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Dune’s Fascinating Take on Computer-free Technology

Dune’s Fascinating Take on Computer-free Technology

What would our futures look like without computers and artificial intelligence?

This may be a strange question to ask in the android-and-cyborg-filled world of science fiction, but Frank Herbert frames the answer in a most compelling fashion in his 1965 novel: Dune. And now, the seminal masterpiece has been brought to the big screen by director Denis Villeneuve, with Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya starring as the lead characters.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

Dune tells a sprawling tale about warring families, psychedelic drugs and giant sandworms which takes place in the distant future. But it’s much more than a story about a galaxy far, far away. Apart from being rich in action and political intrigue, Dune is also unique in its take on the relationship between humans and technology.

Despite its radically advanced society, computers, or “thinking machines”, are virtually absent in the Dune universe. A commandment in the Orange Catholic Bible states: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” This ban on AI is the outcome of a brutal conflict that broke out 10,000 years ago, when intelligent computers clashed with humankind. All AI were destroyed in the war and subsequently outlawed. The punishment of owning such AI device or any kind is immediate death.

Instead of relying on machines to think for them, the people of the Dune universe developed other ways of advancing themselves, such as training human-calculators called Mentats to act as political advisors and harvesting spice melange, a drug-like substance from the planet Arrakis which prolongs human life and unlocks prescient sight. The results are interstellar starships that travel the skies and ubiquitous hover devices that generate artificial gravity.

Below is a list of cool technological innovations introduced in the movie. Be sure to keep an eye out for them when you walk into the theater to watch Dune.

1. Space-folding

Image credit: dune.fandom.com

In the story, faster-than-light travel, or space-folding, is practiced exclusively by the Spacing Guild. It involves two elements. First is practical application of the Holtzman Effect. Second is the plotting of a safe course through folded space by a Guild Navigator, who uses prescient planning induced by vast amounts of Spice Melange.

There is a fifth force which shaped religious belief, but its effect is so universal and profound that it deserves to stand alone…it deserves to be written thus: SPACE TRAVEL!

2. Stillsuits

Image credit: Warner Bros

Stillsuits are full body suits invented by the Fremen of planet Arrakis. They look like sand-colored racing suits fixed with a weird-looking nose tube. The multilayered fabric absorbs sweat and urine, filters it back into clean water, and deposits it into pockets the wearer can drink from. This idea may not sound appealing, but it’s necessary for survival on Arrakis, where most of the landscape is covered by vast open deserts (hence the nickname, Dune).

According to the planetologist Liet Kynes, “With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won’t lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day…”

3. Defensive shields

Image credit: Warner Bros

A defensive shield, or Holtzman shield, is a protective energy field that blocks projectile weapons and anything that travels above a certain velocity. The widespread use of personal shields is why firearms are rarely seen in the world of Dune. People resorted to close combat weapons like knives and blades because these could penetrate shields at slower speeds.

This does also apply when firing weapons from the inside of the shield; if a weapon is fired from inside the shield, this might result in the shooter getting killed by the radiation created by the shield.

4. No-ships

Image credit: Warner Bros

No-ships are starships that use Ixian fields to keep their whereabouts and occupants invisible to those with prescient powers.

5. Ornithopters

Image credit: Warner Bros

Ornithopters, commonly known as ‘thopters, are a type of aircraft used for primary planetary defense. These aerial workhorses are described to look like dragonflies, with fluttering wings that beat the air, making them far more agile than modern airplanes. They also vary in size, ranging from small scouting crafts to large carryalls.

6. Hunter-seekers

Image credit: Reddit

In the novel, a hunter-seeker is described as an assassination weapon that “could borrow into moving flesh and chew its way up nerve channels to the nearest vital organ.” These tiny floating tadpole-like devices contain lethal poison and are remotely controlled by an operator situated close by.

Image credit: Warner Bros

Like all great works of fiction, Dune is a source of wisdom and inspiration. Its insights into sociology and environmentalism are still highly relevant today, and the genre conventions it created heavily influenced later works of science-fiction like “Star Wars” and “Babylon5”.

Villeneuve’s film received instant acclaim from critics at its Venice Film Festival world premiere this month, and is scheduled to hit HBO MAX and theaters in the US on October 22, 2021.

Which Dune tech would you like to try out most? Please let us know in the comment section below.


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