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The 30th Century Internet

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Freelance Traveller. At the time of publication in Freelance Traveller, it had not yet appeared on the Terra/Sol Games blog page.

In a future setting like Twilight Sector, mass communication and data storage are vitally important components of civilization. Want to be a back water planet? Don’t have an internet or even just a sub-standard one and you’ll get your wish.

Information is power. On the internet, information takes the form of communications being passed from one location to another, or data storage, both public and private. The information on the future net will allow for efficient communication and economic activity, increasing the quality of life and the productivity of all those with access to it.

The future internet might go by a multitude of names, like Net, Grid, Matrix, Network, Web, Pocket, Store, Comm, RAM, Crib, Rack, Post, Tulle, Reticule, Veil, Snood, Circuit, Mesh, Gin, Pattern, Weave, Dock, or Trivet. In some places it might even be named for a person or corporation who established it or as a tribute to a historical figure. Hence, it might be called the Peterson or the Seti-Tallos or a combination like the Seti-Tallos Grid.

‘Places’ mentioned above refers to star systems or any other spot in Einstein’s three dimensional space/time that humans choose to inhabit, like Avalon Station or the Trinity Research Station in the Twilight Sector. This is important to note, because the future internet will of course be bound by the laws of physics. Those laws dictate that data is subject to the speed of light and light waves of one form or another will be the vehicle by which information is transmitted. That means that for every Astronomical Unit of distance between two internet access points there will be a share delay of just a hair over 8 minutes. But where real sharing delays come to bear are across interstellar distances.

What that boils down to is that each system will have its own internet.

In a setting like Twilight Sector, with interstellar communications like Grav Satellites, the internets of system A and system B will be able to share information. It will, of course, be subject to whatever delay there is in communications between the two systems. There could also be bandwidth problems. Updating the thousands of audios, videos, holograms and plain old data files from a thousand worlds would require a mammoth amount of broadcast capacity. Quantum computing has largely eliminated bandwidth problems in local nodes of the internet but broadcasting updates might create some bottlenecks based on the quality of Tachyon satellites and the frequency of communications.

Just as quantum computing solved the bandwidth problems of the original internet, it is hoped that Tachyon computing will link all nodes of the internet in something approaching real-time. That seems like a tall order. Physical matter can be transported across space faster than light can cover the same distance via Tachyon space but even then the delay is considerable. Theoretical mathematicians believe it can be done, but as of 2991 there is still a lot of scientific ground to be covered before a more integrated galaxy-wide internet comes to pass.

Various star systems would become either the planned or de facto repositories of information and news about their surrounding systems or sectors. For example, Terra/Sol in the Twilight Sector might serve in this role. A planet, say in the Oster Republic, a completely separate stellar nation and almost on the other side of the Known Galaxy, would assume that if they had the latest updates available from Terra/Sol they would have the latest information on the Twilight Sector. However, that may or may not be the case.

Where things start to get really interesting is with systems that require the physical transport of internet updates, most likely because they aren’t on the Grav Sat communications system. Interesting, in the sense that the information might not be as fresh or accurate as a group of adventurers might want. Also, the ‘freshness’ of data, or lack thereof, provides a multitude of adventure opportunities, like carrying updates to or from out-of-the-way systems, acquiring specific information from an out-of-the-way system at a patron’s request, or taking advantage of the fact that a system has not been updated on a specific event.

Beyond the grand vision of an all-encompassing internet, across the Known Galaxy, whose nodes periodically communicate with each other, it is worth noting that internet nodes have developed what have come to be called cybercities. Technically, a cybercity is nothing more than a collection of information existing on a particular physical server. These clusters are often based on a particular genre of information. For example a cluster could be a place where you could go to learn about 25th century ethics. That’s the boring answer.

The truth is far more interesting. The internet is alive with living entities, Artificial Intelligences, Ghosts, and Dups who actually live in this digital environment, not to mention the multitude of biologicals who log in as Net Pilots. When digital life forms want to interact with the world occupied by meat sacks (biological entities) they must leave their digital world and occupy a physical interface like a robot or biocon. Conversely, meat sacks who want to interact with this digital world, must use digital interfaces (avatars) to enter the internet.

