The first simple nanomachines, which were adapted from the machinery of cells, were built in the late first century AT. These machines could construct systems of proteins, polysaccharides and lipids. Together with the great advances in protein design being made at the time this enabled the construction of both pure bioelectronic circuits (so called biochips) and microfilament-based systems capable of more generalised construction from a wider range of elements. These protein-based systems had the disadvantage of being highly sensitive to environmental changes: they could only operate in liquid suspension, and only in a limited range of temperature and pH.
Nanomachines capable of assembling carefully designed crystalline materials were built in AT 125 and over the next few decades revolutionized manufacturing industry by eliminating all unwanted flaws in materials. Diamondoid composites and other exotic materials became cheap to manufacture, allowing the building of the first megastructures. The most impressive achievements of early macroengineering were the corporate arcologies: entire cities contained in single buildings. Even small, mundane objects became much lighter, cheaper and more reliable.
The nanotech revolution proper began with the construction of nanosystems capable of building macroscopic components for larger machines with atomic precision.
The earliest self-reproducing nanosystems were only semireplicators. They could not directly build copies of themselves; instead the nutrient solution bathing them had to be chemically changed to catalyse certain stages in replication. These nanomachines were thus like artificial viruses, with the containing vat acting as a gigantic cell.
The next generation of nanomachines, the true replicators took several decades to develop. The first real success with true artificial replicators was in AT 206 when a joint venture between Neotech Labs in Clarke Orbital, the Xerox Nanoscale Collective in Pasedena, Earth, and the Centre for Self-Replicating Technologies, a Eurasian laboratory on Copernicus Base, Luna, managed to get primitive drexlerian nanoassemblers up and running. More capital was invested, and the technology developed to the extent that it became viable. The builder nanodevices - the Drexler 2 and the later, more robust and intelligent Drexler 3 and Drexler 4 that followed in the ensuring years, remained fragile and functioned best in hard vacuum conditions at ambient temperature. Nevertheless they were able to produce good amounts of chemicals or blocks of matter with a molecular texture. Even this very limited technology revolutionised many areas, and there was further boom in Orbital wealth as chemical industries set up in orbit to take advantage of the conditions or miniaturise their production processes into smaller nano-supported modules that can be sold. Even at this early stage production was cheaper and more versatile than bionanotech allowed.
New assemblers soon followed, including the Merkle 2 and, after several years, the Neotek Universal Micro, the first nanite to be available commercially, albeit with reduced capability and a carefully built in cripple mechanism. The machines were much more sophisticated than the first generation: they were able to replicate themselves in a nutrient solution of constant composition (i.e. without continual changes in the enzymes present). Nanos were also built from many other types of molecule so that they could be used in a wider range of physical and chemical environments. Such systems were both faster and more robust than the earlier semireplicators and so could be used in a much wider range of applications.
New forms of diamondoid, especially the incredibly versatile Carbonite, ultra-strong fibres, extreme low-density aerogels, "smart" microspheres containing other chemicals that will release them under certain conditions and "smart" materials with weird properties flooded the market.
Because of the dangers involved both normal and tweaker Governments, Megacorporations, and military institutions all tried to keep the lid on nanotech, used special assemblers that, following the standard set by Neotek's Universal Micro, only replicated a number of times before self-destructing,
radical surveillance, and other such devices.
The Neural Jack and the beginning of True Virtuality - the Late Information Age - 100 to 150
The early Information Age virtual worlds had crude embodiment in a graphic animation. Those of the middle Information Age had full-body immersion through interactive hotsuits. But it was only with the invention of the neural jack during the late information age/early interplanetary age that the means became available to complete the embodiment of one's consciousness in virtual space, thus leading top further cultural developments in shaping identity, social interactions, and intercultural encounters with others similarly embodied.
Despite the adaptive chip and interface flesh breakthroughs, at least some 20% of so of bionts fell outside the chip/patch capacity for adaptation, and another 40% can only achieve partial success with the hardware/wetware. But for the remaining 40% of the population that can obtain full functionality (and enjoy high quality installations and support), the new system was quite valuable indeed. In the hands of street tech pushers though, the quality of these jacks overall was very low and quite dangerous, compared to the links commonly available later. However, the young saw them as the ultimate game connections and ways to cheat in school, and a small number of corporate execs and private entrepreneurs acquire them for the sake of perceived competitive advantage. The illegal jacks drive a boom in related software development in third world nations and others (places which don't cooperate with the wishes of the more developed nations).
