Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interface Zero: An Exploration

What is consciousness?
Is it self awareness?
How can you tell that another thing is self aware?
What makes human self-awareness different?

These are the questions I pose in a series of explorations in Interface Zero. IZ is a world projected along our darkest future. A world where nations have fought many "limited" nuclear wars, billions have died from biological weapons and the human race is simultaneously saved and doomed. The secrets of gene modification, nano re-fabrication and Artificial Intelligence have been unlocked. But these miracles have not fashioned a new Utopia--they only seemed to have pushed the human condition to grotesque extremes.

The human-machine interface has blurred to the point where all people perceive both reality and virtual reality at the same time. The information network that started with the Internet has spread to become a ubiquitous network of everything overlapping the whole world existing in both real terms and as a separate plane known as "the Deep". Some choose to live in absolutely virtual worlds, but most live in an enhanced reality blend from the two--a very few have no ability to sense the Deep. The Deep is everywhere, everywhere you look, every object you touch can have a representation in Deep that you perceive through your eyes in exactly the same manner as you perceive this message. If you could see in to the Deep you might see these pages as ancient parchment or perhaps in floating neon blue lettering--all based on your preferences. The real document might simply be a stack of white papers or perhaps a small data chip with nano transmitters connected to and part of the Deep. The Deep is powered by the mass networking of all CPU's of all devices known on Earth. Most objects right down to paperclips have small CPU's buried in them. Some places in what used to be called Japan have released processors so small they float in the air like dust. In these places the Deep is thick and impossible to filter out. In the nuclear wastelands between China, Pakistan and India, the Deep is but a faint echo where you'll be lucky to raise a single voice comm.

Nano technology has progressed to the point where nearly everyone has access to a fabricator that can re-assemble similar matter in to what ever the user requires. Grass clipping, rotting protein, and a handful of dirt can be re-assembled in to edible healthy foods--even flavorful foods if your fabricator is an expensive model. These wondrous machines can even create clothing from nearly any fibrous materials. Style-patterns are downloaded from the Deep (for a price) and the user can choose whatever she wants in whatever simulated fabrics she wants. All machines can make the basics necessary to survival for free. But despite these daily miracles, the human race is not better off. It seems all these machines really do is perpetuate squalor and suffering. The world economy can not employ the vast majority of workers. Billions are left idle, clothed and fed. Gangland wars are perpetual. Most are essentially homeless living in derelict urban districts below the upper cites where the luckier wage slaves live. Only your friends care if you're hurt and some of them might be more interested in your stuff after you're dead.

The boon of technology has fused biology with machine. All humans have TAPs installed in their heads for interface to the Deep. But this meshing with hardware extends to full prosthetics, eyes, internal weapons and skill upgrades. How far this can go has yet to be fully explored.

But mankind was not satisfied with just the Deep and nanofabrication. Humanity also choose to alter itself. The genetic code has been solved, mapped, rendered to component parts and fashioned anew. Humans can now select exact traits both before and after birth. In the Amazon Wars, genetically enhanced warriors are used for the first time taking science in to a darker art form. The goal in warfare is to eliminate the enemy--no semblance of humanity is required. Chimera are born. These radically altered "humans" possess a variety of outlandish features designed to kill--period. Generally only used in battle and always with gruesome effect, these creatures are often shunned by society. But still the pride of man was not complete. Man created Simulacre. Wholly biologically copies of humans with artificially limited mental capacities to be an endless source of labor--a new race of slaves. Each Simulacrum is designed to fill a purpose and die in a limited time. The new labor force quickly replaces any need for Human workers. Simulacre are cheaper, require nothing but nano-replicated food and clothing, and are fully recyclable. Any tasks considered too unsavory for humans to dirty themselves with directly including prostitution and suicide combat squads are given to Simulacrum. Lastly, man created AI. A necessary technology to administrate the vastly complex Deep and civil systems to control the exploding populations of the major cities. AI control all traffic systems, power, communications, entire manufacturing facilities and even some military applications. However, science wasn't entirely naive. AI programs are closely and intensely monitored. If any sign of self awareness and creativity are expressed, the AI is brutally eradicated and copies burned.

Corporations control the world's economy. City-states and nations are cowed before policies of embargo and arms races. Humans lucky enough to work inside the megaconglomerates are the elite of the world. These individuals are rich beyond the wildest dreams of "sprawlanders" (those that survive on the toxic streets of the new cities). These executives make decisions that doom millions to death, starvation or war. Anyone working for a corp as a wage slave only knows that they could be instantly cast aside in to the gangs wars, nuclear wastelands, or (worse) experimental biological testing. Employee satisfaction surveys are high... always high.

This is the world, such as it is...

My proposal is to create a few iconic characters based on IZ (True20) to explore both character abilities and a few philosophical questions. Since it would probably be impractical for folks purchase the True20 core rules and the Interface Zero setting, I would create characters for use in certain one-shot stories. These stories are likely to explore the Deep, sentient AI, Simulacre and Chimera. I will attempt to run these via live chat primarily. But I would also use materials posted, emailed and maybe even a virtual table top app (one of the free ones if I do). I'll probably try to kick off a True20 how-to session with Skype or phone calls or something where I can talk you through the system--unless you happen to have the rules. Interface Zero is a setting based on the cyberpunk genre seeded from inspirations like "Ghost in the Shell", "The Matrix", "Neuromancer", and "Blade Runner." The characters I want to test are Hackers, Martial Adepts, heavily modified humans and AI's. I might foray in to heavy military machinery.

Who wants in?

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