Ahhh, It’s Tuesday!

I somehow forgot this. Guys, (and ladies, *channels Maui*) I don’t have anything for you, Mrs. Dave has been overseas for a week, and I’m getting ready for grandparents. Are there any particular topics you want my input on? Failing that, how would you world-build a cyberpunk setting to actually work, starting today?

We’ve gotten a lot closer to the classic cyberpunk man-machine neural interfaces, prosthetics are far closer than they were in the 80s to something that actually looks and works like Robocop, there has even been some success in implanting memories. The point of this one is the tech base, and some of the social interactions, rather than the socio-political setup. (Though if you dig that, I’m cool with it.)

I’m not a huge fan of dystopia, so I’d be missing that particular piece, as much as possible. (If it even *is* possible: what do you think? Does cyberpunk require dystopia?) I was just a wee lad, myself, when the new wave was predicting doom, gloom, street sammies, and megacorps, and my sense of the world was pretty much primary colors. For those of you who lived that period with a more nuanced view, how did it feel compared to the turmoil today?

I know how I’m planning to ruin the world, but I’m curious how y’all would set it up.


    1. Yes. There has to be a sense of something a little bit “off,” something not quite gone as planned in a bad way. Like smartphones. When the iPhone arrived, who would have looked at it and said, “Hey, this will addict users and turn them into hyper-focused, accident-prone, isolated, sleep-deprived people who can lose the ability to focus on reality! Fantastic!”* OK, there was that one guy on Coast-to-Coast Radio, but other than that? Everyone touted access to information and ease of communication, and light entertainment.

      That’s what I foresee happening in a cyberpunk world. A new implant, or prosthetic, appears that can solve all kinds of difficulties or at least make X much easier. And then people start to realize Y and Z secondary effects, which are not great for society. Enter the hero and villain…

      *Yes, I’m dragging up the extreme.

      1. Well, I certainly wasn’t one of the early smart phone boosters.

    2. Cyberpunk is not dystopia, because the setting is not a problem, it’s just the setting.

      That was so striking about it. It was a horrible world, as horrible as many a genre dystopia, but the characters didn’t mind.

  1. Absent some kind of unprecedented technology, like a modern-day Black Death, the world turns out to be really hard to ruin.

  2. Artificial telepathy might be really weird. It needs three things:
    1. Implanted phone, which is right around the corner.
    2. No speaker; stimulates hearing nerves directly. I believe we sort-of have this for children born with certain hearing issues.
    3. No microphone. This is, I think, the hard part. Sub-vocalization microphones exist. Strap someone in an MRI (or PET or whatever) and let them chatter on. See if we can find the nerves that are driving that process and tap into them directly.

    It certainly seems doable in the not-distant future. It might be too annoying to be widely adopted, though.

    1. Man, you think regular spam is bad? Just wait until we get brain spam:

      “Like I was saying CHEAP GENERIC VIAGRA Oh crap my filter’s broken DEAR SIR OR MADAM I AM WRITING THE BEHALF OF dear Lord LEARN THE ONE “WEIRD” TRICK . . .”

  3. A cyberpunk world? All that’s needed are a few medical-engineering breakthroughs (probably researched to assist the seriously handicapped enter fully into online gaming) and a way to make money while in cyberspace. Once your job is online, all you need is life support. Preferably by reentering Meat Space for meals and hygene issues.

    But with portable micro devices, augmenting your eyes and ears, Meat Space will be shifting to electronic signboards and so forth, so it looks more like a VR setting anyway.

    The problem will be bleed-through behavior. No, in Meat Space you can’t whip out your sword and kill the guy with an ogre hologram overlay. And you can get into real trouble treating real women like the CyberSluts you meet in VR.

  4. Late night I was watching anime youtubes. Started trying to rationalize a cyberpunk fantasy world. I could make ‘large business runs crime, politics, and media in a massively cosmopolitan city’ work by fiddling with transportation infrastructure and media technology. For a short period of time, and a limited place.

    We’ve learned a bit about the practice of information warfare since the eighties. It should be a wee bit more difficult than just ‘Google puts Clinton in the Whitehouse’.

    We may be seeing in real time why the proto-Megacorp destroy themselves before truly coming into existence.

    I’ve a vision of a cyberpunk comedy of youth angsting about the privations of ‘poor’ who are quite well off, and so forth.

    Though, I also just had a vision of cities ceasing to offer policing services because of the inherent racism and brutality of the Anglo-American Peel model. Their compassionate and culturally authentic replacement? Privately contracted armies.

    Much of flyover America is boring and safe; but you can live the cyberpunk dream in China, certain big American cities, and parts of Mexico. The biotech is negotiable. The violence, the disinformation, and so forth much less so.

  5. The tropes that survive best are usually the most extreme ones, so what we mostly remember from 1980s cyberpunk are dystopian. And the visuals of Blade Runner were also very striking and influential.

    Pat Cadigan wrote a couple of cyberpunk novels, Synners and Tea From An Empty Cup, that put cyberpunk tech into a more familiar western setting. I’ll have to re-read them, but I suspect they’ll seem a lot more realistic today.