For a decade or two, the 40% of the population uniquely suited to this first breakthrough adaptive interface chip enjoyed preferential treatment in many areas of life, and a whole industry arises around offering possible genetic engineering for fetuses and/or other programs, devices, and techniques, which might improve a child's suitability for such links. Of course, in a matter of years all this was moot, as new technologies sweep away previous restrictions.
This was a period of great social and political turmoil. All over the world the threat of nations breaking up essentially into hundreds or thousands of more or less independent city-states loomed ever larger on the political landscape, regardless of ongoing attempts by politicians to stop it. And as the tweak superbabies, cyborg transhumanists, and first and second generation AIs matured and became ever more active in cyberspace as well as in real life, baseline politicians and old-style religionists and pressure groups saw the situation slip from their fingers, without actually knowing why.
Copyright © 1986-1999 by Andy Slack. All Rights Reserved.
Table of Contents
* What Does the Colony Look Like?
* Power Sources
o The Asteroids
o The Outer System Moons
* Life Support and Agriculture
* Leisure Activities
* The Orbital Colonist Mindset
* Designer's Notes
Like most SF RPGs, plain vanilla 2300AD assumes that almost all of mankind's colonies will be set up on planets, and space is just for travelling through. An alternative assumption is that planets are not the best places for a technical civilisation. They have uncontrolled weather with extremes of temperature; their atmospheres make it hard to make a good vacuum or collect solar power; you have to take the terrain as you find it; the gravity makes it difficult and expensive to get on and off them, and interferes with construction and transport.
In my 2300AD universe, the Solar System is teeming with orbital colonies; this matches my view of the future, which is heavily influenced by C J Cherryh's Alliance and Union stories, such as Merchanter's Luck and Downbelow Station. Your Mileage May Vary.
What Does the Colony Look Like?
It can be any shape that will hold air, and the smaller ones have many different shapes. The typical large colony is a cylinder up to 6 km across and 30 km long, rotating every two minutes or so to provide artificial gravity. The cylinder is divided into long strips down its length; three immense glass windows, strengthened with cables, alternating with three strips of land. Each window has a mirror outside to reflect sunlight onto the strip of land opposite. Manufacturing facilities are on the sunward end of the cylinder, and huddling around them is a ring of small agricultural cylinders housing the colony's farms.
Since they rotate, gyroscopic effects prevent single main cylinders from being continuously aimed at the sun, so a large free-floating secondary mirror would be needed to reflect the sun's rays onto the colony for light, warmth and power. So, most colonies have counter-rotating pairs of cylinders with no secondary mirror -- such a pair has no net spin and so can track the sun easily.
Colony cylinders are made by vacuum-vapour deposition; a plastic balloon several kilometres across is rotated slowly past a solar furnace which sprays aluminium vapour onto it. The metal condenses to form a seamless metal shell, as thick as you like. Due to the colonies' low population, most routine assembly work is done by robots, with the humans along mainly as troubleshooters. To make life easier for the machines who do most of the work, the fittings are built from modular fabricated sections, so they all tend to look alike inside.
Colonies spin to provide simulated gravity not just for comfort and convenience, but also to avoid loss of calcium from the colonists' bones, which would make them more fragile. The rotation rate is usually one rpm or less, as if the spin is faster, workers commuting daily between the zero-G industries around the colony and the simulated gravity inside suffer from motion sickness. The twin constraints of maximum rotation rate and minimum gravity define the colony's size; depending on which medical consultants the builders took advice from, the rotation rate can be up to 3 rpm and the simulated gravity can be anything from 0.1 G up. Pregnant women and young children are housed in more Earth-normal gravity than adults; scientific, mining or military stations thus tend to have lower gravity than those with large civilian populations.
Colonies or bases on the surfaces of the Moon, Io etc. consist of bunker-like structures covered with local soil and kept in permanent shadow by sunscreens to help control their temperatures -- it is much easier to heat a room than to cool it, and this is particularly true in vacuum.
The main industry of the first orbital colonies was building solar power satellites to beam power down to Earth, and they have retained a heavy reliance on solar power -- it's cheap, easy to collect, and has no waste products to speak of. Orbital colonies are usually set far enough out from the worlds they orbit that they very rarely go into shadow, so that they can collect as much sunlight as they need. The two main methods used are vast arrays of solar cells, or mirrors focussing the sunlight to boil a working fluid which turns turbines, which in turn spin generators. In either case, the further out from the sun the colony is, the weaker the sun's rays, and so the larger and more elaborate its solar arrays.
