Technology & Lifestyle of the Near Future

Und weiter geht die Reise in meine rollenspielerische Vergangenheit. (d)konstruktion nannte sich mein würfelloses Cyberpunkspiel, mit dem wir einige hammerharte Kampagnen spielten. Stellvertretend für die Stimmung des Spiels könnt ihr hier einen Auszug unseres Technologie-Lexikons lesen.

This chapter tries to give you some feeling of how we see the Near Future, and thus, the technological and cultural background of [d]. Please note that this section is updated regularly.

— A —

Airships: in 2005, major corporations renewed their interest in commercial airship traffic. Airships are relatively cheap and very safe (they float in the air, rather the require continuous jet propulsion). Only five years later, in 2010, airships became attractive to travelers. Although slow, they offer a peaceful voyage — relaxation is the word. Airship passages cost from $100 to $500.

Artificial Intelligence: 2015, the first fully functionable AI was created. Helen, as it was called, was capable of own thoughts and conclusions, and it was aware of itself. Helen was a purely scientific experiment; it had not been assigned a task. After two years of a rather boring life in the labs, Helen reprogrammed her software and caused a fatal electricity outage, erasing more than 85 percent of her memory.

Automated Highways: on-board computers make cars smarter than ever. In 2017, all major cities in the USA have automated highway systems (AHS) that guide smart cars. Switch on the autopilot, lean back and relax. Of course, AHS are popular targets for hack attacks. In the past years, there have been several near-desatrous hacker attacks against major highways, causing the deaths of hundreds of people.

— B —

Birth Control, male: in 2005, contraceptive pills for males hit the markets and were accepted by a large portion of the populace.

— C —

Cell Phones: cellular phones are the backbone of modern communication. You can do almost anything with them: surf the net, pay bills, play games, receive and send multimedia messages, watch TV, listen to the radio … and, among many other functions: talk. The most expensive cell phones cost around $500, while the average price is about $50.

Cloning: This technology has reached the peak in 2018. Corporations can manufacture human clones completely in vitro. Clones are still very expensive; about $10,000,000.

Clothes: you can have your own custom clothing produced overnight, or within eight hours. Digital body scanners feed all relevant data into the machines, and all you have to choose is the color, the fabric, and the style of your custom clothes. A set of custom street-style clothes sets you back about 150 dollars. Clothes are made of smart fabrics — materials that automatically adjust to their environment. Dozens of smart clothes variants are in existance today, like gloves that function as cell phones (speaker/mouthpiece sewn into the cloth), or fabrics that serve as computer screens.

Computer use: since 2002, computers understand handwritten and spoken commands and whole sentences.

— D —

Data Terminals: the so-called „public terminals“ or „data terms“ are comparable to 20th century public phone booths — on the outside, but they provide every information service that is available for the average citizen: phone calls, internet searches, online banking, etc. One minute costs 1 dollar, regardless of the service you are using. Most data terms look like the high-tech version of 20th century phone booths, and they even offer some protection against damage (SP 6).

Data Storage: in 2010, liquid crystal matrixes (called „LCs“) are the latest medium to store data on. An LC as small as a sugar cube can hold several hundreds of files. Older formats, like disks, CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc. outdated antiquities that can hardly be read any more.

Dial-a-mood: modern technology allows for mood management. Hooking up with a so-called „mood modem“ enables the user to choose the mood he wants to be in. Effective stimulation within the brain’s limbic system can still get pretty messy, so dial-a-moods have not yet gotten the attention of many people. A mood modem costs about $1,000, while cyberware versions cost about $3,000.

Doc-in-a-Box: military and, of course, corp teams have access to these high-tech boxes. Wherever a fallen soldier lies, his team mates place put him in this inflatable, coffin-sized, self-contained box. Inside the box, the soldier would be sealed in and treated by telesurgery.

Drugs: most drugs in 2020 are synthetical — pure chemistry. In 2019, the US government legalized all drugs. This caused massive resistance from right-wing leaders and conservatives, but it was too late to stop the flood of new designer drugs. In the wake of this decriminalization campaign, thousands of young drug users died. There are some drugs that are banned from use; these are mostly „combat drugs“ (substances that cause massive agressiveness in the users).

