The year is 2100; the future is in the balance. Transhuman Space takes, broadly speaking, an optimistic view. There has been no global nuclear war, no great catastrophe; pollution and global warming, while by no means ended, have been more or less brought under control; resources mostly meet needs. But this isn’t a utopia either. There are still wars, tyrannies, and gross inequalities, and privacy is hard to find. Indeed, new sciences have created new evils.
Most people, in advanced areas at least, have had all clear genetic problems eliminated in the womb, and many are enhanced, some to the point where they are no longer strictly Homo sapiens. Advanced medical treatments can largely eliminate disease (for a price), and lifespans are growing longer – though true immortality remains a dream. Bioroids are synthetic beings, mostly created as servants and lacking some human complexity – but they still think and feel. Biotechnology can also “uplift” other species to near-human intelligence, create exotic farm animals and pets, and synthesize drugs which can modify the human mind to order.
Computers in 2100 are powerful and cheap, though not superhuman; processors are embedded in almost every piece of technology. They are controlled by infomorphs, most of which are artificial intelligences ranging from nonsapient “NAIs” – clever talking user interfaces – through low-sapient “LAIs” – versatile, self-motivated, but not-quite-human minds – to fully sapient “SAIs.” It’s also possible to scan a human brain to create a ghost, an apparently perfect infomorph model, but as this destroys the brain, opinions are divided over whether it’s a path to immortality or an expensive form of suicide. Cybershells, the machine bodies which infomorphs inhabit and control, range from industrial machinery and weapon systems, through beautiful “cyberdolls,” to “wearables” and even implants within human bodies.
Nanotechnology (micro-scale engineering) is currently limited to “wet nano” – pseudo-biological creations which manipulate organic processes. ”Dry nano,” capable of manipulating any matter on an atomic scale, is a hopeful research topic. Portable 3D printers can manufacture complex objects to order, while microbots are insect-sized robots which work in collaborative swarms.
Fusion-powered ships can cross the solar system in a few months. Indeed, fusion power is one key to humanity’s wealth, but it depends on helium-3, a rare isotope which must be mined from the surface of the moon or the atmosphere of Saturn. This is one of the major reasons for the growth of space flight. Meanwhile, a Chinese-dominated colony on Mars is terraforming the planet while modifying humanity to live there, and space navies, criminals, and bizarre ideologies are expanding through the void. Earth orbit is downright crowded, and may grow even more so when the space elevator currently under construction is complete.
Memetics is a young science of the mind. It sees “memes” (ideas and thought-patterns) as propagating like genes, using minds as their hosts, mutating and adapting as they go. Some people dismiss memetics as either seriously unreliable or, worse, deeply amoral and manipulative. Memetics isn’t magic mind control; rather, it raises the ancient arts of propaganda, rhetoric, and teaching to new heights. Populations are increasingly seen as a memetic battleground for radicals, politicians, and pranksters.
The World Powers
There are several Great Powers. China is the largest, though more advanced in some areas than others; the E.U. (European Union), a loose but expanding confederation, is perhaps the most advanced. The USA is still a force to be reckoned with, controlling helium mining on Saturn, but increasingly divided socially. The TSA (Transpacific Socialist Alliance) is a relatively weak confederation driven by a “nanosocialist” ideology which promotes the redistribution of information. It is a major concern in world politics, having fought a war with China in the 2080s and triggered the formation of the PRA (Pacific Rim Alliance) as a counterbalance. India also has the power to make itself heard, as does the Islamic Caliphate, a high-minded theocratic alliance.
Technology determines much about the state of human society. The first great “wave” was defined by agriculture, and the second by the Industrial Revolution; by the end of the 20th century, humanity was riding the third, powered by digital computing. In the 21st century, most of the world experienced a Fourth Wave, based on genetic technology; now, it seems, a Fifth Wave is rising, based on a combination of nanotechnology, memetics, and artificial intelligence. ”Fifth Wave” societies are the wealthiest on the planet, but no one can be quite sure where they are heading.