Surface colonies experience regular nights and so cannot depend entirely on solar power; they rely on other means of power production at least part of the time. These may be fission, fusion or MHD plants; fission plants are the rarest because the only significant supplies of uranium or plutonium in the Solar System are on Earth, and it is expensive to haul them up out of the gravity well.
Mining among the Solar System colonies means either opencast surface mines on moons, or asteroid mining. Asteroids have only 10% as much aluminium and titanium as lunar soil, so the Moon's main exports are ores rich in those two metals.
The Moon mines were established first -- as a source of raw materials for building powersats -- and are still the most productive. Lunar mines produce aluminium, titanium, iron and silica ( used to produce fibreglass); another product of major importance is oxygen, which is chemically bound to the metals and the silicon and represents about 40% of the rocks' composition. Lesser but still useful constituents of lunar rock include hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, sulphur and sodium.
The ore is refined on the Moon or in nearby colonies, since shipping refined metals is cheaper than shipping bulky unrefined ore. Since everything must be recycled, and water is in short supply, refining uses complex and costly chemical processes.
The asteroids have much more iron and several times as much magnesium as lunar soil, so their miners concentrate on those metals. Further, the asteroids known as chondrites have high proportions of water and organic chemicals, so originally most of these items were mined in the asteroid belt -- with stutterwarp vessels, it was cheaper to get organics from the Belt than to ship them up from Earth, although since the Beanstalk was completed the Belters have faced serious competition from Earth corporations. The asteroids began to be exploited later than the Moon because they are several hundred times farther from Earth and have orbits which require more delta-V to match; so, asteroid mining needs ships with better propulsion and life-support systems, which weren't developed until later on. Asteroid and planetoid orbits are widely variable, and one of the main practical purposes of Astronomy skill in the game is the search for asteroids with valuable resources which are in a convenient orbit for exploitation by a given colony.
Iron and stony-iron asteroids contain iron ( surprise!), often alloyed with nickel and ready for the rolling mill; the large asteroid Psyche, for example, is more or less solid nickel steel. The easy way to mine this type of asteroid is to spin it using explosives, and melt the whole asteroid with sunlight focussed by mirrors; the various constituents separate out into layers under centrifugal force and are scooped off as needed. Sometimes heavier metals than iron are found, but these are rare.
Carbonaceous chondrites are very dark, having about 7% carbon and up to 20% water; they have about half the organic compound content of oil shale, mostly in heavy hydrocarbons like waxes and oils; they are much sought after for plastics feedstocks as well as their water. Ceres and Pallas are large asteroids of this type, which is the most common. They are mined by automated chemical plants on their surfaces, powered by solar energy, which extract water and organics from the asteroid and process the latter into fertilisers, plastics and so on, as well as extracting the few nitrogen compounds present. The water can be electrolysed to yield oxygen and hydrogen, both of which have many uses.
As well as providing mineral resources, the asteroid belt is the Solar System's frontier. There are millions of small asteroids, each capable of supporting a small group who can afford the few tens of thousands of Livres for the equipment needed to homestead it. The Belt is so large as to be effectively ungovernable, so those who like solitude or dislike authority can vanish into it. However, the belt has no law to speak of, and should any of your equipment fail, it won't matter how good the manufacturer's guarantee is...
The Outer System Moons
The moons of the outer planets also have extensive mining facilities. Most of the smaller moons' mining operations can be treated for game purposes as if they were on asteroids; larger moons usually specialise in extracting water and oxygen from surface ice. However, there are exceptions, for example Io has large sulphur deposits which are extracted to make the sulphuric acid vital for many industrial processes.
Life Support and Agriculture
The average colonist needs around 5 kg of food, water and oxygen per day. Much of this is recycled; even so, farms are present because of the high cost of shipping food up from Earth. Fortunately, farming is easy in space because there are no pests, no weeds, and the weather does what it's told.
Oxygen is produced by plants in the farming modules and the main colony, which also extract the carbon dioxide from the colony's air. There are so many plants in the average colony that no more elaborate method of recycling the air is needed. Atmospheric pressure is one-half an Earth atmosphere, which is enough pressure for physiological needs -- higher pressures mean thicker, more expensive walls, and worse damage from punctures. The air is about 40% oxygen, with almost all the rest being nitrogen for the plants and to reduce fire hazards. Even so, fire is a serious hazard, more feared for its consumption of oxygen than its actual damage; probably only major punctures cause more nightmares. The humidity is around 40%, except in farm areas and grain storage. The air temperature is about 22 degrees Centigrade. Waste gasses are adsorbed on activated charcoal filters and then sent to the waste processing plant. However, only in the largest colonies are there blue skies ( which need air at least three kilometres thick to form) and natural clouds.