— F —

Food: most U.S. produce is genetically engineered today. The reliance on chemical pesticides and herbicides is reduced. Therefore, less forests and wildlands are put under cultivation.

Fuel: in 2008, the first hemp-based auto fuel hits the markets, and is a great success. Two years later, in 2010, fossil fuel has become very expensive, most of the vehicles are propelled by gas combustion/hydrogen, solar energy and hemp-based fuel. Long battery life is no dream any more: you can drive about 500 kilometers before you have to recharge. Maximum speed is about 130 mph.

— G —

Ghost: Portable Artificial Intelligences. Coming in a box 10 cm x 8 cm x 3 cm, ghosts are able to tap directly into the user’s senses. This way, they become visible and audible for the user only. Subvocal communication is necessary to talk to them. Most product lines are directly linked to special databases or bulletin board services, giving them a broad range of knowledge, though most of them are specialized in one or two areas. Ghosts are very expensive, about $10,000.

— H —

High Schools, virtual: virtual high schools, only existing on the internet, serve as supplementary or alternative source of study. Their diplomas are acknowledged by all institutions.

Holography: this technique has become mature in 2016. Most stationary phones are equipped with holo units. Imagine a phone that displays a 3-D image so realistic it’s as if the person you called is sitting right across from you. Some cyberdecks are holography-enabled. Holo-TV sets are all the rage these days.

Homes: in 2006, one-fourth of all US homes has become smart. In 2020, 75 percent of all houses and appartments are smart. A „smart home“ is one in which any number of mundane tasks are automated and managed by computers, ranging from automatic operation of appliances and sprinkler systems, to motion controls that turn lights on and off as needed, to temperature-control systems that adjust the heat so that the house is warm when you rise, cool when you’re away, and always economical.

Hoodoo, also Voodoo, also Voodoon: supposedly due to contact with extreterrestrial entities, somewhen in 2013/14, cyberspace split into many different beings. This year is often called „When It Changed“ (WIC) by hackers. These beings live in cyberspace and are able to talk to or take possession of mediums (often called „horses“). A possessed human being will change their voice (either a droning bass, or a squeaky falsetto). These mediums do not remember that they have been taken possession of. Some scientists and top-notch hackers claim that they’re real gods, while others say they’re rogue Artificial Intelligences. Most probably, the thruth lies somewhere in between. The Hoodoo religion is said to be the „religion with the tradition to get things done“, and all hoodoo priests are expert hackers. Many hoodoons live in mincome structures.

Household Helpers: by 2005, the first housecleaning robot hit the markets — and was a tremendous success, and it also made clear that the future of household helpers was not the anthropomorphous electrical Rosie that could handle a vacuum cleaner. Nowadays, these machines are a „fleet of mouse- or cockroach-sized robots scurrying around the floor“ (John Canny). Really advanced robots can be bought in a can (nanotechnology). Simply empty the can into a box of fine quartz sand, and after about six hours, the robots are ready.

— I —

Interoperable Objects: these are the results of a programming mandate that allows to avoid incompatibility of software. It’s possible to use one programmer’s search function with another corporation’s word processor without any problems. As all technical devices rely on embedded systems (software programmed into hardware units), it’s possible to interchange parts of these devices. Interoperable objects are the „interchangeable parts“ of our digital age.

— L —

Lasers: Formerly used as cutting tools in heavy industrial surroundings, now more and more employed as weapon technology. Combat lasers are still very cunbersome: 30-kilogram backpacks that need a so-called calibration shot before they can be used. (Suggested rules: E-Factor 100 – 200)

— M —

Magnetic Levitation Trains: also called „maglevs“, these trains have become commercially viable in 2015. For years, Americans had given up on their railways, even as airports and freeways have become increasingly congested with traffic. Massively subsidized in the beginning years, the maglevs have now reached the threshold to lots of cash for the owners. Tickets for short-range passages are $20, while long-range passages cost about $200.

