Computers and other types of digital technology are going to be a key feature of Project 2050. We’re going to try to project forward in a reasonable way while maintaining viability, recognition, and playability. Enough people have read Gibson’s ‘Sprawl’ books, Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’, and have seen ‘Bladerunner’, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, or ‘Elysium’ that we feel like we can reference their technologies and settings without confusing too many people.
In this article, we want to talk a little bit of setting. We’ll do a follow-up with some actual rules.
And you don’t need to know much about computers to role play in an environment where they’re ubiquitous. Gibson didn’t even own a computer when he wrote ‘Neuromancer’. So, the CPU, clock speed, bus size, or memory latency in nanoseconds don’t matter in Project 2050, any more than it matters to know that a longsword was made with the Viking technique as opposed to the Damascus technique. One long sword is pretty much like another for the game’s purposes, and that will be true of computers. Some computers will be better than others, so a pocket computer (what we call a ‘phone’) won’t be as powerful as a typical home computer, which won’t be as powerful as a typical business computer, and so on and so forth. Just like a short sword does less damage than a long sword, which does less damage than a bastard sword.
Project 2050 is going to describe what technology exists, how it is used, and what might be on the horizon. We’ll describe the setting, establish a few simple rules to help resolve the action, and leave it up to the DM and players to work out their own story and the fine details. Just like the rest of D&D.
Computers, Networks, and Networked Devices in Project 2050
Computer networks are made up of devices connected to each other by physical or wireless connections. The Net is a world-wide computer network connecting millions of individual devices and smaller networks. Smaller networks can be the corporate networks of huge multi-nationals with thousands of devices, local networks in small businesses with a few devices, or home networks with one device.
A device is anything that can be connected to a network. A device might be a complete computer, a simple network terminal, a data silo, an electronic door lock, a video camera, a vending machine, a weather satellite, a combat drone, a traffic light, etc. In the digital world of Project 2050, the ‘internet of things’ is fully realized and literally anything electronic can be connected to a network. Simply put: most electronic devices will be connected to a network.
In a home, players will find the family computers, phones, tablets, televisions, audio equipment, refrigerator, heating and air conditioning systems, lights, door locks, garage door opener, and hot water heater all connected to a home network. In a typical office, the desktop terminal, and the phone will be connected. If the worker uses teleconferencing equipment, that will be connected as well. And, of course, the lights, the environmental controls, the door and garage badging systems. In an automated warehouse, the door locks, door controls, monitoring cameras, picking and restocking robots, packaging and shipping robots, and the shipping and delivery trucks will be devices connected to the network.
The typical 2050 home computer is many times more powerful than the home computers of today. The average home will have a central ‘whole house’ computer that will control connected devices, deliver entertainment, etc.
Voice control is normal, but generally only used in private spaces, such as the home, a personal vehicle, or in a private office. So, the typical home computer will be controlled using voice command or touch pads. For a more immersive experience, the typical home user will use haptic gloves and a VR headset with earbuds. There are also experimental and expensive full-body haptic suits and omnidirectional treadmills. The mega-rich are rumored to have VR rooms with ultra-high definition walls, full moving floors, and even environmental controls.
A corporate computer user will have a set of inexpensive haptic gloves and VR goggles with reasonable resolution. These serve well enough in a customer-service or data-entry environment. Corporate programmers might have something a step up, but nothing high-end unless the job calls for it.
Ultra-high end computing equipment will only be found where it is needed, or where money and sense are not barriers to acquiring it. This equipment will normally be used for things like running simulations and calculations in laboratory research and development.
‘Junk’ level computer equipment can still be found and can still function. An ‘ancient’ keyboard and mouse can stand in for haptic gloves, and a simple flat panel monitor can provide an image, if not a truly immersive experience. Businesses that don’t rely on computers or in which putting on haptic gloves would be inconvenient, such as trades, might have an old computer on the shop floor. Older computing equipment is often used because it has fewer built-in controls and safeguards, so a user can easily use and exploit low-level features of the operating system and any networks to which it is attached.
The technology exists to directly put sight and sound into the brain through electronic stimulation. The equipment that does this looks like an elaborate headband or tiara. This equipment is common in situations where money is available and users want an increased level of immersion, such as air traffic controllers, micro-surgeons, military drone pilots, and corporate security. The first consumer models are just coming into the market, but they’re expensive, and there is only limited programming available.
While these units can reliably put sensory impressions into the brain, the same technology can’t be used to reliably record. Recording requires startlingly expensive implants; micro-filaments and neural pickups hard-wired into the brain to record sensory impressions. The technology to embed them is experimental and risky, and the vast majority of people will physically reject these implants. For these reasons, there is a high failure rate for implant surgeries, and those with this type of implant are amazingly rare and valuable.
Cybernetic implants that use a less risky and elaborate version of neural pickup technology are common, reliable, and relatively affordable. This enables things like replacement limbs to work, and controls cybernetic enhancements, such as embedded weaponry.
Artificial Intelligences have been in development for decades. The best general AI that has been revealed to the world functions at the level of a young child. Special purpose AIs perform functions such as customer service, medical diagnoses, and shopping assistance. They can also serve as expert help for specific technical tasks. However, while these AIs are very good at what they do, they quickly reveal themselves as machines as soon they extend beyond their area of expertise. But, there are stories and fears that AI labs have accomplished far more, or that AIs have escaped into the wild, but those are unproven rumors.
While we’re not prepared to codify anything (indeed, the actual game mechanics for computers are likely going to be very light), here are some notes and terminology to keep in mind when we talk about technology in 2050.
- Monitor – A basic flat-panel video monitor with integrated speakers.
- AR – Augmented Reality: A see-through visor or monacle, or retinal projection that adds a computer-enhanced overlay to normal vision.
- VR – Virtual Reality: A pair of goggles and integrated earbuds that provide an immersive video/audio experience.
- Haptics – Force-feedback clothing (gloves and/or body suit) that provides a semi-immersive touch sensory experience.
- Trodes – Neural Electrodes: A web of neural sensors/projectors worn over the head that provide an immersive video/audio/sensory experience.
- Jack – Neural Jack: A neural interface hard-wired directly into the brain to provide an immersive video/audio/sensory experience.
- Keyboard – A basic computer keyboard. It may include other input devices, such as touchpad, joystick, or mouse.
- Haptics – Haptic gloves and body suits can provides simulated keyboard or full-body input.
- Jack – A neural jack can provide simulated keyboard or full body input.
In some way, the computational power of a device is going to have relevancy for skill checks to break into it (or saves to resist charms). This is where we’re heading with that line of thought, though it’s obviously unfinished.
- Door lock, Microwave Oven, Bluetooth headset
- First Generation Home Computer, Smart Appliance
- Smart Phone, Consumer Net Terminal, Net-ready Television Set, Manufacturing Robot, Cybernetic Limb
- First Generation Super Computer, Basic Hacking Rig, Corporate Workstation, Rigged Vehicle, Aerial Drone
- Self-driving Car, Ground Sentry Robot
- Semi-Sentient AI? (Dixie Flatline)
- Super-Sentient AI? (Neuromancer/Wintermute)