The bulk of the water in the colony's atmosphere is given off by plants; this is recycled by dehumidifiers in the farming modules. The water passes through no ground strata and has no chemicals or dissolved salts, so it is extracted from the air and piped straight to peoples' homes. Water is also produced as a byproduct of small power plants, where fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and energy ( most internal station vehicles are powered in this way).
Food is produced in small farm units orbiting the main colonies. The main reason for not farming inside the colonies is the 24 hour lighting, high ventilation, and high humidity used for optimum plant growth. Interplanting is used, so that at any time in a plot there are some crops being planted, some growing, some ripening, and others being harvested, all mingled together. A typical sequence would grow rice, sweet potatoes, soybeans, corn, and then soybeans again. The stems and cuttings are fed to livestock. As well as food plants cotton is grown, for use in clothes and paper.
Plants are grown on styrofoam boards for support, with nutrients and water sprayed directly onto their roots. This eliminates the need for expensive, heavy topsoil and makes it easy to harvest roots for animal feed. Since hand-pollination of vegetables is very boring, the colony usually has several hives of bees selected for their docility. These produce honey as a by-product.
Meat is relatively scarce; meat animals take up a lot of room and food for the meat they produce, and much of what cows, pigs and chickens eat can be eaten directly by people. The staple meat in most colonies is rabbit -- mild-flavoured, low in fat, and easily cooked. The farms produce alfalfa, a perfect rabbit food when salt is added. Each doe rabbit and her litter takes up about one square metre and her alfalfa patch about twelve times as much room. The total yield of boneless meat from this sort of set-up is about 150 kg per hectare per day.
The waste stems, leaves and roots are converted into milk and other dairy products by ruminants, usually cows or goats. Goats are common, since they eat 10% as much as a cow but produce 25% of the milk; in the average colony as much as two litres of goats' milk per person is available each day. Chickens are fed kitchen waste and the leftovers from rabbit butchering, and provide 3-4 eggs per person per week.
Finally, there are fish. These are nearly as productive as rabbits where protein is concerned, and colonists can get up to 300 grammes of fish fillets per week each. Now fish out of water in a gravity field die because their gills collapse, which stops them getting any oxygen; in zero-G hydroponic fish-farming, the fish are left floating in mid-air in an atmosphere of 100% humidity. ( In real life, ponds in the farms will be more practical; but free-flying fish give more of a sense of 'being there' in the future, and imagine the fun you can have refereeing a zero-G firefight in a room with 100% humidity full of flying fish...)
The average farm yield runs at about 950 kg/hectare per day, so every hectare of farmland can support about 250 colonists; once you have decided the population, that tells you how big a colony's farms are. There are a few professional farmers and agronomists, but most of the farm staff are volunteers who work there a few hours each week in their leisure time.
As well as the farms, the main cylinder has trees for fruit, for shade, and just to look cool. These provide apples, oranges, pears, plums, cherries and peaches; more adventurous colonies grow coconuts and bananas. Some colonists have their own gardens for flowers and vegetables.
The food never has to travel more than a couple of kilometres to market, so there is no spoilage in transit and no need to add preservatives. There are no supermarkets full of packaged goods; the food market is a group of farmers' stalls with bins full of fresh produce and the odd refrigerator, looking a lot like a pre-industrial farmer's market or bazaar. Naturally, anywhere you have fruit or grain and some enterprising individuals, you have alcohol shortly thereafter...
Sewage is heated with oxygen in high-temperature, high-pressure conditions for an hour and a half, producing sterile water with ammonia and phospate ash, and a gas rich in carbon dioxide. The phosphate ash and gas are sent to the farms to help in growing plants. Water is purified and recycled.
The colonial environment is cramped and artificial, but it can still be pleasant to live in. The buildings are closely-spaced and only a few stories high, with plenty of trees and other greenery. They are assembled from prefabricated, modular wall sections. However, within this constraint, the occupants strive for diversity.
Apartments have simple, open designs, with a structural defined by metal girders. As the walls are not load-bearing, they can be swapped as desired for floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows. Floor panels are lightweight honeycomb, and ceiling panels may be clear, coloured or opaque according to taste; most are opaque, because only a few kilometres away other people are living over your head, and they may have telescopes...
