Aldrin Tools

Useful and popular toolkits with virch support

Aldrin City
Image from Steve Bowers
Aldrin City, important colony on Luna

The lunar colony of Aldrin had a poor reputation in the Technocalypse and later Great Expulsion for its corporate greed during the crises. Its authoritarian government (sometimes called "a constitutional dictatorship") was among the harshest in cracking down on refugee dissent and among the most reluctant to take new refugees. Its Selenian neighbors disliked allying with Aldrin during the Moon Wars, but its mines, industry, and military were important assets. And the tools it produced for its unskilled refugees were widely prized and copied by Expulsion-era colonies.

Those tools were created to put unskilled refugees to work in a time of total industrial mobilization, a period that also coincided with a distrust of AIs, vecs, and von Neumanns so deep that many colonies tried to avoid those highly productive technologies. The lunar colonies faced an order of magnitude population increase in the 19 years of the Great Expulsion, and needed all the labor they could get even without technological proscriptions. However, the refugees often had few practical skills for extraterrestrial life. Because DNI was rare (and also deeply distrusted) compared to the pre-Technocalypse era, training had to fall back on older techniques, like classroom and virch training, on-the-job experience, and interactive user interfaces on tools.

Such interactive tools ranged from million-ton factory forges to wrenches and ohm-meters, and refugees were pressed into unskilled and semi-skilled work covering everything from installing air ducts to digging warren trenches and pruning hydroponic plants. The interactive interfaces could tell the user how to use the tool and how to fix the tool when it was broken, typically working through virch goggles and earbuds. A superturing aivisor could manage scores, even thousands of semi-skilled workers by stepping in during the few times the user and the tool could not figure out a problem by themselves. Of course, during the Great Expulsion refugees were usually nonplussed to be ordered about by AIs as if they were bots.

As with other interactive interface tools, when given a blueprint or repair procedure, Aldrin tools would step the user through the process with real time virch guides for everything from turning a bolt to testing electrical systems and following safety procedures. An unusual but not unique enhancement was that groups of Aldrin tools, such as a kit, would form an ad hoc network to minimize the need for a separate supervisor unit. The tools' interfaces would track individual users and customize to their learning speed and prior usage, allowing a tool to reference shared experiences to continue educating the user. That was unusual among the Expulsion-era refugee tools, which tended to get simpler Simms (simulated personalities able to offer advice and assistance) for their interfaces due to time constraints of the programmers, but - again - was not unique.

The most unique feature was that Aldrin tools did not use sympathetic, gentle Simms. Instead, their Simms were an assortment of gruff, experienced characters like veteran plumbers, machinists, engineers, and electricians. The unusually detailed interfaces could address extended questioning, responding with engaging, anecdotal answers and folksy humor customized to the situation. Users were motivated by techniques familiar to any military drill instructor: the tool would question, berate, and gradually break down a user, then mold and rebuild their confidence as their skills grew. They were never unnecessarily abusive and, within the limits of available sensors, would keep an eye out for workplace hazards to protect their user.

The Simms were modeled and built with Aldrin's decades-long experience in media production and memetic engineering. The gruff characters selected from one of several viable tactics to educate and motivate the disoriented, unhappy, and often disgruntled refugees. Though other approaches, like gentle persuasion and sympathy, were viable and actually part of Aldrin colony's tool box for rapidly securing the loyalty of refugees to its ruling autocracy, the Simms for the tools were the final result of modeling, field testing, and down selection. The development program had recognized the refugee users would need to be prompted into fast, disciplined actions to maintain life support systems and habitat structures in a hazardous, unfamiliar environment, and a "drill sergeant"-like approach was more successful with the target demographics than gentler persuasion. When hastily-made warren seals were leaking precious water, users had to jump the moment tools and supervisors ordered it, not when they were coaxed into it.

Further, the development team found that the nearly ai-phobic refugees sometimes responded poorly to nicer interfaces. They knew the subturing interfaces were only simulating friendship, lying to them. The acerbic, coarse Simms of Aldrin tools did not pretend friendship but rather stated sensible goals clearly ("If you want to breathe, dumbass, we need to tighten down this air duct"), thus giving the impression of refreshing honesty.

Like good instructors, the tools could be complimentary because carefully targeted compliments were powerful motivators. It was a badge of honor among users to get the rare, backhanded compliments from Aldrin tools, such as:

"Shit, you remembered to lock out and tag out another circuit. I'm getting worried you might live long enough to breed."
"You're not as stupid as you used to be."
"I might even trust you to pour me a beer."

The tools were a first choice among many Expulsion-era workers and kits of hand tools were popular with home users. In addition to the interface, the hand tools were well built and hefty diamondoid-clad ferrous alloys, which users claimed to appreciate. On the other hand, the tools had an abnormally high rate of being tossed into recyclers, typically after questioning a new user's membership in a tool-using species.

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Development Notes
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 30 March 2016.