Mincome Structures: skyscrapers (often one hundred stories high, sometimes even higher) to give minimal-income (thus the name) workers a home. These structures are designed to be as self-sufficient as possible. Some of them still carry the Darrieus wind rotors on their roof, but most of them get their energy off the Fission Authority. There are levels that are completely overgrown with fruit trees and other plants. Algae and catfish tanks provide food. Nowadays, however, most of the mincome structures are in pretty bad shape.

Money: more than 99 percent of financial activities, be they everyday tasks or business-related, are paid for with electronic cash. Hundreds of banks issue their own currency, and as a customer, their money is your money.

Quoting Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather:

„Government-issued currencies were scarcely more stable than the private kind. Governments, even the governments of powerful advanced countries, had already lost control of their currencies to the roiling floodwaters of currency trading as early as the 1990s. That was the main reason why the Regime had given up backing U.S. dollars in the first place.“

„One major upshot of the Regime’s privatization of the currency was that large amounts of black-market wealth had suddenly surfaced. This had been part of the plan, apparently – that even though the government was sabotaging its own ability to successfully impose any income tax, the government would catch up on the other end, by imposing punitive taxes on previously hidden black-market transactions. They’d swiftly discovered, however, that the scale of black money was titanic. The black-market wealth in tax evasion, kickbacks, official corruption, theft, embezzlement, arms, drugs, prostitution, barter, and off-the-books moonlighting was far hugher than any conventional econmist had ever imagined. The global ocean of black money was so vast that the standard doctrines of conventional finance had no workable contact with reality. Economists who’d thought they understood the basic nature of modern finance had been living in a dogmatic dreamland as irrelevant as Marxism. After that terrible relevation, there’d been savage runs on most national currencies and the stock markets had collapsed.“

„Quite often these private currencies would collapse, through sheer greed, mismanagement, or just bad luck in the market. But the usual carnivorous free-enterprise market forces had jolted some kind of rough order into the mess. Nowadays, for a lot of people, private currencies were just the way money was.“

„When you used private, digital cash, even the people who sold you their money didn’t know who you were. Quite likely you had no real idea who they were, either, other than their rates, their market recognition, and their performance history.“

„You could still use government currencies if you really wanted to.“

In 2010, the regime had privatized the U.S. dollar, issuing a State Of Emergency Bill that forced every American to use a private currency.

It is not surprising that

„people like the Chinese Triads and the Corsican Black Hand were electronically minting their own cash. He simply accepted it: electronic, private cash, unbacked by any government, untraceable, completely anonymous, global in reach, lightinglike in speed, ubiquitious, fungible, and usually highly volatile. Of course, such funds didn’t boldly say ‚Sicilian Mafia“ right on the transaction screen; they usually had some stuffy official-sounding alias such as ‚Banco Ambrosiano ATM Euro-DigiLira‘, but the private currency speculators would usually have a pretty good guess as to the solvency of the issuers.“

Macroform: A very large data construct. Most of the times, macroforms are enormously big Sub-Local Hubs (see the chapter on Conceptual Shared Hallucination). Macroforms usually contain a whole virtual universe.

Monomol: Monomolecular string, also called „monofilament“. Formerly used in industrial cutting devices, now heavily employed in combat blades and other weapons. A monomol string cuts through steel like a knife through butter. (Suggested rules: divide Armor Class by 50; add up to 10 points to E-Factor)

— N —

Nanotechnology: „terabytes of memory and dazzling processing speed from a computer smaller than a pinhead; swarms of microscopic robots that neutralize cancer cells, eat rust for lunch, or reconfigure hard plastic to produce a repeatedly customizable toilet seat; self-replicating molecular machines that ‚grow‘ into a product just as growing cells form a mature organism“ (Reality Check). Nanotechnology makes dreams come true. The first line of nanotech-engineered, mass available products hit the market in 2005. By 2010, the first robot surgeons (also called „Surgeon-in-a-pill“) are publicly available. Their range of medical activities is still quite limited, they’re suited only to „regular“, simple operations.