Living rooms are in the corners of the building, with two glass walls. Neither heating nor cooling is a problem, as the entire colony is 'air-conditioned'. The land area available per person is only about 50 square metres; builders deal with this shortage of space by hiding it. The colonists live in small clusters of houses, each with some focus such as a courtyard fountain or stand of trees, so that people are aware only of a few neighbouring houses. The problem is made easier by the almost total lack of cars and trucks; most movement is on foot or by bicycle, with subways or monorails for longer-distance travel. Quite often houses are terraced so that one man's roof is his neighbour's lawn.
Scattered among the houses are public parks and gardens, with small lakes that serve as water reservoirs as well as recreational areas and homes for ducks, which have aesthetic, psychological and nutritional value. Speaking of the latter, ovens are microwave or electric -- electric power is plentiful, but fuel for burning is not.
Plastic is not widely used, because it must be made from hydrocarbons, which originally were very scarce in space; although they are plentiful since the exploitation of the asteroids and the widespread use of the stutterwarp, spacer tradition decrees other materials. What the builders have always had in plenty are aluminium, titanium, steel and glass. Bricks and concrete are made from planetary soil so they are greyish-white. As they are made primarily of steel, concrete and glass the colonists' homes are durable and sturdy structures. Furniture and decorations are made from aluminium and ceramics; the trees are too valuable alive to be used for wood. Fabrics are made from woven glass fibre and are about the consistency of denim; they won't absorb dye, but can be made of stained glass, so colours are mostly blues, reds, purples, greens and browns, and glow irridescently in the sun. Stains wipe off easily with a damp sponge, and the fabrics are fireproof.
Anything tough and durable, like overalls, is made of the same woven fiberglass as the furniture coverings and curtains. Softer, lighter clothes are made from locally-grown cotton, dyed in the usual way, and usually recycled. Due to the small populations of the colonies, the services they provide are limited, and professional tailors and dressmakers are rare; so many people who want something distinctive make it themselves, or enlist a friend or relative. This is less true in the larger stations.
As mentioned earlier, trees are just too valuable to chop down. This makes paper very rare; it is jealously guarded and carefully recycled. Notepads, diaries, and most books are replaced by portacomp chips. Paper ( and plastic) bags are replaced by the ubiquitous woven fibreglass. Financial transactions are made by credit card or electronic fund transfer, so there is little need for paper money.
All of this need not cramp the style of referee or player much. After all, there is no paper at all in the Star Wars universe and that doesn't slow down the adventures. PCs should be aware, though, that using a lot of paper is a sign of wealth.
Virtually the whole range of team and individual sports is practiced, and home entertainments include all kinds of music and video. Due to the low gravity, though, there are some recreations unknown before spaceflight.
These include zero-G swimming, basketball, darts etc. in the microgravity areas near the axis of rotation. Zero-G waterball fights replace planetary snowball fights, and walking on water takes a long time to lose its appeal.
There are also a few pursuits that are not available. Anything involving hunting, or lots of large animals ( like horse-racing) is too expensive in terms of floor area and life support.
The Orbital Colonist Mindset
The whole colony is designed to encourage community spirit, and as the inhabitants depend on each other for continued survival, they form very close-knit communities. Further, they are accustomed to discipline and obeying orders, because that is sometimes necessary for survival in space. Paradoxically, the need to solve problems quickly or die also breeds independence and self-sufficiency.
Space is an unforgiving environment, and colony populations are small; so the average colonist is over-protective of women and children. The small populations make for a shortage of skilled people, and so education and training start at an early age; almost everyone has Mechanical or Electronic skill, as their lives depend on machines.
The person in charge of the colony, whatever his title, however appointed, and however benevolent, is a despot with absolute power of life and death over the colony due to the centralised control of life-support systems -- and absolute power corrupts absolutely, which can geneerate many adventure scenarios.
The only animals the average colonist has met are domesticated species, as colonies only have animals which can pay their way in meat, milk, or companionship. Should an orbital colonist meet a hungry bear, for instance, since his upbringing will have stressed teddy bears and cartoon bears, he may not demonstrate the respect due to something as large and dangerous as a grizzly. A 'wild' animal, especially if exotic in some way, is a status symbol for the very rich.
July 1998: KevinC emailed me to point out that I wasn't allowing enough water for industrial processes, and right he was. So all of my colonies have just sprouted huge internal lakes...
