Monday, March 05, 2007

Digital Lantern

Remember a while back when we had the suggestion that Barbara Gordon be a Green Lantern, and Kalinara argued against it? Well, the idea that the ultimate Green Lantern would have be a computer programmer still persists in some circles, and I have to say, as presented, it bothers me for one main reason.

The logic is that a computer programmer would use his or her technological knowledge to take Oan technology to a level previously unimagined.

That's arrogant as hell.

With Oa, we are talking about the race so advanced, that knows the nuts and bolts of the DC Universe so well, that their technology is indistinguishable from sorcery. Abara Kadabra is a picker by comparison. Coluans look at their artificial intelligence system and wish they could come up with something so beautifully advanced.

Hacking a Green Lantern ring using your 21st century human computer knowledge is akin to tapping a fiber optic line using your l33t skillz at the electric telegraph.

No, that's too generous. Its like tapping a fiber optic line using your l33t skillz at semaphore flag signals.

Either way, its not going to happen.

I'm not ragging on the engineers and the physicists here. They're brilliant. We've come an amazing way as a species and our technology is awesome. But to think that we don't have an immense way to go is simply delusional. Actually, to think that we have figured out how the universe works and only have to refine it from there shows a distinct lack of imagination.

No one is saying that a computer programmer, by nature of the job itself, would not make a good lantern. However, they would have the type of person who learns very quickly that they don't know as much about how the universe is put together as they think they do or else they'll find themselves limited by their assumptions. In short, they need their imagination much more than they need their technological knowledge.

Its a story I'd love to read, on reflection. But not for the same reasons I've been hearing from the people who suggest it.


  1. Personally I think that the people in the extreme tech community that espouse the kind of beliefs that you mention in your article are part of a community of Arrogant Experts. This is something that you often see in doctors, engineers, even some emergency services personell. Basically there are some of these people who believe that because their particular field of endeavor has required them to gain a specific type of highly specilized knowledge that it makes them more suited, than the rest of us to handle all the other aspects of life. People like this tend to be utterly dismissive of the value of others. You can usually spot them because they are the ones lecturing someone else on how to do a job that they themselves don't truly know how to do and have never done a day in their lives. As far as Green Lanternhood is concerned, the only and I mean the ONLY benchmark as I see it is will power. Everything else is a question of style. Something that I think that Geoff Johns makes abundantly clear in Re-Birth when he is describing the differing ways in which the Four Lanterns power manifests. Guy is like a guy with a firehose spewing energy everywhere, Hal just wants to get the job done, John is an architect/engineer whose constructs reflect his more precise knowledge of the physical world, and Kyle is constantly revising his constructs. But they all work. At no point does Geoff even subtly hint that one way of using the power ring is better than another. To me that has always been the timeless appeal of the idea of being a Green Lantern.



    (Where's the love? It's at Geek Love)

  2. Hail, and amen to that. I remember that particular posting about Barbara being such a great idea for a GL. Again, I'm not saying that she couldn't...but why would she, when her own methods works so well for her?

    Green Lanterns need willpower and a fertile imagination.

    And yes, the thought that puny humans could tell the Oans how to upgrade their systems...well, it is to laugh.

  3. The way I look at it is this. There's almost no limit to what can be done with the ring. Not only in terms of power, but in terms of complexity. The problem is, the orders aren't given by the ring; the orders are given by the wielder. The insight this Connel character came up with was to turn a lot of the analysis-and-decision-making power over to the ring itself, for which task it is, like a computer, better suited than a human being. I don't say he's the first Green Lantern to have thought of it, but he would probably be the first Earth Green Lantern to have thought of it.

    The only problem with the whole notion is that it doesn't make for a good comic book story.

  4. Now, I know very little about Oan technology, but is it true that it's all computerized? The Power Battery is controlled and monitored by high-tech computers that can be programmed? Perhaps it's just equivalent to an electrical system and thus everything is hardwired? Or perhaps it's magic?

    I actually think that the rigid and specialized nature of a programmer's mind would be a handicap rather than an asset. Sure, they're great at hacking a system written in the programming languages they know but not so good at fixing a broken tap or treating a open wound.

    As sallyp says, it's willpower and a fertile imagination that's the key.

  5. Actually, this is a rather silly question for us die-hard JLA/GL trivia wonks.

    You see, in one else-worlds story Barbara Gordon DID become Green Lantern of Earth and did a damn good job of it.

    The full story is up at:

  6. I'd like to see an engineer/scientist lantern. Not because I think they could improve upon Oan tech, but because I want to see what kind of constructs they'd come up with.

    As people have said, every Lantern uses their ring in a different way - Kyle's is a 3D paintbrush, to take the obvious example. But what kind of constructs would a theoretical physicist come up with? We've seen how Natu uses her medical knowledge when working as a Lantern, and Kyle's called John for structural stability consults - Could the specialist knowledge of an engineer be useful? How would a Lantern with a background in geology feel about meeting Mogo?

    You're right, to imagine that a single person from anywhere in the galaxy could come in and improve on Oan tech is beyond arrogance. Oan Employment practices, perhaps, but not Oan tech. That's how I'd like to see Lanterns with a scientific background in the Corps - not as Great Reformers, but as people with an insatiable curiosity about the universe, and how it works, given the absolute best research tool in the multiverse. That's what science and research is - curiosity and creativity aimed at a specific problem, whether that problem is "why are there seasells in the rocks at the peak of Mount Everest?", or "How do I stop this sun exploding and wiping out the surrounding highly populated planets?"

