State of the Art, 2039 Part 2

By Charles Oines


Computers

Hardware
Computer equipment ranges from the tiny (fuel injection regulator chips, moneycards, wristcomps and so on) to the massive (orbital SD tracking computers, university and corporate mainframe systems). A stripped-down computer terminal - little more than a keyboard, screen, 1-megabyte buffer, single datacube slot and communications software can be had for around $150 at any department store, and allows the user to link up to large, cooperative mainframes. Most are used to read the daily news, shop, send and receive electronic mail, and many other things. The standard terminal is portable, battery-powered and designed to plug into public datalinks (as common as public phones). More powerful desk systems can run up to $3,000.

Interfacing
The most common method of interacting with computers is through keyboard and screen, along with an optical mouse, light pen, touch pad or other simple entry device. Data-intensive applications (word processing, data entry, and the like) require the keyboard; other programs are usually designed so that the keyboard isn't necessary.

Voice recognition is available for higher-level systems. Only the most expensive voice-recognition (VR) units can understand anyone. Common VR units (like those included with computer gunners) are keyed to a single voice at any one time; learning to recognize another voice requires a half hour or so to orient the VR's "ears" to the new voice. Voice patterns (with attendant speech-pattern analyses for the security-minded) can be stored and called up from datacubes.

Microsimulators pump sensory information directly into the cerebral cortex, bypassing the senses. A standard commercial microsim deck includes the microsim player and up to eight bulky, lightweight sensory helmets. This is most useful for entertainment and familiarization and training for complex subjects. A good home computer hooked through a microsim deck can simulate almost anything, real or otherwise. The simulation is less than realistic - the "world" generated by the average microsim deck has a sharp, colorful, distinctly synthetic feel to it. High-quality microsims use interface jacks instead of the usual sensory helmet; the realism attained is a quantum leap above standard micros.

Interface jacks are spliced directly into the user's nervous system, providing high-speed interaction between the computer and the jacked-in user. Microminiature circuitry converts electronic impulses to electrochemical signals in the user's brain and vice versa, allowing direct mental control. The computer system becomes an extension of the user's mind and body - information is relayed directly through the senses, and the user's subconscious mind filters and organizes the incoming data into a form easy to work with. Data is transmitted via a lightweight fiber-optic cable or a plug-in wireless transceiver. An interesting side development of this is that two interface-equipped people can transmit sensory information to each other - virtual telepathy! The transceiver's range is limited - about 250 yards in the open, much less in buildings - and the transmissions are very sensitive to electromagnetic interference.

Current neural interface technology is risky - there is a slim chance that the monowire contacts in the brain will corrode, altering the neurochemical balance significantly. Radical personality shifts are the first warning signs; various forms of insanity and brain damage may follow. Power surges along the interface can also do quick, usually permanent damage to a user's brain.

Storage
Holographic datacubes are the standard storage device of the 2030s. These 1" cubes hold 50 gigabytes of information each, and are used in nearly all computer applications, as well as visual and audio recordings. Many publications, maps, and technical databases are commercially available on cubes. Blank cubes generally run about $50 apiece and weigh in at 1/2 lb.

"Holographic" is misleading - the datacube bears little relation to holograms. A datacube is a solid-state optical memory chip, complete with its own rudimentary operating system, 10-year battery and database protocol. Although storage chips have been built in many different shapes, the datacubes three-dimensional internal architecture allows the fastest possible access to any section of the recorded data.

When used for video recording, a holocube can store up to 6 hours of low resolution images, or 3 hours of photorealistic hi-res images. Through delta-compression (storing only the changes from frame-to-frame rather than each entire frame), the high-resolution mode can store up to 24 hours of relatively slow-changing video. Datacubes can store up to 240 hours of digitized sound. Most of this goes unused in commercial releases - pre-recorded music cubes generally have around 2 or 3 hours worth of read-only storage, and sell for around $10 each.

Vehicular Equipment

Targeting Computer. This is a hardware upgrade to the basic targeting system that all combat vehicles have, allowing higher accuracy and faster response time for a single crewmember.

Single-Weapon Computer. Single-weapon computers carry a much smaller program than the above; this program only works for a single type of weapon in a single location (front MG, turreted laser, etc). SWCs are generally much cheaper than their versatile counterparts.

Cyberlink. The cyberlink is a more extensive upgrade, including microsim contacts for faster gunner interaction and upgraded weapon traverse servos for quicker weapon tracking. The microsim interpreter adds substantial hardware to the standard tracking system - so much so that the cyberlink is limited to one weapon or set of linked weapons.

ANDICE (Advanced Neurological Direct Interface to Combat Electronics). This is an advanced military version of the cyberlink. ANDICE patches directly into its user's brain via a surgically-implanted interface jack ($10,000, plus a month's hospital stay), connecting that user directly to all the vehicle's control electronics. The user perceives the vehicle as an extension of his own body. A driver using AN DICE gets + 1 to his Driver skill and + 1 to his Gunner skill. In addition, the driver may fire every weapon on the vehicle once each turn, at a successive -1 to hit per weapon or set of linked weapons fired after the first. If more than one weapon system is fired at one time, the penalty for firing includes each weapons system used. Thus, if an ANDICEd driver fires his front linked MGs and turreted VMG and rear MG, the total to-hit penalty is -3 for each weapon.

Whenever the power plant of an ANDICE-equipped vehicle takes damage, roll one die. On a 5, every crewman using ANDICE takes a point of damage; on a 6, every crewman using ANDICE takes two points of damage. Body armor does not protect against this damage.

The ANDICE is still experimental, and not available to civilians. The military model costs $64,000, weighs 100 lbs., and takes one space. If the standard driver controls are left out, the system takes no space (effectively replacing the manual controls).

Vehicular Computer. The vehicular computer is a full-featured computer system, complete with keyboard, voice recognition, radio datalink capability, automatic "black box" vehicle status logs and two cube slots. Countless noncombat programs and databases are available.

Automatic Target Acquisition Device (ATAD). ATADs are a more aggressive approach to targeting systems - while the standard computers highlight every target, the ATAD will direct its weapon(s) to attack any large object that comes within its "danger zone." The ATAD adds active sensors (radar, sonar or laser) to the targeting system's passive cameras. Its lightning-fast response rate is compromised by its complete lack of target discrimination - the first thing to get close, be it a car, cycle, pedestrian, or wall, gets shot at.

Autopilot. Nearly all modern vehicles are drive-by-wire -- rather than using direct mechanical linkages to the controls, the controls transmit commands to the proper systems through the vehicle's central processor. An autopilot hooks into the central processor and takes control of the vehicle, watching the terrain with IR or radar. While reasonably safe on long highway drives, autopilots are slow to react to dangerous or crowded situations. The massive amount of computation needed to simply get from its starting location to the destination, obey traffic signs, local laws, and even simple highway courtesy tax the autopilot's parallel CPUs to their limits.

Computer Gunner. The computer gunner can track and identify over 40 targets, but will not fire on any of them until given vocal orders to. As the vocal command is given, the computer then narrows down the number of tracked targets to one (hopefully), and fires on that target. If more than one target matches the spoken criterion (i.e., two blue cars in range when asked to fire at "the blue car"), the computer gunner will usually figure out which one is intended. The discrimination criterion used are not entirely predictable, however; the CG may ask for clarification, or take its own initiative.


Issue 7/3 Index

Steve Jackson Games * Car Wars * ADQ Index