A cybercity populated by these digital entities is a far cry from a boring database on a server farm. Cybercities run by digital entities can take a bewildering number of forms. They are typically created to project a visual appearance to those entering them. Their appearance could be anything from a maze of ones and zeros, almost impossible for a biological entity to navigate no matter how good their avatar program is, to a replica of ancient Shanghai. In short, cybercities can take on almost any imaginable form and sometimes a multitude of forms all in the same city. From this maze of ones and zeros example, they can also be unwelcoming and even dangerous to biologicals.

Cybercities can be a bit like the “Old West”, somewhat lawless and subject to the law of the jungle. The internet is one of the hardest places for law enforcement to impose their will. That’s not to say the law doesn’t exist there. There are digital entities that seek to regulate actions within these domains either because they are themselves law enforcement or they have a moral code that they live by. But, the danger of the internet in certain places shouldn’t be ignored, especially for biologicals entering this alien world.

Besides its physical effect, the 30th century internet plays a central role in the psychology of humanity and for that matter, all sentients. The internet is the crucible in which much of human society is shaped. And, because of that, what most of humanity perceives as human culture does not exist without the internet, at least as it would be recognizable to someone living in the 30th Century.

In the Twilight Sector setting on a maintech world, (which are TL12 at least and constitute a substantial majority of the planets in the setting), the average citizen’s life revolves around the internet. It can be safely assumed that most people on a maintech world would have friends and coworkers that they’ve never met face to face.

A sentient on a maintech world would almost universally own some sort of computing device, either a wristwatch or credit card sized tool. The interface would probably be an interactive holographic display or be voice activated. Most devices would have very minimal storage capacity. There is simply no need for it. Storage capacity is something rented (or perhaps owned) on the internet.

The internet is where people go to watch their favorite entertainment programs. The internet is where they go to access address books. The internet is where people go to access business work space. The internet is where people go to access personal financial accounts. The internet is where people go to access information. The internet is where people go to meet other people. In short the internet is everything, everything associated with “modern” life.

An example of how the 30th century internet has become addicting to sentients is by allowing access to the entire world. By combining the internet with a Virtual Environment Overlay, more commonly known as VEO technology (see the previous ‘Slice of life’ article entitled ‘Holographic and Immersive Technology’ for a complete description), the internet can allow someone to be almost anyplace on a planet without ever leaving the comfort of their living room. Thus, the internet can allow someone in say Kansas City on Terra/Sol to visit the Paris Replica in New France. They can rent a robot or BioCon that actually is at the Paris Replica to move about the city and, via VEO technology and the rented doppelganger, interact with people and objects actually there, half a world away. They can visit the Louvre and touch, see, and hear the displays and people there. Even taste and smell can be replicated in an advanced system. Many sentients have described the experience as feeling more real than if they’d experienced it with their actual body. This technology has created a sort of technological teleportation.

Those are only some of the active ways the internet infiltrates everyday life. Because everyone uses it, the internet provides a captive audience. Marketers in capitalist societies barrage potential customers both online and off. Walking by a wall screen in the subway is likely to trigger a directed marketing pitch based on past internet usage. In totalitarian societies people are likely to get the latest propaganda based upon what past internet usage shows as interests. If space is an interest, then a piece on space will show the great socialist leap towards development of space for the good of the masses!

Speaking of masses, the sheer volume of information available on any particular node of the 30th century internet will make data searches next to impossible without a personal assistant, which would take the form of a personalized Agent program. The higher tech that the Agent is would be a reflection on the personal status, much like owning a luxury grav car. On the 30th century internet, finding the information isn’t hard; in fact that’s the problem: one is bound to find massive amounts of relevant data. Sorting through it all is what’s hard, and so, specialized software is a necessity.

The internet has become so pervasive on maintech worlds that it has spawned individuals who are simply lost without it. These people have what society has termed tech addiction, immersion sickness, monkey hands or glowers, (pronounced Glow-ers), presumably because the person is always looking at the glow of a holo-display. The most common reference to these tech addicted people however is the slang term; Flatlander. Even those affected by the predilection recognize it. Most can’t envision themselves not having access to the internet and the thought of it invokes a phobia-like reaction.

Most who have spent the majority of their lives on maintech worlds can’t understand why people would subject themselves to lives cut off from, or with limited access to, the internet. Things like living on a distant space habitat or being part of a starship crew would be unimaginable. T-Space travel can be difficult for these individuals. Cut off from internet access for a week or more at a time is very difficult for them. Cases of catatonia and mental instability have been reported.

