Enhanced reality: Noise in Space?

09/28/2003

So it occurred to me (while watching some dumb sci-fi TV series set in space) that maybe spaceships that make noise in a vacuum isn’t such a dumb idea after all. I mean, obviously they wouldn’t (couldn’t) make any noise, but there would be all kinds of reasons why it would be in the best interest of neighbouring ships to simulate the sensation. After all, noise can convey all kinds of useful information – different guns make different noises, different engines make different noises, you can tell the location – perhaps even the speed – of an object by pure noise alone. If we were to assume that – in space – the computers and sensors on ships would most likely be taking in much more information than a human could easily assimilate through a visual interface, then it makes total sense that you’d try to deliver some of it through sound. In fact it seems astonishing that you wouldn’t!

In such an environment – detached from everything outside your pressurised container by metal and vaccuum – the only sense that you’d otherwise have much use for would be sight. Smell would be pretty much redundant, you couldn’t reach out and touch anything and taste (bluntly) wouldn’t be that useful. Even the limited amount of motion senses that we have would probably be quite dramatically interfered with by the unfamiliarity of space and either an absence of, or a highly localised and disorientating forms of, gravity. That being the case – making use of a sense that would otherwise have very limited input would seem to be eminently practical and useful. Overlaying this enhanced – information-delivering, but yet still artificial – reality over normal video footage would create an outer-space that was more obviously comprehensible to human beings. That simple layer of mediation would help transform the insanely complex and alien into the routinely prosaic (this being – after all – precisely the reason that TV series put the noise in). So From now on I’m going to pretend that’s what they’re doing when the Romulan ships let off a volley of patouieee-ing distruptor blasts. I’m going to pretend they have a special insight into the world of the future and the ambient interfaces that they might use. I’m going to remark to myself, “How clever they were to think of that!”

For more information on various kinds of enhanced reality, you might try out some of these links: