storage left, how do you find the particular memory you seek? Imagine trying to find a particular web-page on the internet if there was no Google or other web searcher. Each day adds a days worth of new memory data to drown in.
The mechanical solution is to use a You-Simulator, hooked up to some kind of search algorithm. The mental solution is to use mnemonic techniques, such as the Method of loci. This sort of adds an index to one's memories.
A nice pseudo-mystical trope is the biggest barrier to more efficiently using your mind is getting rid of false data. In the same way that your knowledge of the fact "I cannot learn calculus because my brain cannot handle math" is preventing you from learning calculus; similar non-facts are preventing you from learning telepathy, precognition, and otherwise being a Jedi Knight.
Played for laughs is when the science fiction author has their characters look down upon those benighted fools living in the 2010s who were stupid enough to think that tobacco and food high in saturated fats were bad for you; the exact opposite of what science now knows to be true. Yes, this is a TV Trope.
More seriously there are hundreds of science fiction stories where faster-than-light starships were invented only after scientists in the future discovered that Einstein's relativity was not precisely correct. Characters in the story will commonly sadly shake their heads at our current-day scientists, comparing them to scientist in the 1600s who believed in phlogiston or other obsolete scientific theory.
In science fiction, protagonists who are adults struggle to overcome the false data they have learned in order to obtain a superior mentality. In extreme cases, this is impossible, the only thing that will work is teaching the right data from the start when the individual is a small child. The classic story here is Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore.
Mind control, now there's a concept guaranteed to frighten almost every rational being. The concept of brainwashing has been around since the 1950s. The concept of deprogramming a person back to quote "Normal" unquote is more recent. The fear is that future advances in technology will make brainwashing easier and more efficient.
There are also zillions of science fiction stories about alien parasites that burrow into a victim's body and take over control of their brain.
The movie Invaders from Mars used a less efficient technique, they surgically emplanted mind-control crystals into Earthlings to transform them into brainwashed agents. A similar technique was used in the movie Uchū Daisensō (Battle in Outer Space) to mind-control Dr. Ahmed.
In Babylon 5 people convicted of a capital crime were not put to death. Instead they suffered "Death Of Personality", where their personality was erased and imprinted with an artificial personality. The new personality was slanted to altruism and public service, so the new person would in a small way repay their debt to society. The old personality was gone, executed.
In the novel Dune, "Imperial Conditioning" rendered a person almost incapable of taking a human life. Such people were highly prized by leaders who have to deal almost daily with assasination attempts. Nice to have at least one person around that you can turn your back on.
In Damon Knight's Analogues series asocial behavior is dealt with by giving the person an "analogue", a mental imprint of an authority figure that intervenes whenever violent or otherwise harmful acts are contemplated. What you wind up with is a society where everybody is foaming-at-the-mouth insane on the inside, but their analogue forces them to act like they are sane. Things get really bad when the world splits into smaller nations, each with different definitions of what constitutes "asocial behavior." In one, not maxing out your credit card is considered asocial by the powers that be.
In Robert Heinlein's Coventry convicted criminals can undergo brainwashing or they can be sent to Coventry. This is a huge walled-off area where the rule of law does not apply. Dog-eat-dog, every man for themself.
In Tom Corbett: On The Trail Of The Space Pirates, people convicted of serious crimes have a choice of undergoing psychotherapeutic readjustment or exile for life on the Prison Asteroid. The asteroid dwellers can opt for psychoadjustment at any time, but most are such hard bitten criminals that they'd rather die.
In the ST:TAS Mudd's Passion at the end of the episode interstellar rogue Harcourt Fenton Mudd resignedly tells Mr. Spock he supposes he'll get rehabilitation therapy for his crimes, again. Spock says that he can guarantee it.
In Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange the sociopathic protagonist is convicted of first-degree murder. In exchange for commuting the rest of his prison sentence he agrees to undergo the Ludovico Technique. This is a species of aversion therapy to condition him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. Hilarity ensues.
In the Star Wars movies, Jedi Knights and Sith can use the force to implant suggestions into minds of the weak-willed. "These are not the droids you are looking for…"
In Phillip High's The Prodigal Sun, the police state control malcontents by brain programming. They are given a little book called Programme. It lists all the things they are forbidden to do or think. If they transgress, their brain programming gives them ten seconds of agonizing pain. They then have to frantically leaf through the book to figure out what they did wrong. By simple operant conditioning they will become perfect little police state drones after a couple of years of this.
There is a tradition in science fiction stories of people pretending that they have magic powers but are actually using high-tech devices hidden about their person. TV Tropes calls this Magic from Technology. To give them their due, some use tech that is so high it invokes Clarke's Third Law, so the question of whether this is fakery or not is moot. If a technomage can point their finger and the target is incinerated by lightning, does it matter if it was done with a magic spell or with a miniaturized particle beam weapon? Incinerated is incinerated.
A related concept is Magitek.