The Flavor of the 30th Century Internet

(by Jim “Captain Jonah” King)

People are going to go to school with, work with and socialize with others that they have never and probably will never meet. When your “Net” provides every form of service and contact you could need, in the comfort of your own apartment or Dole cube, why leave?

Without even covering any form of sensory feedback, just 3D wall screens will allow you to visit anywhere on a hundred worlds. Working at the office, your desk or at home the “Net” connects you via Holo displays. It wraps you in the office area where you can see your coworkers at their desks around you or a school where the entire class can be seen sitting round the teacher or A.I. shell, thanks to Holo tech, but these people you’re seeing are actually scattered all over the world.

Shopping would be for luxuries only, since your smart apartment makes sure that everything you need and run low of is replaced before you even notice.

This is the total tech immersion that an all encompassing “Net” brings.

This is where the tech withdrawal and isolation panic comes in.

All those people who have to meet strangers face to face, people who find themselves isolated and needing to do things for themselves, people who are cut off from the limitless resources of the “Net” and suddenly cannot find what they want. Those people often experience isolation panic.

In terms of the data on the “Net”, it comes from hundreds of worlds, trillions of people, millions of companies, tens of thousands of entertainment channels and programs. All of that data forms a vast lake and for a person trying to search it the effort becomes akin to emptying a swimming pool with a thimble. A.I.s and smart search programs reduce internet search results down to manageable numbers. With holographic data storage and quantum core processors you can literally get a million results on a search and the interpretive software will be making the search before you have finished typing.

Marketing companies who specialize in keywords and search routines now advise companies on how to get their web sites, adverts or documents to the top of those search lists.

Data archeologists and specialist archival experts are the hot careers and data editors who are employed to hunt down data relevant to a single person or company and edit it to be correct or less damaging. With a person’s entire life from birth to death and every meal in between online, a single foolish stunt as a child could make you unemployable as an adult; edit that away, and maybe that job could be found and you can get off the dole.

A marketing company or A.I. can access your biometric ID and find out your entire history, not just purchases but how you vote, the area you live, your meals, who your friends are and how they vote or eat or shop. With quantum processors all this data is a microsecond away. A search could find that once a week you eat lunch in the same restaurant at the same time. Checking the billing would show who else eats there at the same time on the same day and time, cross check who paid the bill. Then pulling up the job, school history, politics, etc., of your dining companion and by cross referencing your entire network of friends can be identified. Further data mining can identify any shared hobbies or linked purchases, a pattern can be established and suddenly those personalized holo ads that you walk past are advertising something that not only you would like but something that your friends would be impressed by as well. All of this is done in the fraction of a second between the ad board sensor identifying you and the targeted holo array activating.

To be born to this, to live your entire life in this total data environment, is to have the difficulty of making decisions taken away from you. There’s no need to pick between items when a data mining program has already compared every single jacket you have ever worn and the marketing program has selected the idea choice for purchase, you just need to hit the select button. This is where the total dependency on the “Net” comes from.

This is why PCs are the oddballs, the loners, the weirdos—the ones who not only can exist away from this birth to death electronic cocoon but are willing to choose it.

How does this affect my game?

Well, one of the best answers for that question is that it’s an adventure hook! But even beyond that, it helps you understand the world that the PCs and NPCs live in. It helps define one of the most elusive creatures in your game, the well rounded NPC.

It also goes a long way to explain why PCs are unique; they can endure the absence of a constant connection with the rest of humanity. This makes them unusual and valuable commodities.

An Adventure/Encounter Seed

A Flatlander taking a trip on a Dreadnought on which the players are also travelling as either passengers or crew. The Flatlander comes down with a bad case of monkey hands and turns psychotic. He/She/It (this is a Twilight Sector game after all!) begins sabotaging ship systems. They are hiding in the guts of the ship in access tunnels and utility ducts. Maybe the Flatlander does something that harms the players in some way or endangers the whole ship and so the players for whatever reason need to find and stop them. To add a whole other level of excitement the Flatlander might become a homicidal maniac. To up the level of opposition make the Flatlander a robotic expert who has hijacked a number of the ship’s maintenance bots.