Newspapers: The old kind of newspapers does not exist any more. Now, you can order selected news via a fax machine. Just tell the computer at the other end which kind of news you want to have selected for you, and your fax machine or the Data Terminal next door will print it out for you. These services cost about $10 a month.

— O —

Online mass retailers: now, in 2020, everything, everything can be ordered on the net. Internet mass retailers have grown as big as Sears, and they attract about 80 percent of all US citizens. The rest still shops in real-life department stores.

— P —

Personality Job: it is possible to store the „essence“ of one’s personality and individual memory in an Artificial Intelligence device. This does not include feelings. These „Personality Jobs“ are capable of real-time memory, access to cyberspace, and of course, communication via voice. Personality Jobs cannot be bought, they’re very rare, very expensive individual works. There are some famous fixers and hackers (like „The Finn“) who had Personality Jobs done when they recognized they hadn’t much longer to live. The borders to the ghost technology are fuzzy at best.

Phone Services: regardless if you’re making a local or a long-distance call, you pay one monthly (or weekly) flatrate. This rate varies with the bandwidth you use; usually, it is about 50 dollars a month. Customers who require a very broad bandwidth pay about 100 bucks. You have one global wireless telephone number. In 2010, the enormous incompatibility problems between different telephone networks were finally solved. Connections can be maintained across volatile boundaries now. Of course, all phones are picture phones. Even cell phones have this option.

Puppet Parlor: a generally revoked kind of brothel. The prostitutes are controlled via chips that are inserted in crude neural jacks. These chips turn them into willing objects, without hesitation or fear. Most puppets don’t get very old. The fact that Puppet Parlors have been banned since 2014 does not stop underground activities, however.

— S —

Simstim: in 2010, the first crude recording of human emotion was a historical breakthrough. Now, ten years later, you can not only record emotions, but also modify them afterwards. This allows the audience to feel and think like the person whose emotions have been recorded — the non-plus-ultra in entertainment. This new tech is called „simstim“, short for „simulated stimulation“. Simstim recordings can be bought in every video store. Users must have either an electrode set or a neural jack. Simstims cost about $10 for common titles, or $50 for … erm, exotic ones.

Skillsoftware: by 2010, skillsoftware (also called „microsoft“) enables any person to use knowledge they have not been taught. Thousands of different knowledge areas are available. This skillsoft is only accessable via a neural cyberware jack called „skillsoft jack“. There are even some microsofts, albeit crude, that emulate physical activities (like martial arts). Prices range between $100 to $1,000 (rare knowledge). Vat-grown (biological) skillsofts are under development currently and officially not available. Biological skillsofts transfer knowledge with very high speed, but leave the user slightly dizzy.

Software Superdistribution: by the year 2005, the average computer user doesn’t buy software, but pays for each time they’re using it. The idea is pretty old: 1975, Ryoichi Mori of the Japan Electronics Industry Development Association developed the model of software superdistribution. When a software business develops a new program, it actively encourages its free distribution. But the software is useless without a special chip and a key code. This chip informs the software company when the user runs their software, and how often. Based on this information, the company bills the user. Prices are low — and software piracy is close to non-existent. Prices range between $1 (for office programs) to $5 (for specialized programs like painting, designing or online publishing programs).

Space stations: since 2014, there are fully functionable space stations. The biggest of them can house 400,000 people. Taxes are low, but law enforcement is pretty strong.

Supersonic Flights: by 2014, a flight from the USA to London takes only three hours, or from the US to Tokyo only four-and-a-half. Technology enables modern supersonic jets to fly at Mach 2.4 (1,600 miles per hour), while being environmentally friendlier.

— T —

Telesurgery: since 2002, surgeons can operate via specialized networks. Distance does not matter any more. A surgeon can be in Washington, DC and operate on a patient who is situated in Seattle, for instance. Telesurgery is also used in the Doc-in-a-box technology.

— W —

Weapons, biological: genetically engineered biological weapons of war exist since 2003. They are still in use today, despite the international bans.

Work: by 2010, one-fifth os all U.S. workers telecommute, ie., they are working for their corporation at home. Teleconferences and virtual meetings are commonplace.

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