    --papervolcano, who might be just a little bit in love with science, for all its myriad flaws

  7. If Arisia can artifically age herself, then what's stopping Connel from artificially evolving himself to a being that can understand the ring? If the Ring can create a DNA scanner, surely it can extrapolate how those genes would evolve and then mutate the wearer accordingly.

    If the only thing keeping Connel from truly hacking the ring is his limited, Thanagarian physiology of his brain, then I'm going to handwave that saying he evolved himself, wrote a manual, and then devolved himself back to normal because Stargirl refused to makeout with a pulsating brain.

  8. Andrew, do go back and actually read the post before you comment on it.

  9. Starman -- I read that one. (I still think there were some better choices on the all-female world, actually, than Barbara, but it was nice to see them cure her legs.

  10. Which post? The Arisia one or the "Digital Lantern" post?

  11. As someone who is actually a programmer, let me tell you that I have absolutely no clue what the heck I could do with a Green Lantern ring that a lawyer, a plumber or a mime couldn't do.

    As far as I know, all you need to program a Green Lantern ring (which can be done) is just to talk to it. It's hardly Assembler language here.


    "Guy is like a guy with a firehose spewing energy everywhere"

    My dirty mind giggled at this.

  12. Andrew -- the Digital Lantern one. You missed the point by at least two continents.

  13. ragnell, you said, "With Oa, we are talking about the race so advanced, that knows the nuts and bolts of the DC Universe so well, that their technology is indistinguishable from sorcery." You then went on to say, "But to think that we don't have an immense way to go is simply delusional."

    I'm addressing the point of their being so far advanced by saying take a short cut. They've got millions of years of evolution under their belt, millions of years of time to refine and understand their technology. With a Ring, you could take a evolutionary shortcut, evolve your brain to something equal to the Guardians. Once that was done, you could then understand their technology well enough to write your prevolved self a simplified manual on how the Ring worked.

    If being stuck with "21st century human computer knowledge" (and a 21st century human meat brain) is the handicap, then use the Ring to speed up the process.

    How is that missing your point?

  14. Toriach,

    I've run into that attitude too. One of the most irritating things I've ever read on the Internet was a post by a medical student who spoke of literature as a "4,000-year old fad."

  15. Uh... WHY would Barbara Gordon want to be a Green Lantern? Doesn't sound like her sort of thing, IMO.

  16. Andrew -- Yes, you did miss the point. I meant technologically advanced. That's to do with the accumulation of years of trial and error experimentation. That's the history of a few billion years of experience creating its technology and observing the universe.

    That is not the same as evolution.

    Your lantern would have to evolve his brain to the point that he can process this, at which point s/he would realize that they don't have the knowledge necessary to mess with the ring.

    So, they'd have to acquire the knowledge. They can do this through study, which would take a great deal of time, or a quick fix as in that dreadful movie where the person uploaded skills into their brain through a mental connection.

    At which point, seeing how the ring works they'd realize there really isn't any way to expand upon its capabilities, all you need to do is realize that you can do what you want (contain a star going nova, build a DNA scanner, make a machine that makes motion into sound..etc..) so long as you can focus your willpower and get past the self-doubt.

    In effect, this lantern has just gone through a great deal of change to their mind and personality to realize that they had the power to do whatever they like without the technical knowledge.

    Its something Kyle Rayner knew by virtue of never being told otherwise.

    Again, a fascinating story, but not for the reasons you think.

    There is nothing to stop a programmer from being an awesome Green Lantern.

    But there is nothing that says that a programmer will be an awesome Green Lantern because of their occupation, because really, their occupation does not give them an edge except when directly dealing with Earth technology.

  17. For no reason at all, talking about Green Lantern rings, telegraphs, and semaphore flags reminded me of that Monty Python sketch with the semaphore version of Wuthering Heights, Julius Ceasat on an aldis lamp, and the smoke signal version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

    Who's up for the Green Lantern Corps All-Ring Construct Players' rendition of The Homecoming by Harold Pinter?

  18. "starman": Just because there was a single story in which Barbara WAS a Green Lantern (and was decent at it in the short term sense), doesn't mean I can't argue that she wouldn't be suited to it in a long term sense.

    Heck, we're comic fans. Most of the time, we're arguing that This, This and This don't count anyway. (i.e. Captain America would never REALLY give up). :-) I could argue that the story is a bad story (even though that is not my position), and my argument still wouldn't be moot.

  19. In effect, this lantern has just gone through a great deal of change to their mind and personality to realize that they had the power to do whatever they like without the technical knowledge.

    If Lanterns have "the power to do whatever they like without the technical knowledge" then why hasn't one Lantern concentrated really hard and thought, "Make all evil good." If a Lantern can do anything without needing to know more than that's what they want -- and that's what you seem to be saying -- then why don't they fix the Universe to work without evil?

  20. Because free will is important and evil, unfortunately, is a product of free will.

    Andrew: The Corps are made up of people chosen for courage, will and imagination. You're, thus, not going to get a lot of people who will believe in brainwashing the whole universe into a lack of evil. For most beings, that in and of itself would be an evil act.

    Besides, the Guardians do understand the need for a balance and by extension their creations (the rings) would as well.

  21. I just want an Elseworlds where Dorothy Parker gets her hands on a Green Lantern ring.

    (No, really.)

  22. I love your blog, I love your ideas, I love the discussions in the comments, and in months of reading there's only one error of mechanics I've ever noticed in your writing. Since I'm a nitpicky and obsessive person, it distracts me every time I see it, so, uh... I decided to be a jerk and bring it up.

    It's "it's." The "its" with no apostrophe is only for the possessive of "it." Otherwise, when you're using the contracted form of "it is," you do need the apostrophe.

    I'm very sorry for being a jerk!!