Go back to: [ "Best of ..." Menu ] Last Update: 1999 Mar 01
First Online: 1999 Mar 01
Pentapod's World of 2300AD - http://www.geocities.com/pentapod2300/
Website maintained by: Kevin Clark ( kevinc AT cnetech DOT com)
In AD 2300, onboard vehicle computers are commonplace and are roughly as intelligent as a dog. They can respond to verbal commands, break into the vehicle intercom or radio circuits to speak to the crew, and bring the vehicle to the dismounted crew if called by radio or a loud shout.
Although an onboard vehicle system is referred to as "the computer", it is in fact a group of a half-dozen or so microcomputers each tied in to separate sensor/effector clusters and running different programs. The various computers are tied together by a small onboard communications network, usually using wires or optical fibers, and one of the nodes is tasked with running the network and overseeing the work of the other nodes. In military vehicles, a backup node, able to take over this directorial function if the master node is damaged, is also included. The typical vehicle computer is programmed with the performance parameters for its vehicle and will override the operator if he tries to do anything dangerous.
Autopilots: Autopilots have a socket similar to a neural jack where reference chips can be inserted. Any autopilot can take a map chip; civilian models normally take a reference chip containing data on local traffic regulations, and military ones are fitted with a chipped copy of the current tactical manual (for the crew's reference). Autopilot programs can take the vehicle to a specified point, either by road or cross-country, then halt the vehicle, orbit the point or start a search pattern. The autopilot can also intercept, pass off or take station on a specified point or object. Military versions can drive evasively; this function is often set to activate if the driver releases the controls (referred to as a "dead-man switch").
Military autopilot programs share navigation and movement data via short-range radio or laser communications links. This enables vehicle platoons to coordinate their activities. Groups of vehicles can be programmed to move together in travel mode or "bounding" overwatch mode. In travel mode, they simply move in column, following the lead vehicle at a safe distance. In bounding overwatch mode, the vehicles move individually from cover to cover in short bounds, covered by fire from their stationary fellows.
Communicators: All vehicles have long-range communicators. The police on Core worlds can remotely activate these to pass on traffic information or safety warnings, and can locate any vehicle at any time by its transponder emissions. In Core world cities, police can take control of any vehicle at any time by a remote radio link, and routinely do so in traffic jams or emergencies. As criminals routinely damage or disconnect the communicators on stolen vehicles, police imagers are set up at key intersections and linked to computers which scan the highway for specified vehicles, identifying them by their license plates. Random spot checks are carried out from time to time to make sure that vehicle license plates, communicator responses and positions all sync up.
Weapons Control: The main difference between civil and military vehicle computers is that military ones have weapons control software. These programs provide automatic adjustments for range, target type and weather conditions. The system automatically identifies moving objects, trains the weapons, and alerts the gunner, who specifies the targets as friend or foe. Friends are ignored, and the gunner can specify the response to foes: observe, observe and record, engage now, engage after current target engaged, or engage when in range. The computer will provide a default response based on the tactical doctrines in its database, but can be overridden. The gunner can also select autotarget mode, in which the system will engage any target in range not previously specified as friendly, with larger and closer targets having priority. One of the crew's necessary daily tasks is to specify which vehicles, buildings, etc. are friendly for the day or the mission.
Vehicles in a platoon share target and tactical data over communications links to minimize the chance of engaging friends by mistake or having several friendly vehicles engage the same target. However, this capability is not so commonly used or as useful as might be imagined, as enemy antiradiation missiles will home on any radio transmissions during combat.
Heads-up displays are standard in vehicles and pilot or combat helmets. They can be linked to vehicle or backpack computers, satellite downlink receivers, etc., which can override a HUD's local processing power or simply download fresh data into the HUD. A HUD projects 3D digital maps, gunsight reticules and sensor readouts onto the helmet visor or vehicle windscreen, overlaying these on the real scene. Normally the aiming graticule projected on the visor gives a +2 bonus to hit, but especially complex and expensive versions might give a higher bonus or even increase the wearer's Initiative level.
Occasionally troops will mount mini-imagers on their gun barrels with fiberoptic links to their HUDs, where video picture-in-picture software allows them to see and shoot around corners without exposing their heads. A small area of the HUD display shows the view from the weapon's muzzle, with corrected aiming graticules overlaid on the scene.
Recent experimental work with subdermacomps has introduced what some have called the "eyes-up display". By inducing impulses in the optic nerves of the user, military subdermacomps can overlay their information directly on the user's vision. This technology is not yet available for general use. Although most subdermacomps can display text or simple graphics in the user's eyes, complex color graphics and map overlays cannot yet be reliably induced, so HUDs are used where these are needed. Due to its expense, the eyes-up display seems likely to remain limited to undercover operatives in covert surgical strike teams.
