Future Imperfect – Cyberpunk is Now

Cyberdragon

So wow, been a while.  I meant to write this almost 6 months ago, but things came up and stuff was done, and I got distracted by other things site-related that I was considering doing first to the point I kept pushing this off.

Anyways, this was the other subject I referenced previously.  Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 20202, Neuromancer, and so on all painted a picture of a world wrapped up in cybernetics and wires, where man had enhanced himself with computers.  Nations still exist, but are much less important to the common man than the corporations they serve.  A lot of people think it’s still in the future, or that it’s a future that will never happen, but if you tilt your head just slightly, it’s pretty plain that we’re there already in many ways, and damn close on others.

Cybernetics

I’ll start off with the field we’re probably furthest away on – the “cyber” in Cyberpunk.  The stories written spoke of people replacing perfectly good limbs with gleaming chrome mechanical ones that were stronger than the original.  People would jack machines directly into their brain and control them with a mere thought, or instantly learn skills they never knew.

Currently, replacement limbs are still short in feeling and fine control, but are still improving.  Rather than shiny metal replacements, most prothesis instead make an attempt to look natural.  Realistically, once we can develop a proper artificial muscle, and get better at tying it into the remaining nerves available on the limb, we should be able to do a lot of what these stories speak of in terms of physical enhancement.

Direct neural interface into other machines is also something still in the distance, but there are researchers still working on how to read it and make it work.  The end effect however, having a world’s worth of knowledge at your fingertips, we already have now.  Instead of a memory chip in your head, however, it’s a small handheld computer in your pocket.

Yes, the ubiquitous smartphone is our cybernetic secondary brain.  Need to know something?  A quick search and you have access to the knowledge of experts on many different subjects.  It goes with you anywhere, and can run programs that cutting edge hardware 10 years ago had trouble with.  And for the cherry on top, it provides an entrance into the virtual world of the Internet.

 

The Matrix

Another idea spurred by the state of networks back in the 80s and 90s was the Matrix – a virtual world of interconnected computers.  After jacking in, you could fly a avatar representing how you wanted to display yourself to various nodes for data, or even to talk or hang out with other deckers.

Today, we have the internet – a virtual world of interconnected computers where you can access forums or chat rooms or other programs, displaying a picture or 3D avatar based on the customization options available to show yourself how you want, and get data or talk and hang out with other internet users.

Sound familiar?

We again have most of the essentials, just controlled via a slightly different metaphor than a 3D analog of real space.  Again, it doesn’t feed directly into your brain, but given the dangers out there to existing ordinary computers, it’s probably safer that way.  With the VR developments in progress and programs such as Second Life, you should even be able to get all the trappings in the near future, without DNI.

And just like the Shadowlands BBS in Shadowrun, the real world even has it’s own “Dark Web” where if you know how there’s even more locations for data, gathering, and services of not-exactly-legal natures.

There’s even mercenaries available for hire out there via this method, though I have yet to see armed corporate espionage break-ins happening on a semi-regular basis.

 

Corporate Control

In the cyberpunk world, the corporations control most aspects of a normal person’s lives.  You are born into a corporate culture and essentially belong to a given corporation.  Corporations have their own police, their own communities, and their own laws.  They are beholden to nothing but their own corporate courts and councils in the pursuit of profit.

If anything, the real world has moved the opposite direction in some aspects, such as the corporation locking you into it ala the old mining city and company stores.  Nowadays corporations will instead using contracts to give them bargaining power, rather than using full-time employees, or run multiple part-time employees to avoid having to give any extra benefits which the Cyberpunk corporations granted willingly.  While people are numbers to the accountants in both worlds, in ours they are treated as a cost rather than a profit producer if they are below a certain level of importance.

In others however, they are going full steam ahead.  There are already corporate courts, in the form of things like Investor-to-State Dispute Settlements, where foreign companies can sue a state over laws and regulations or decisions that threaten their profits or property.  These bypass domestic procedures, and are decided before a panel of private arbitrators which are not designated or control by the people in general.

Sound crazy?  It’s already in many treaties like NAFTA, and is one of the reasons the TPP treaty is opposed by large numbers of people.  See examples listed at the article at https://www.buzzfeed.com/chrishamby/super-court if you would like to see where this has actually already happened.

As for the laws, corporate lobbyists are well known of, if not always well thought of, and between that and the revolving door between regulation and the companies they regulate, there are quite a few laws that are more reflective of company interests than that of the common man

So, while we don’t necessarily have the wires, neon, and heavy Japanese influence(which were VERY 80s) we have most of the makings of our own version of the cyberpunk dystopia.  Where it goes from here though, remains to be seen.

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