I was helping Zack and Aiinacs brainstorm uses for their experiments in combining magic and electronics. We were sitting on the couches in the living room area of the apartment, with all their experiments–mostly comprised of circuit boards and miscellaneous magical devices–arranged on the coffee table. Aiinacs had connected himself to the TV remotely and was using it to display the list of ideas.
I directed my magic towards the lights on one of the circuit boards. On. Off. On. Off. Works like a charm, once you get used to it.
“A replacement for remotes?” I suggested. “Would be pretty cool to control the TV with magic. Not have to mess with finding the right button on the remote.”
Almost immediately, “control appliances via magic” appeared on the list. I was still amazed by how fast Aiinacs could work with this stuff. Without a physical body, existing inside a computer, he/she/shklee/ib had almost instant access to every part of the system. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that’s like.
It’s like a whole different world down here, with all this technology. It’s incredible.
“And what do we do when someone buys it, and then discovers it doesn’t work with their magic?” Zack shook his head. “Too many dissatisfied customers.”
“Could offer a refund,” I said.
“We’d still get angry phone calls, negative reviews, rumors that it’s all a hoax… nobody’s going to buy it if they don’t think they’ll be able to work it. Not to mention all the people who will only somewhat get it working, enough to think their magic is compatible, but not enough to have a good experience with it.” Zack sighed. “Whatever we make, it has to work. Not just for some people, but for everyone.”
“You’re right.” Aiinacs’s voice came in through the TV. “Anything that relies on the user’s magic is going to produce inconsistent results. We might be better off with something we enchant ourselves.”
“That’s going to drive the price up,” I reminded them, “Requires a skilled magic-user to enchant each item. Rather than mass-producing it with a machine.”
“At least it would stand a chance of working.”
“Or maybe…” My wings twitched. “Could we make a machine that performs enchantments? That could–”
“Not likely,” Aiinacs interrupted, “The inner workings of magic remain a mystery. We don’t know where it comes from, or what mechanism people use to control it. Replicating the effect with electronics–or anything–isn’t going to be possible anytime in the foreseeable future.”
“So what is possible?” I asked.
“Message-passing,” Zack explained, “In the case of those magic-controlled lights, the circuit is monitoring for certain changes that indicate a magical attempt to alter the light level. When it detects the magic trying to turn the bulb off, the circuit turns the bulb off itself. With enchantments, we can get a bit more complicated. This one–” He indicated one of the experiments on the table, a circuit board with a jar attached to it “–has an enchantment that flips switches in the circuit when you put paper in the jar. The switches indicate how much paper was added, and the circuit keeps track of the total mass. When the mass reaches a certain point, the circuit flips a different switch, which signals to the enchantment that it should light the paper on fire.”
“Unfortunately, magic tends to be rather unpredictable. Takes a lot of practice to make an enchantment that precise. Even with compatible magic like Alex’s, you still end up with random disturbances. Lost signals, voltage spikes and drops, clock skew…”
“Clock skew?” I frowned. I’d been reading up on computers and technology since I got here, but I hadn’t encountered that term before.
“Don’t worry about it.” Zack smiled. “The point is, electronics rely on a very precise, controlled environment, and magic tends to screw that up.”
I picked up a circuit board and inspected it. “So how do you stop the enchantment from causing trouble?”
“Magic-resistant materials, for one thing. But mainly we just design everything with redundancies and error-correction, and ensure everything can take a little voltage spike. That way, when the circuit does get screwed up by magic, it can recover from it.”
“What if someone else–someone whose magic doesn’t work with technology–is casting magic nearby? Magic tends to spread out, so…”
“That’s nothing to worry about. Ambient magic like that isn’t an issue for small circuits like this. It’s really only the complicated stuff–like computers–that need shielding from ambient magic.”
“They’re more sensitive. The more complex the circuit is, the greater the chance for error. And on a microscopic level, complex devices like computers tend to have much smaller components, much closer to each other. Think of it like a series of pipes. A pipe that’s a foot wide isn’t going to clog anywhere near as easily as one that’s thinner than my fingertip.”
“So you can’t make a computer that works with magic?”
“Not yet. I know it’s possible, but it would take a much better understanding of magic, more sophisticated materials, and a lot of design work.”
“Actually,” Aiinacs said, “I think we could do that. The specs wouldn’t be very good, but with enough error-correction, we could probably make it work.”
“Who cares?” Zack sighed. “In theory, there’s great potential in combining magic and electronics. The flexibility of magic, and the computational power of technology. Together, they could achieve things not possible or feasible with just one. But only if we’re able to take the best of both. Complex spells that can benefit from computational power, and sophisticated technology that could benefit from the ability to bend the universe to your will. Let’s face it: we’re better off pursuing something else.”
“That is exactly what I’m proposing,” Aiinacs said, “Forget the enchantment. After seeing how fond Luke is of the laptop you gave him, I’ve realized that there may be great demand for a magic-tolerant computer. A computer designed to deal with the inconsistencies of magic, rather than fight back with magic shielding, which tends to disrupt spells. A computer designed for magic users, maybe even with some simple I/O interfaces so that they can interact with it using magic.”