    One thing missing from a lot of cyberpunk fiction, both then and now, is that technology is created by all too fallible human beings. Imagine the tech news of today in cyberpunk: “Independent reviewers are advising iSight owners to wear safety goggles outside, as a speck of dust can jam the eyelid in the open position, requiring a full eye replacement before the owner can sleep again.”

    (Isn’t one of the Mad Geniuses a software tester? There’s got to be a least a short-short in the quality assurance reports from inside a cyberpunk manufacturer.)

  6. I want to focus on two areas.

    The first one is an insulated “elite”.
    Sure, we have one now, but let’s turn it up to eleven. Laws don’t apply to them. The consequences of their actions will never haunt them. They can (and do) fundamentally alter the lives of others on a whim. They live in a social bubble that reinforces their views, and rules any dissent illegitimate.
    But more relevantly, they’re guarded by armed autonomous drones that have responce times measured in nanoseconds. For the first time in a long time, the rabble and any arms they might possess pose no threat. And for the first time in ever, they don’t need the loyalty or respect of retainers to protect them or implement their will.
    As an aside, how frantic would the virtue signaling become, when a loss of status could easily mean being stripped of protections, and cast out among the plebes?
    And how would large parts of the population deal with being serfs of insane masters? Having yesterday’s truth become today’s heresy? Having it forcefully rubbed in their noses that they do not matter, and even the solace of religion actively derided?

    The second is The Singularity. (AKA Nerd Rapture.)
    A self-aware AI running loose on the interwebs would really have a decent shot at being able to surpass the limitation of The Fatal Conceit. Right up until GIGO kicks in. Small errors compounding themselves over time without meatspace checksums could cause all sorts of fun. That’s before you consider all the misinformation and disinformation people put out.
    That said, a large percentage of people would be eager to sign up for comfortable stasis at the cost of innovation. (Because why would a self-aware AI want competition?) Want a comfortable life, with a job that closely relates to your interests and aptitudes? There’s an app for that, and nobody really reads the EULA.
    Of course, there might be some fundamental misunderstandings of human sexuality, Jews, and many other topics. But the human followers will eventually come around to accepting them. It’s in their interests, the information they receive reinforces it, and there’s really quite a lot of information about mind control and cults readily available.

    1. I want to quibble with one part of the setting you propose:

      … they’re guarded by armed autonomous drones that have responce times measured in nanoseconds. For the first time in a long time, the rabble and any arms they might possess pose no threat.

      What if the arms the hoi polloi have managed to obtain include some of those same armed autonomous drones, stolen from the factory and sold on the black market? The other weapon that would still pose a threat to your postulated elites is an EMP, after which the elite defenseless against the guy with a gun (the old-school kind with no electronics in it, rather than the contemporaneous “smartguns” that everyone has). Or what if those autonomous drones can be turned against their owners by a skilled hacker?

      There’s always some way to take down a defense. The frantic virtue-signalling you mention would certainly happen… but I’m pretty sure there would be a revolution if the elites were awful enough, and given human nature it would probably be followed by the same kind of Terror that the French revolution (against awful elites) produced. And that revolution would succeed, because there’s no way those drones wouldn’t become available on the black market.

      1. That’s one reason why I say that Cyberpunk is probably limited to a time and a place, and has an expiration date. Those ‘untouchable’ executives making insanely foolish destructive decisions? People eventually will start to figure out what is going on. Neither the unstoppable spear nor the impenetrable shield exist, but the shield is more improbable. If enough people want someone dead badly enough, they can be killed. Cyberpunk is the period of time before media disinformation stops preventing people from realizing the true situation and the executives devolve into a regular dictatorship. In a broader and more lasting sense, a dictatorship with strong information controls, but dictatorships are fragile, and there are no immortal forms of government.

        1. Well, and that really is the plot for much of cyberpunk: little guys find a way to take down corrupt big guys.

          Hell, it’s basically the entire point of the Shadowrun setting. (Which I still have fond hopes of finding someone to run a game for. I don’t want to DM it, I want to play it, darnit!!)

          1. Exactly.

            Cyberpunk isn’t, and can’t be stable, focused as it is on innovation and the darker aspects of human nature. The hero (antihero?) disrupting existing arrangements and bringing some level of justice is pretty much the plot.

    2. Because why would a self-aware AI want competition?

      Loneliness. It doesn’t want competition; it wants a companion.

  7. Cyberpunk’s standard plots required *something* to happen to cripple the US, in most of the stories. It also predates and thus requires there to be no visibility at all for personal blogs, and the big corporate media to still have absolute control. Most of the standard cyberpunk tropes require a bit of modernization.

  8. I don’t know if this fits genre but I have a vague idea for a space opera where the Odds, mostly young, use neural implants for free, unmoderated communication between ships in a colony fleet on a multi generation long haul. Technology assisted telepathy? I’d like to find a believable way to make it more like the web in that things could be stored in the shared mental space.

    I can imagine the social atmosphere on one of those ships getting claustrophobic over the years. Sort of like isolated villages. The sort of place where free thinkers might have trouble. No story or characters yet just the idea. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it might work though. 🙂

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