Robots and computers perform most physical and administrative work. Orders, invoices and payments are dealt with by electronic fund transfer and are rarely seen on paper. Salespeople use remote computer terminals linked into the corporate computer net, similar to those which have been in use by soldiers and scientists for many years. Many orbital factories are remote-controlled over telecommunications links to save on life-support costs.
The few employees in a typical corporation work three- or four-day weeks, and a second set of staff uses the machines for other purposes on the first set's "weekends". To cope with the long weekends, most workers have second jobs or complex hobbies. The machines work around the clock, seven days a week.
Dedicated creative staff are still in short supply and frequently work 60-hour weeks. Some people work from home via the communications net, using a remote work station in their study. This is not as common as might be expected, for two reasons: Going to work fulfills an important psychological need for social contact with other people. Also, in a conversation between people, much information is conveyed by body language, facial expressions and gestures, which are harder to make out over a videophone or via a computer bulletin board.
To minimize the capital tied up in stock and warehousing, all factories use "just-in-time" production, keeping less than 12 hours' stock of component parts. Products are built just in time to meet orders; parts are ordered just in time to make products.
Often, a corporation will be spread out over the globe, with its manufacturing plants wherever they are cheapest to operate, its offices wherever staff and accommodation are cheapest, and so on. Most supervision is done electronically over the videophone. Troubleshooters -- roving jacks-of-all-trades -- solve unforeseen problems quickly.
Patients are prediagnosed at home by medical computers over the communications net to minimize the workload on human doctors. If the condition is serious enough to warrant a doctor's attention, he will do his diagnosis over the net. Even then, the patient may be treated by an automed. Home or hospital computers monitor chronically or critically ill patients, and automeds may be on standby to administer drugs.
This arrangement is surprisingly common on Frontier planets due to the limited numbers of medical staff available and the large areas each has to cover. Indeed, like the old-time Australian outback, many Frontier planets have flying doctors.
On Core worlds and in larger Frontier cities, wall-sized, two-way video screens linked to the global communications net are found in almost every room in a house, and can be used as "windows" on other rooms with screens, as videophones, or as televisions. Split screens can be used for videophone conference calls, with up to 30 people involved from widely separated places.
Many shopping malls and public buildings have public terminals from which information databases can be interrogated by passersby.
The home computer is programmed with the owner's tastes in video, and will automatically record or suggest he watch anything of interest broadcast on any of the hundreds of TV channels. A wall screen can zoom in on particular areas or points in a program, freeze the action, fast forward and rewind, or show windowed inserts of programs on another channel. An interactive channel is used for teaching. Some houses have domed circular rooms whose entire inside surface can be made into a screen. Some viewers have their home computers programmed to enhance the emotional impact of video by adjusting the home heating, making suitable sound effects, and so on. Others rely on recreational drugs to enhance their viewing.
The communications net includes a library of films and old programs which can be viewed on request, as well as back issues of journals, legal documents and scientific papers. It can search these files on request for any specific subject, providing a list with cross-references and a printout of the results if required.
Computer animation and edited video are indistinguishable from film of actual events, and many officials seen on the videophone are just PR graphics. Thus, in most countries, film of a crime is not acceptable as evidence in court, unless taken with specialized, tamperproof equipment.
The home computer has limited intelligence, about equal to a dog's, and will respond to verbal commands or keyboard input. It controls the lights, heating, outside doors, and TV of a home. The computer will let in the owner, or specified friends and relatives if the owner is out, so keys, as such, are rarely seen. The police can always gain entry to a home upon presenting a warrant to the external cameras. Should any criminal break into the house, the computer will use the wall videophone screens to record the intruder and his activities for the reference of the law enforcement officers, and will attempt to inform the authorities of the break-in.
The widely used smart cards (see "In the Cards" in Challenge 29) are gradually being replaced in the Core by devices in homes and shops which recognize a person by his hand geometry and a keyed identity number. Most shopping and personal financial transactions are done from home via the communications net, with shops delivering the goods requested. Home computers do most routine shopping automatically whenever they deduce that stocks of everyday items are running low.
Most people carry a small communicator linked to the global communications net and can be reached by phone anywhere except in remote wilderness areas. The communications net can locate people by name, so phone numbers are no longer used. It also provides conference calls and facilities for recording messages. The user can instruct the net to ignore, record or give priority to calls from specific people at specific times of day.
