The Grid

Another one of our occasional technology posts.

In the age of the Machine God, computer and communication technologies have become so small, powerful and ubiquitous that virtually everything is online and hyperconnected; from food packaging to military hardware and domestic appliances to space habitats, everything is part of the Grid. If you have the right equipment, you can interface with it all.

Each computer, no matter how large or small, forms part of the Grid - a peer to peer network where each node shares its runtime with other nearby nodes, creating an extraordinary powerful, decentralised and highly resilient Compute Grid. The Grid is never down or offline.

Storage technology, too, has improved exponentially, to the point where the average citizen has yottabytes of storage freely available to them. Files and databases shared on the Grid are stored with multiple redundancy across hundreds of nodes, so unless Oracle or a Space Habitat is physically destroyed these resources are always available.

Communication across the Grid to any part of Mars or Hyperion is is nigh on instantaneous, with orbital facilities also forming part of the network. It is only when you get more than a few light minutes out, into interplanetary space, that the communication lag becomes too great for the more far flung outposts of humanity to act as part of the main Grid.

In these cases, quantum entangled communication has been experimented with, but at the moment, the bandwidth to maintain constant updates with the rest of the Grid quite simply isn’t there

Private networks do still exist as entities, physically walled off from the public Grid, but most simply run on top of it, using encrypted protocols that guarantee secure communication on public infrastructure.

Unless they are neoluddites or slumscum, almost all citizens have nanoengineered computers, or Gridware, implanted directly into their brains. The processors, wireless transceivers and other components are all directly wired to the user’s cortical centers responsible for speech and visual perception, among others; allowing users to control all their implants just by thinking, and to call and communicate with anyone else connected to the Grid without having to speak aloud.

Input from Gridware is transmitted directly into the brain and is generally experienced as either Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality or as a Stim.

Augmented Reality is easily the most common method of interacting with data, which appears as information overlaid on the users physical senses. Visual AR is the most prevalent way of representing data, with text and icons hovering in the users field of view; but auditory warnings, tactile sensations and even odours can be used, depending on the user’s preferences.

The practical uses and implementations of AR are virtually limitless, but can include targeting and magazine capacity data from firearms; vehicle range and telemetry information; sleazy companion software for the desperate and lonely; or personal information lookup and display for individuals equipped facial recognition software.

AR tags are another common use - These virtual markers generally appear in a users field of vision and are similar to hyperlinks, allowing access more information when a person is in the vicinity of a tag.

Unlike AR which overlays a users senses with extra data, Virtual Reality completely overrides them, placing the user in an entirely computer generated environment. These are generally used for meetings (business or otherwise) and various forms of recreation in any of the multitude of imaginable environments, used to satisfy any taste or craving.

Along with virtually every other physical parameter in VR, the perception of time can also adjusted and either sped up or slowed down; the most common applications of which are speeding time up during long tedious intervals such as spaceflight, or slowing it down during recreation time.

Because of the extra processing grunt required to host a fully immersive interactive environment, high capacity VR networks tend to be subscription only affairs, but off the peg spaces can be set up with ease on the public Grid. In spite of it being a popular trope in a certain variety of schlocky stims, it is impossible to get trapped in a VR environment.

Very rich individuals who have backed up their consciousness and who can afford to run their own dedicated VR network, live lives of unimaginable luxury in fantasy worlds of their own devising. Several members of the Veritas board, for example, are rumoured to have completely retreated from reality, preferring not to trouble themselves with the petty concerns of meatspace.

With the capacity to replicate sensory data in AR and VR, comes the ability to record and transmit it. Similar in some ways to VR, stims are full spectrum sensory copies of everything the recording subject is experiencing.

Similar to the way people used to share photographs, it has become popular to exchange stims between friends and loved ones across the various social networks.

