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Why ARE there so many people on that spaceship?

I’ve noticed two schools of thought when it comes to fantasy spaceship operations.

  1. Tons of people
  2. Tons of automation

On one hand… Who WERE all those people that Jean-Luc passed on the corridor? What were all those soldiers (meant to be) doing that got vented into space when a ship got destroyed on Battlestar Gallactica?

Ender and other members of his ship's junior IT staff. (From IMDB)
Ender and other members of his ship’s junior IT staff. (From IMDB)

On the other hand… the only reason why there were ANY people on the ship featured in Passengers was because they were going to colonize another planet. They were meant to sleep the entire way. For decades (or like in Mass Effect, for hundreds of years). In some writer’s imaginations, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence system and bots can handle the entire operation.

The automation route is interesting… I’ll talk about that more later. Today, however, I’m on the side of people.

I’d like to put forward the idea that all those people gathered on deck cheering Ender were *actually* from the IT Department.

Delivering enterprise experiences is amazingly complex and there are a LOT of people involved. The person that shows up to help you when your computer craps out, is just the tip of the spear. Behind her is an entire department of support staff that is responsible for helping out with laptop, desktop, software, login, and phone system problems for everyone in your company. Depending on how big your company is, there’s usually another group of people responsible for designing how those end user systems are configured. If your company has an internal website (that includes HR stuff, anything with a form on it, or other internal tools that connect to the inter or intranet), there are a couple of people working on that. If y’all actually produce web-based things for sale, there are a few TEAMS for thatOnce all those teams exist, of course you need centralized infrastructure management, networking, process, and security (and compliance) teams. Of course, then you need people to design interfaces for those systems and manage the complexity of the complexity. Even if you work at a smaller business with a small IT team, they probably pay other companies for these services and systems — so they exist somewhere. Yeah. The sheer number of roles involved in making your average business tick is nontrivial.

Can you imagine being 3 light years out from earth with a processor failure that impacts your AI? Sure, you can train one of your 3 astronauts to swap out a board after they wake up from cryo-sleep, but what happens when that failure triggers a write error which propagates to corrupt a backup database which then takes down your propulsion system, your lighting system, and makes your AI start omitting every third word when it speaks because for some reason they all reference the same corrupt data (…don’t ask, I just made that last part up but stranger things have happened)??

That’s right. In the future, all those people on those spaceships will work in IT. And, ironically, they’ll be working to automate all the things.

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What makes a market?

Have you seen Jupiter Ascending? It’s based on an interesting premise (I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the movie itself is good or not). Namely, that there is a market for a substance that requires the farming of humans on Earth. But, that’s not the particular market I’m interested in today…

Welcome to the fanciest shuttle landing bay in the galaxy.
LandingBay-05.jpg
Who makes chandeliers for shuttle landing bays?

This post is about the market that enables the opulence that surrounds one character in the movie. Initially, I was struck by the fanciness of his shuttle and then I was taken aback by where that shuttle landed.

There were chandeliers. Statues. Gold-toned walls. All things that (in theory) had to stand up to potential vacuum. (After all, who would design components that were meant to go into an area that has a high chance of being exposed to vacuum that couldn’t withstand vacuum for a period of time?)

So, I stopped paying attention for a time to think about the possibility that this could exist. Not in terms of the science, but the financial viability. Of course, you say, it’s a rich man’s boat, he could pay anyone to build anything he wants… except it doesn’t always work like that. Imagine if said rich man saw a piece of work he admired, offered to hire the person that crafted that work to create chandeliers for his space yacht, and said craftsperson does the time / materials math and determines each chandelier would cost $8.5 Million (of today’s dollars) to make them worth his time. After all, Jupiter Ascending operates within a strongly capitalist society.

Chandeliers don’t give off much light. In this case, they are in a setting that requires light (i.e. where aerospace maneuvers happen). So, the bay needs approximately 100 of these fixtures. So that’s $85M in lighting inside of one landing bay. There’s still other lights, other rooms, and a spaceship frame, propulsion, life support, etc… lot’s of other things to pay for.

So, I think: No, this is not a viable product. But then, I see the humanoid androids at the wedding…

Enlarge

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All of the people under Mila Kunis' feet are robots. Awesome.

Warner Bros

…and think, Why the hell not? Why can’t this dude have chandeliers in his shuttle bay? If I can get on Etsy and get handmade earrings for $20, what’s stopping me from (eventually) having a stylish, custom, technology experience?

Yes, this is a movie; but, the things we have accessible to us today, including the sub-$300 laptop I’m typing this post on, were things thought to be unimaginable just 10 years ago. Unfathomable in terms of price point, access, and functionality.

Keep on pushing. Build your business cases and figure out how to make your product special and price it what it’s worth. You may not find a market large enough right away, but keep searching, pivoting, and refining.

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