Portable communicators continuously transmit their owner's national identity number, even when switched off; the police can learn the rough location of any phone at any time. Intelligent listening systems monitor all conversations, and if specified people, places or subjects are mentioned, the systems will record the conversation and alert the police. Police can also activate any phone remotely (to eavesdrop on rooms or conversations) or break into any conversation at any time. As a precaution against criminals who don't carry communicators, police imagers are set up in key public places and linked to computers which can scan those places for specific persons and alert police to their presence.
USING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN GAMING SITUATIONS
The machines described above can provide modifiers on task rolls. They can assist the PCs by performing simple tasks, and may provide information the PCs would not otherwise have access to (they will reveal this information only if asked, and then only in a straightforward and nonanalytical way).
Computers are very good at doing the right thing in a predictable routine situation. They are not good at dealing with the unknown and unpredictable. For instance, like a PC using an Aircraft Pilot skill chip in his neural jack, an aircraft computer would be able to take off, land and fly from A to B, but it would not last long in a dogfight without help from a skilled human pilot.
Most computers will not have very high skill levels -- they are generally only skill level 0 or 1. At the referee's option, they may be able to learn from experience. If so, they will only be able to improve skills directly relevant to the purpose they were built for. An onboard computer for a hover APC, for example, might be able to improve Hover Vehicle and Heavy Weapons skills, but should not be able to learn Tactics or Medical.
Information Gathering skill will be vital to PCs working in the Core. The communications and computer webs there provide Core PCs with instant access to a great deal of information -- so much so that they are likely to be swamped by it. Successful use of Information Gathering skill -- which in this context is used to phrase requests for information precisely so that they get the data they need and no more -- will keep PCs from being swamped. Computer skill can also be used in this fashion. As an oversimplified example, if the PCs need to find out about a Mr. Smith in the course of their work, asking the computer at the public library for data on Mr. Smith could result in a pile of printout nine yards thick. A character with Information Gathering skill would ask for Mr. A. G. Smith of a specific address or birthdate, reducing the amount of data to be sifted.
Tracking: This technology was first introduced for laudable purposes. Continuous transmission of identity numbers by personal and vehicle computers, for instance, was intended to assist transport planners to provide better service by finding out people's habitual movements -- this naturally told the planners where roads were needed, which trains needed how many cars, and so on. But it wasn't long before the police realized how valuable the information could be.
The major impact of this technology on PCs is in the ability of Core police to track them and prove their involvement in various capers. This is where the darker side of information technology appears, and it fits very well with the downbeat, "cyberpunk" view of Earth in AD 2300. Anywhere the PCs go, the police are monitoring them by transmissions from their personal or vehicle communicators. Thus, the police know where the PCs are, when they are there, probably who they are with, and what is being said (if they have a mind to know). Whenever the PCs break into a building, its computer will record their crimes on imager chips and alert the police. Whenever they make phone calls to each other during a scenario, intelligent monitoring systems can listen to the call, check for key words or names, and alert the police about what they're up to. In short, Big Brother is watching.
This won't make crime in the Core impossible for the PCs, but it will make them sweat for their ill-gotten gains. Streetwise skill as learned and practiced in Core cities includes knowledge of how to make your movements and activities look like part of the normal pattern to the watching computers, which are programmed to alert the police if a citizen's movement patterns become eccentric or even too regular. Electronics, Disguise, Computer and Security Systems become skills equally as valuable as Sidearm or Melee, as PCs must perform difficult tasks using these skills and their ingenuity to evade detection. For example, PCs might avoid the police monitoring their movements by carefully removing their vehicle's communicator and connecting it to an electronic rig which feeds it false information, making it seem that their car is at home in the garage. Then all the PCs have to worry about is the police imagers spotting their license plate 50 miles from that garage and raising the alarm.
- Andy Slack
Appendix: DATA STORAGE
Item to be Stored Required
Letter, one page 5 KB
Photograph 100 KB
Book, 200 pages 1 MB
Hi-fi music, one hour 100 MB
Video, one hour 10 GB
Storage Medium Available
Portacomp chip 200 MB
Imager cartridge 3 GB
Home/vehicle computer 100 GB
Office computer 1000 TB
KB: Kilobytes (thousands of bytes).
MB: Megabytes (millions of bytes).
GB: Gigabytes (billions of bytes).
TB: Terabytes (thousands of billions of bytes).
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Last Update: 1998 Jan 13
First Online: 1998 Jan 13
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