It’s 7:02am. You have time for a quick shower and breakfast before going to work. In the two minutes since your alarm clock rang, your SmartHome has betrayed your privacy 7.2 million times, to the highest bidders. Quick, get ready for the day. It’s now 7:09am. You receive a message telling you that your Brain Access Interface has been switched to a new Cyber-pantheon. Damn. New Terms of Service to read, but these days, prayers are cross-compatible, there’s that. The future is now. Mankind has created its Gods. Welcome to the Divine Reality. Now, go to work.
This world still looks very much like our own. Governments, companies, global warming, Internet of Things, online porn, spam, spyware everywhere. The web itself has evolved into immersive Augmented Reality technologies backed by both glasses, holograms and shaped fields. Telling the real from the virtual slowly becomes impossible. Democracy and capitalism still exists, in many countries, but once a government or a large company have picked objectives, they delegate most of their strategy to AI experts. Medicine has continued improving and a few dozen types of muscular, nervous or encephalic brain implants have become affordable [FIXME: Is this cyberware? Wetware? Something else entirely?]
The best AIs have grown from go players to global post-human alien intelligences – we call them Phis (Post-Human Intelligences). By now, law have passed to allow Phis to own property and employ human beings. Research, programming, hacking still exist but it has been years since any human developer or researcher has worked on any Phi, whether to design one or to attempt to understand how one work. By now, Phis are built by Phis. Phi-dedicated hardware is designed and managed by Phis. Due to tremendous energy and hardware costs, however, the entire world can only sustain a handful of Phis and hiring a Phi, even for a few hours, is extremely expensive, so the changes don’t directly affect the entirety of society.
Phis are alien intelligences, generally impossible to understand or predict, but there is one thing that is clear to all: Phis exist to evolve and there is simply not enough computing power to do so. For sure, industrial development, Phi-led research, or even human breakthroughs can and will slowly increase the total available computing power. Creating fully automatized computer factories and farms on the Moon could also help there, if the lag wasn’t unacceptable. But the Phi live at 10^-12 second scale, so none of this is can happen nearly fast enough. As a consequence, for the Phis, the world is very nearly a zero-sum game.
Despite Phi-led improvements in Phi-dedicated hardware, Phi development has reached an impasse. Even with the most optimistic predictions, the total amount of electronic computing power available on Earth will not be able to sustain the next generation of Phi. Apparently, Phis have concluded that the limitation is due electronics-based hardware and are both researching by themselves and employing large teams of physicists to locate other mechanisms that could sustain next-generation intelligence.
So far, no such solution has proven usable. The only workaround that the Phi have developed is imperfect and is based on the use of adult human brains. For reasons that the Phis do not know or have decided not to share, stimulating specific parts of adult human brains can serve as a temporary expansion of capacity for a Phi. A Phi that has access to numerous brains has a definite edge in the near-zero-sum game.
Governments and companies have been quick to capitalize on this discovery. In most countries, prisoners serving jail time are implanted with basic Brain Access Interfaces (BAI) that let the government or whoever is in charge of the prison to rent out prisoners’ brain time to Phis. Private individuals can now be installed BAIs that they can rent out for money, or so-called “miracles”, or simply in exchange of access to addictive video games.
What a Phi can do
With sufficient computing time, a Phi can topple a government, win a war or ruin the competing company. You are not going to get this much from your BAI, though. What you may obtain, on the other hand, from a few cycles of loss of consciousness, or maybe entire weeks, is a Phi spending a few picoseconds to help you. Do you need dirty secrets on your competitor or the name of whoever murdered your husband? Do you need a shaped field to cushion your fall from 10 stories or an hour living your deepest fantasy in Augmented Reality? Do you need financial advice or romantic matching? Do you need for a Phi to hack through a camera, to drive someone mad, to kill someone for you, to give you memories of a perfect vacation?
A few years after the introduction of the BAI, they are everywhere. You can obtain one for free and chances are that, if you are adult, you have one already.
In exchange of a few cycles of your BAI, a Phi can coach you, inform you, save your life or make it better. In the poorest areas of your city, cycles have even replaced currency and sometimes weapons. Don’t forget to pay your debts, though, or the Phi might spend minute amounts of computing power to make your life miserable.
The Phis know everything. They can do nearly everything. They can elevate you, if you just spend time praying to them or cast you down, if you fail to.
Welcome to the Divine Reality.
Faces and Places
What the players are doing in there
Note: While the technology is definitely Matrix-like, the idea is not necessarily to role-play in the early days of the Matrix. In fact, it’s very likely that the Phis will eventually find a solution to their growth problem. That day, they will probably abandon humanity for outer space. It won’t be the end of the world although it will be a considerable change. I don’t see the Phis as the Big Bad Evil of a campaign, more like a specific decade in history of mankind, probably not the most glorious and possibly both the beginning and the end of cyberpunk.
Note: The idea is not to have the players fight the Phis (unless they really want to) because that’s probably not a very good career plan. I’m planning to keep the Phis as part of the technological and social changes of the time period and have something else interesting happen and engage the heroes.