In a recent FFA subthread (that nobody replied to before the post ended, alas), one [non-me] anon wrote the following:
"HDM is a book about people *discovering* Dust, and fighting off evil Heaven & Church. But what longer term implications would discovery of Dust / invention of devices to see Dust have on 'modern' soceity - Mary & Will's world instead of Lyra's? I keep wondering if it could be commoditized/commercialized or technologically adapted into normal everyday 'present'-level-of-tech life, but I have no idea how."
And this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, for purposes of a certain AU
Our heroes are in Lyra's world, but, well, let's just say there might be a stopover in Mary & Will's world planned at some point. It's 120 years in the future of HDM, which means Will's world has had a working amber spyglass for 120 years now. For purposes of this discussion, they also discovered how to reproduce it -- so maybe not everyone has a personal amber spyglass, but like an airport security scanner, you could buy one if you wanted to. And this has been the case for so long that the long-term social implications have shaken out by now.
Thoughts so far:
The one immediately-useful property of Dust is that if you watch how it moves around someone, you can discern their intentions. When Mary looked at one of the mulefa, who was a mother keeping an eye on her playing child, she described the Dust as "the very image of responsibility and wise care."
It's very general, not enough to make the spyglass a mind-reading device, but I bet it would be enough to use for security purposes. No more invasive full-body scans or pat-downs when you're getting on a plane -- all you have to do is walk in, with a couple of security officers scanning the entry point through their amber spyglasses for people whose intentions are bad.
If it's specific enough, you can also use it as a lie detector. Put someone on the witness stand, ask them a question, and watch to see if their intentions are closer to "be honest and open" or "lie and scheme" as they answer.
I see that having complications, though. For instance, if a defendant is lying to hide something other than the crime they've been accused of. ("I didn't rob that bank...but I can't give them my real alibi, because it involves sleeping with my best friend's husband!") I don't think Dust-vision is so detailed that it can tell the difference.
And what about people who genuinely don't understand that they did something wrong? The US already lets way too many white people let off the hook for shooting unarmed people of color, on the grounds of "what matters is that you decided you felt threatened, not whether your victim was doing anything threatening!" Lawyers are going to have to adapt to a whole new level of argument: not trying to convince the judge/jury of a person's presumed intentions, but trying to convince the judge/jury of the meaning
of their confirmed
(It would be nice to think your average trigger-happy gun owner could have an amber spyglass of their own, and check to make sure the person they're about to shoot is really someone they need to panic about. On the other hand: if they shoot anyway, then once the victim is dead, the shooter can claim they saw whatever intentions they want, and there's no way to double-check.)
It's a powerful tool as a general people-spotter. Think of every situation where you would use infrared goggles to track people -- except these don't indiscriminately pick up heat sources, they pick up adult humans far more brightly than anything else. Good luck sneaking across a border, or hiding in the woods, or going unspotted as an assassin creeping through the shadows.
In the hands of a totalitarian ruling power, it's all too easy to use your amber spyglass for evil. Your freedom-loving dissidents may be great actors, but you have a foolproof way to see who's loyal and who isn't.
There's a hell of a lot of potential invasion of privacy in the hands of average citizens looking at each other, for that matter. Which is why I don't like the idea of making them so common that everyone and their dog has one. Would there be legal usage standards, similar to the way you legally have to get people to sign permits before filming them for publication? Limits on places of usage? Limits on who gets one? Do the cops need a warrant to look at you through one?
In the hands of the people aimed at their government...well, you're going to get a lot of politicians thrown out of office if enough voters get a sight of what conniving scumbags they are. Hopefully you can find replacements who genuinely care about the good of the public and
are intelligent and capable enough to run the country. There would be an amazing amount of upheaval if amber spyglasses went public in a big way, but eventually it would stabilize, so the only people making it into high-level politics in the first place are the ones who are visibly in it for the right reasons.
Long-term -- in the most hopeful scenario, where the spyglasses are funneled toward people who will use them for good -- it could push humanity toward being better
, not just better-governed.
Not because people will magically learn to be kind and generous when they know their meanness and selfishness is visible. But because people who start out inclined towards kindness and generosity will be less likely to get burned-out on "no good deed goes unpunished, might as well stop trying." Social support will be able to flow toward people based on how much they care, independent of charisma or how good they are at making you believe
As a more mundane cultural thing, I can see "the moment you start attracting adult levels of Dust" (i.e. the point when your daemon settles, in universes where people have visible daemons) becoming a growing-up milestone. Maybe even supplanting traditional coming-of-age ceremonies. Something like a bar/bat mitzvah could start happening when an individual reaches that point, rather than just happening with everyone's 13th birthday.
And that just covers the known properties of Dust. The fanon possibilities are endless.
One that I'm not necessarily writing, but would love to read: what if, like electrons, Dust particles can be used for energy purposes? Could we get some kind of source of green energy by setting up generators in hubs of thought/creativity/learning/support (the various human actions that generate Dust), like classrooms or museums? Utopian version: what if it could be made efficient enough that you could, say, power a car by listening to a history lecture while driving?
...So that's all the angles I've managed to ponder so far.
Would really love other people's thoughts and ideas. It's such a cool prospect, but really intimidating to try to work out in detail.