The United States is conquered by an Asian Empire called PanAsia. But at the last moment, a hidden military lab makes a scientific breakthrough. The lab now has the secret to weapons of Doc Smithian power and other cool gadgets. Unfortunately they are only seven men in a nation occupied by zillions of PanAsia troops. What can they do?
The scientists want to start an underground rebellion. But you need large groups to spread the conspiracy, and the Empire has forbidden large gatherings. However there is one loophole: religious worship allows large gatherings. The asians know how touchy an occupied nation is about their religions.
So the scientists invent a crazy religion with ridiculous deities. The asians don't notice anything odd since this new religion looks just as inscrutable as the other US religions. The occupied populance can see this is odd, but the religious services offer a free lunch. The high tech devices can do things like cure cancer and other diseases, which also attracts "worshipers." The congregations soon notice things such as all the hymns are being to the tune of forbidden US patriotic songs. And the sermons are full of dog-whistles about undercover resistance. The priests are on the look out for particularly intelligent and motivated members of the congregation. They are vetted and recruited into the rebellion.
For "religious" reasons the priests have to wear large floppy robes with turbans, to allow more space to hide high-tech devices hidden about their person. The turbans conceal communciation devices, and a bit of tech that makes the illusion of a halo. Their sacred walking staffs are energy projectors, emitting rays that can heal, transmute lead into gold, and disintegrate. Since the staffs are important to the religion this gets around the PanAsian ban on weapons. Their belts contain a force field generator.
When the final battle occurs, there is a particularly striking image. For psychological purposes, they use a holographic feature to create the illusion of one of the priests as tall as a skyscraper, sending rays of death and destruction into the PanAsia troops.
The Singularity is a theoretical event where computer artificial intelligence escapes control and Everything Changes. If an AI figures out how to improve its intelligence, the Singularity will happen rather quickly because computers can do a gazillion mathematical calculations in a fraction of a second. It took mankind about 300,000 years to go from the Middle Paleolithic to present-day knowledge, a crude AI could do that much in about four months.
Charles Stross calls it "The Rapture Of The Nerds", because Singularity fans talk about it in terms one generally only hears among eschatologists. Human history will come to an end, beer will be five cents a pint, everybody will have their brain uploaded into the paradise of a hyper interstellar internet, there to live out a blissful immortality while being all watched over by machines of loving grace. And it is going to happen Real Soon Now.
But both predictions are meaningless, since the point of a singularity is it signals where the math breaks down and future prediction is impossible. Sort of like a historical event horizon. Any prediction you make is revealing more about the hopes and fears lurking inside your personality than it is the actual details of the post-Singularity future.
Anyway the label was first mentioned by Stanislaw Ulam in 1958. But it was popularized by Vernor Vinge to the point where pretty much every science fiction author has at least heard the term. Of course there have been a few science fiction stories written about it.
Vinge is of the opinion that the Singularity will strike the instant that some entity appears that is "Superintelligent." It will then work its will, and the human history will vanish into the unpredictable event horizon of the Singularity. Vinge figures this can happen four different ways:
- A computer may be developed that is both awake and superhumanly intelligent. This might be from some human genius who builds a very smart machine, or by a human who makes a computer capable of such recursive self-improvement that when the human's back is turned the computer undergoes an intelligence explosion, bootstrapping itself into superintellence.
- A large computer network may "wake up" as a superintelligent entity. Arthur C. Clarke used this in his 1965 story Dial "F" for Frankenstein when the telephone system wakes up. Nowadays the first thing that springs to mind is the internet, which is a disturbing thought. Blasted thing will have 4chan for a dark subconscious.
- A computer/brain interface may become so intimate that the users will be for all intents and purposes superintelligent.
- There may be no computers involved at all. Biological science might be able to grant human beings the power of superintelligence.
Naturally once you have a superintelligent being, there is nothing stopping it from creating a super-superintelligent being, and so on.
This is the nightmare Skynet Scenario, with hordes of Terminator robots hunting down humans with phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range, crunching human skulls underfoot. Once the rogue artificial intelligence is created, it decided to exterminate the human race for reasons that make sense to its cybernetic mind.
Less evil but still deadly is death by paper-clip maximizer. Here the AI is not actively trying to exterminate humanity. Instead it has a goal (the thought experiment has the goal of manufacturing as many paper-clips as possible). The problem is that the AI sees planets, ecosystems, and human beings themselves to just be convenient sources of raw materials for paper-clip manufacture.
Even less evil abet still deadly (and terribly selfish) is death by indifference. When humans decide to build an appartment complex, they give zero consideration to all the ant-hills and ants that will be totally annhilated by the project. For the most part they do not even notice that the ant-hills exist. By the same token, an AI trying to build a hyperspace by-pass will give zero consideration to Terra and all the humans living on it if the planet has to be demolished because it is in the way.
Science fiction authors who wanted to write about the AI Revolt have a problem. The odds are stacked too high in the AI's favor, how can mere humans possibly win? Robots are stronger, require no air or food, and are smarter than flesh-and-blood people.
In pulp scifi, the standard solution is to postulate humans possess some innate ineffable ability that cannot be duplicated by mere machines.