Welcome to the Future

Yellow-red light flares from a rusty oil drum. It reveals a man in last year's evening wear, jamming his last battery into a black case. He doesn't need the firelight to read the battery's logo. Matrix Chemicals -- he approved that logo. It seems so long ago he was president, but he can remember as if it were yesterday the look on the Neurosteigen GmbH vice president informing him that she now chaired the board. His software daemon never even told him Neurosteigen owned stock!

He punches in the channel, and two gorgeous women fade into existence over the projection plate. Damn Orbital eyes! He hits the side of his head with his palm until both images resolve into Amber Dej, 2050's hottest 3V songstar. He removes a chip from his pocket and slips it onto the socket under his left ear. Now he can understand Amber's Japanese lyrics:

The Net fills my head
Slipping in on threads of light
Teaching me nothing

The Setting
The shoreline is different from that of the 20th Century due to greenhouse warming, but heroic efforts by Dutch flood control engineers saved many a coastal area. They could do nothing for New York, Lenin-grad, and Los Angeles, annihilated in the Accidental War over 40 years ago. That war did have a positive outcome, in that the United Nations managed to ban nuclear weapons.

National boundaries have changed little since WW2 (there's once again a single Germany), except that the Soviet Union now consists of <<n>> independent states, often at each other's throats, and the Basque Free State straddles the Pyrenees.

In 2050, most people look young and attractive. Plastic surgery is easily available, and there's no stigma attached to changing your appearance, even to that of a media star. It's not yet completely accepted, but many people enhance their bodies and minds with cybernetic replacement parts.

The world operates on an information economy. Information is a valuable resource, which can be traded, borrowed, or stolen. Most of it flows along the Net, the collective term for the global data highway, which handles vidphone and computer data as well as entertainment 3V channels. It's actually many parallel and overlapping networks. Connections to the Net are ubiquitous. Computer information is what makes the world go round, and few organizations want to be cut off from it. You can work from any terminal connected to the Net, no matter where you go, or use your portable phone. Recently, technology has been developed to let people interface directly with the Net. With the proper training and software, you can visualize it as cyberspace, a weird, rapidly-changing world where data is represented as glowing streams and crystalline shapes.

The economy is dominated by hypercorporations, huge multinational conglomerates. Small, flexible companies are still responsible for most technological breakthroughs, but have to tread carefully among the corporate giants.

World trade is extremely important -- few nations would even think about isolating themselves from the world market. Despite intense dislike for each other, Earth and the Orbitals conduct extensive trade via the Libreville Beanstalk. The Orbitals trade satellite capacity, high-tech components, drugs and beamed-down solar power in exchange for various organics (including luxury food items), cultural works, and highly skilled labor.

The service economy is extremely important. Talented people are be more important than capital, and can always find a buyer for their services. They never have enough time, and will pay someone else to cook, invest their money, watch their children, etc.

Most people work for a corporation, but many are self-employed or free-lance contractors. Large corporations prefer dealing with employees who have long-term contracts. Many companies have offices in the suburbs -- in fact, they may own the housing tracts as well; employees can simply walk to work. This is balanced against the need for physical services such as security.

Efficient robotic factories turn out enough consumer goods for everybody, but have caused massive unemployment. Luckily, they're productive enough that nations can easily afford to put the unemployed on the dole.

The European Common Market adopted a common currency, the karsha, which has been adopted almost everywhere. k1 is approximately equal to $10 in 1989 dollars. It's also more or less the amount earned for one hour's work at a job with a moderate salary.

Most transactions are carried out by debit cards inserted into a money machine. These also take cash wafers, plastic squares the size of a quarter, which can hold a balance of up to k1000. Cash transactions are not traceable. Physical currency ("hard cash") is illegal, but still used in some areas.

Hypercorporations are more powerful than governments. The United Nations has been strengthened in an attempt to deal with them (and with international terrorism). Although national governments are much less relevant than in the 20th Century, they're responsible for the welfare of their citizens, and for maintaining law and order. They don't always succeed, partly because the work -- or lack of it -- is done by bureaucracies whose prime purpose seems to be to get as many unemployed off the street as possible. In most countries, corruption is the order of the day.

Most research involving human genetics is outlawed. Cloning is generally not illegal, but using clones for spare parts is.

Despite government regulation, there have been great advances in biotechnology. The major diseases of the last century have been cured. Crops have been bioengineered to be pest-resistant. People live longer. New recreational drugs can be easily synthesized.

Materials technology has improved, largely due to zero-gravity manufacturing conditions.

Electronics and computers are everywhere. Almost every household appliance has a microprocessor, from a voice-controlled stove to the telephone that lets you prioritize incoming calls. Especially exciting are the new ways in which electronics can be coupled with people, like the reference library memory chip which lets you look something up as fast as you can think of it.

Maglev trains, levitated by superconducting magnets, are the preferred way to travel between urban areas, partly because petroleum is scarce. Many roadways are in bad repair or heavily congested. Quite a few cities have banned automobiles entirely or in certain sections. Commercial aviation has been cut back due to the limited supply of fuel (most of it reserved for military use). Scheduled flights are still available, but they're too expensive for regular travel.

What's In It for Me?
Your characters live in this world. Perhaps they'll be able to take advantage of it. Perhaps they can make it a better place.

In 2050, the individual is unimportant. But in Interface, individuals are significant. A single person has virtually the same Net access as any government, and knowledge is power. And individuals have ethics and convictions, resources which a faceless hypercorporation can't even dream of having.

The character you play in Interface can make a difference. She can rescue innocents in distress. She can expose corporate wrongdoing, or fight corrupt politicians. The problems are basically the same as you can see around you in the 20th Century, but in Interface you can do something about them.

Last updated 24 Mar 10

David Dunham Page | Interface