The Word Nerds are excited to welcome Cindy Koepp to the blog today to talk about communications and her books, “Remnant in the Stars” and “The Loudest Action.”
Science fictions is full of interesting ways for characters to communicate with each other across distances. Some, like the 1960s Star Trek communicators, look a little like flip-phones. Others, like the more recent Star Trek series, were little badges the character just had to tap to activate. Some were a lot more complex, like Star Wars’ holographic transmissions.
In Remnant in the Stars and The Loudest Actions, the human characters – most of them anyway – have a communicator implanted in their heads. The communicator shows as a green or red LED under their hair. Tapping the light can turn the communicator on or off, but the default mode is on.
These are not “electronic telepathy.” It’s not as simple as just thinking something and having it transferred to your friend in the next room. The user has to speak out loud. A microphone picks up the sound, translates to radio waves, and transmits to another person’s implant. There, the information is translated back into sounds, which are communicated to the auditory nerves.
The range of these communicators is limited. Kirsten couldn’t talk to Derek on another planet, for example. The next room, or from one end of the ship to the other, maybe even a few miles away? No problem.
Aolanians – and some humans – don’t use the implant comms. They don’t do wetware, so they rely on a small box-like communicator on their belts. It serves the same function, but without the surgical implant.
What about technology today? Do we have anything like implant communicators?
Well, sort of. I got the idea for an implant communicator from cochlear implants (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants). These are implanted devices that help a deaf person recognize sounds and make use of them by skipping damaged parts of the ear and sending the sound directly to the auditory nerves.
A cochlear implant has two parts. One inside the skull and one outside. The device has a microphone to pick up sound in the environment. Sound is then processed into useful bits. Then a transmitter and receiver communicate with each other. Finally, the device sends the information to the auditory nerve, which takes the impulse to the brain to process.
Another device is called Interscatter (http://www.medgadget.com/2016/08/interscatter-new-technology-implanted-device-communication.html). This is a combination of a contact lens, smart phone, and smart watch that does things like monitor someone’s blood sugar and send an alert when it drops too low. Not exactly an implant, but the communication thing is getting worked out.
Biotelemetry devices have also been able to communicate information from within the body to a doctor or researcher (This gets a little dense, but here’s some info: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156009/). These telemetry devices gather data like EKG, blood pressure, or blood sugar and send it to a computer outside the body. Unfortunately, these devices aren’t foolproof. They suffer mechanical breakdowns and transmission problems.
For the moment, implant communicators are still the thing of science fiction, but I don’t doubt that someday, cell phones will be small enough and stable enough to implant in the skull.