Charles Sheffield - Sight of Proteus (Novel) - Auxilliaries
A Publisher's Weekly blurb remarks that this is Charles Sheffield's first novel. Date: 1978. Wikipedia reminds me that time marched on - he passed away on November 2, 2002 (also from cancer, this time of a brain tumor). Since he was born on June 25, 1935, he was 66 when he passed away, which is modestly young. (Note 1) Sheffield was the Chief Scientist of the Earth Satellite Corporation, so that explains the "relative ease" he had writing "Hard Science Fiction", because he applied plots to his science training rather than researching enough science to fit a plot. Sheffield would have been about 42 at the time of that event. (Note 2)
The blurb goes on to remark, "...Earmarked with intruiging technology, intricately plotted, full of suspense, the story is set in the 22nd century where on overpopulated earth average life expectancy is now over 100 years because of medical advances which make possible biological "form-changes" and body repair. To monitor abuses, of which there are many, is the purpose of the Office of Form Control. ...". As part of my Future Now series, I am looking at how current news interacts with speculative fiction from the past.
Getting into the aspect of life changing forms, the rapid advance of computer technology might have accelerated his timeline. (Note 4) We are hearing news of injecting cats with other animal's DNA to create research breeds, while on the art side, one early body artists infused herself with horse plasma. Socially, Apple gave us a powerful push into the aesthetic side of computing.
On the computing side, Sheffield seems to have done a decent job projecting out Moore's Law from the state of the art in 1977. The novel remarks "...The forms that appeal the most need a thousand hours of work with the machines, or else they have a lousy life-ratio... or they require a whole mass of computer storage, if they're anything like last year's releases. ... I already have a billion words of primary storage and I still couldn't begin to handle it. Four billion words, or you shouldn't think of ordering it." While I'm not quite clear what a 'word' is in that day's terminology, let's try the now familiar term 'byte'. (Note 5) So these characters are speculating that '1 Gigabyte is not nearly enough, 4 Gigabytes or you shouldn't think of ordering it.'
I'm also not clear if 'storage' refers to hard drive storage or internal RAM. Checking the net for the history of hard drives, let's say that 2002 might be a useful marker to start with, because there was apparently a 137 Gigabyte addressing barrier problem, which was solved in that year. So let's say that a typical "Form User" would need a computer with at least 250 Gigs, extrapolating for OS installs, other applications, games, and so on. 2002 would also be firmly at the start of Microsoft's Windows XP, which would later prove to become the 'Metagame Changer' of Operating Systems. Again referring to the novel quote (which is in fact two characters talking to each other), if we take 'storage' to be internal memory storage, Charles Sheffield was still right even as of 2002! (Note 6)
It wouldn't be until about 2012 with the general availability of Microsoft Windows 8 and also the rise of "Cloud" or internet-distrubuted computing, that "general user" technology would really be able to handle the computing requirements of these biological forms! (Note 7) 2012-1977 = 35 years! Not all that bad for a digital extrapolation from before Space Invaders!