Playback is always passive, with the viewer having no control over proceedings, much like television; but depending on the fidelity of the stim, it is even possible to capture emotional responses, so the viewer not only sees and experiences the sensations of the subject, but feels them as well. While this has led to some horrific content in the darker corners of the Grid, it has also led to the rise of celebrity lifeloggers, like Angel Zero or Adhara Sphuritam, whose stims are avidly followed by legions of adoring fans.

Grid ID
Everyone and everything has a Grid ID. Vaguely analogous to an old fashioned phone number, the Grid ID serves as a combination of various identification technologies and follows users around between sleeves, allowing an individual's identity to be verified when simple biometrics fail.

A Grid ID is something of a double edged sword insomuch as beneficial as it is, it is used as an identifier in all online transactions and leaves a paper trail wherever an individual goes and whatever they do. In theory, you can change your privacy settings to prevent or at least minimise the amount you’re tracked, but it’s an open secret amongst OSEC operatives that do not track means little or nothing when it comes to law enforcement.

Fortunately, if you have the skill or know the right people, it’s relatively easy to spoof or mask your Grid ID. Doing so in Oracle is illegal, but given the number of slumscum without Gridware, OSEC operatives rarely notice anyone who has intentionally gone dark.

Burners and personal devices
Another option for users seeking privacy, or for those without Gridware, is to use external personal devices, such as the various configurations of terminals.

Information from these devices is usually relayed via screens or lenses and earbuds, but full bodysuits and other accessories are not unheard of, with input being handled with everything from body scanning to eyeblink movements.

In the case of burner devices, it’s usual to use a device and its associated Grid ID only a few times before it’s disposed of.

Gridware can run virtually any software imaginable and as part of the Grid itself, regularly shares runtime with nodes around it to perform whatever tasks the user requires.

Given the extraordinary amount of data available on the Grid, many users utilise Companionware or personal assistant PaWare of one sort or another, to help shield themselves from information overload. These Turing-grade assistants act as companions, search agents or any number of other imaginable roles, and represent the current state of the art of the likes of Siri or Alexa, which were introduced in the early twenty-first century.

Given that these assistants are constant and valuable companions that grow and learn their users foibles, likes and dislikes, it’s not uncommon for their owners to become heavily reliant on them; so losing an assistant can be a traumatic affair.

Some owners even go one step further and form AR or even VR enhanced relationships with their assistants; something which is viewed as a moderate perversion, even in a society where pretty much anything goes.

Information is always valuable to someone and whether you’re an open source activist, looking to steal nanoware schematics or an information broker looking for your next big score, hacking is a fact of life on the Grid.

Successful computer intrusion is all about sneaking in and circumventing security using exploits and loopholes. Generally it’s a lot less sexy than many stims portray it, and in spite of the enduring tropes of hackers being left in a persistent vegetative state after encountering deadly intrusion countermeasures, most failed hacks simply result in the disconnection of either the attacker or the target.

Having a computer wired directly into your brain carries little risk, since Gridware comes with baked in hardware fail-safes that kick in long before any there’s a risk of any neural damage. In addition to this, Gridware comes packing its own firewalls and anti-intrusion technologies, overseen by the user's PaWare; so if a hacker’s intrusion attempt is spotted and countermeasures are deployed against them the PaWare will pull the hackers connection as soon as enough defences are breached.

In the worst case, a hackers defences will be breached before they can react, which will expose their Grid ID, allowing OSEC to discern their identity and track them down in meatspace.

Should a hack be successful, the attacker generally has free reign to do whatever they like within the system; although in the case of larger organisations, further work will often be needed in order to gain access different areas.

Since Gridware is part of the Grid, it too can be hacked, although this is not an easy task under the ever watchful presence of the users PaWare. Should an infiltration attempt succeed, a hacker can use AR or even VR to inject illusions into the victims sensory feed - ear splitting noises, nauseating stenches and debilitating pain are all possible, but the victim will be aware that these are Gridware sensations and will just cut the feed and / or disconnect; so injected illusions tend to be subtle and hyper-realistic in order to avoid arousing suspicion.

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