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Information Era

(Historically 1995-2040CE)

Overview

The Information Era represents the dawn of the Technical Age, a period when data and technologically created materials and organisms begin to supplant Industrial Age goods .  It was a period where information became a centrally important component of society and formed the basis for the creation and manufacturing of goods and services. 

Materials

The Information Era introduced new types of metals into material production.  Memory metals, which can assume different configures with applied thermal or electrical energy, and amorphous glass-like metals, such as plasteel, became available in commercial quantities, enhancing construction techniques for structures and vehicles.

Carbon nanotubes began the era as laboratory curiosities but develop as specialized materials in composite and standalone items, increasing the strength of structures and vehicles.  However, manufacturing costs limited widespread commercial utilization and fabrication limitations prevented full-scale application in large structures.

Advances in composite alloy construction allowed the development of practical cold (~100K) superconductor wires and materials, greatly improving electrical grid efficiencies and computing node capabilities.

Energy

Improved efficiencies in chemical batteries, fuel cells, solar arrays, wind turbines and power transmission allowed a transition away from internal combustion and polluting hydrocarbon fuels.  Solar cell efficiencies increased to 50% and the first combined absorption and storage devices were developed.  An intelligent energy grid, able to store power and deliver clean fuel to vehicles, decreased pollution and energy costs.

Fission power plants became smaller and safer, though they still suffered from waste disposal issues.

Nuclear fusion remained a costly experimental process, barely operating above break even-potential in large prototype plants.

Transportation

Land transportation underwent transition from internal combustion hydrocarbon to electric and hydrogen-based vehicles during the Information Era.  Hybrid electric vehicles, improved turbines and fuel cell vehicles became cost effective alternatives once infrastructure, grid and storage facilities developed.  Superconducting magnetic rails allowed maglev trains to cross continental distances at high subsonic speeds.

Sea transport continued to rely on a mix of conventional hull vessels, hydrofoils and catamarans powered by fuel sources ranging from hydrocarbon turbines to improved nuclear power plants.

Most air transport remained subsonic, utilizing composite or more advanced materials, often allowing smooth body transformation in flight.  Tilt-rotor and X-rotor craft supplanted conventional helicopters for vertical take-off applications.  Remotely operated and primitive autonomous vehicles allowed flight without qualified onboard pilots in both consumer and hazardous environments.  Improved hulls and engines allowed more efficient supersonic travel that became marginally competitive for transcontinental routes.  Scramjet engines allowed powered flight at high supersonic and suborbital velocities, though cost limited most commercial applications.  For long transcontinental routes, suborbital aircraft became a viable option.

Reusable launch vehicles utilizing low weight components and air breathing scram technology lowered the cost of orbital access, allowing the growth of commercial orbital applications, including tourism.  Larger space stations and outposts became viable, but expensive.  Interplanetary travel, utilizing fission or solar powered low thrust/high impulse ion and plasma drives, was practical but time-consuming and expensive.

Interstellar travel was only possible for light-propelled probes and generation vessels, the former usually too small for crewed operations, the latter requiring centuries or millennia to reach even nearby stars.

Information

The development of global information networks, allowing data, voice, video and location transmission through wired and wireless grids led to the development of an information-centered society.  Inexpensive devices allowed access to this grid by most individuals.  Large scale radio wave broadcasting was supplanted by localized, fiber optic, laser or specialized GPS data transmission.

Computing power continued an exponential growth throughout the period, allowing for complex real-time modeling and the development of autonomous systems of rudimentary intelligence.  Early robotic devices capable of a variety simple household and industrial duties became common during the Information Era.

The development of nervous system interfaces allowed for intelligent prosthetics, artificial eyes and ears, and implantable audio/visual systems, though true virtual reality systems remained expensive experiments.

Biology

Information technology allowed for the deciphering of genetic information and systematic development of simple tailored organisms.  Genetic therapy and specialized retroviruses greatly improved non-surgical medical techniques, allowing cures for many cancers and genetic conditions.

Cloning of mammalian organisms become possible during the period, though major modifications to genomes were not possible and side-effects remained common.  Regeneration of tissue through applied cellular scaffolding eventually replaced organ transplantation as a medical procedure.  Progressive improvements in micro and nano surgical techniques alleviated cardiovascular and cerebral aging-related diseases.  Implanted sensors alerted medical authorities of aberrant conditions, greatly reducing preventable deaths from heart disease, stroke and even accidents.

Chemical non-cryogenic hibernation techniques that could reduce metabolism to barely two percent normal became available for medical and space travel applications.  Such techniques required an extensive infrastructure and constant monitoring and where limited to periods of less than a month of hibernation.

Cosmetic alternations became flexible and less expensive during the period, allowing for surgical correction and enhancement of most non-skeletal conditions.

Armament

Improvements in information technology allowed for the precision guidance of munitions - missiles and bombs early in the period, bullets later in the era.  Combined with remotely operated and autonomous vehicles, this technology allowed for combat to occur at great distances without direct exposure to enemy fire.

Practical anti-missile defenses based on improved guidance and laser technology became available during the period, eventually limiting the effectiveness of all but the fastest and stealthiest smart munitions above the size of a bullet.

Vehicles became increasingly autonomous, allowing for uncrewed operations of ground, sea, air and orbital fighting vehicles.

Non-projectile beam weapons including lasers, charged particle beams and plasma weapons became alternatives to projectiles to overcome some countermeasures, but such weapons required considerable power sources, limiting them to use in large vehicles and fortified emplacements.

The Information Era also marked the development of information warfare, including both electronic espionage and direct attacks on enemy data structures and installations.

The infantry soldier of the Information Era relied on advanced rifles and small missiles, though these projectiles became increasingly sophisticated.  Soldiers could expect to be part of a secure data network, providing real-time battle information.  Body armor became light, smart, and capable of providing environmental control, active visual and thermal camouflage and minor medical treatment.  Early powered armor was available, but cost and complexity limited its effectiveness.

Personal

The Information Era allowed individuals to expect multi-media access in most environments, allowing constant communications, entertainment and locator services.  Smart materials began to supplant conventional structures, allowing customized interiors, furniture and vehicles, though such changes were mostly cosmetic.  Embedded video became common in many consumer items and LED circuits supplanted Industrial Age lighting and display technologies.  Personal aircraft became affordable and operable with limited expertise, though ground transport vehicles remained more common and cost-effective.  Private orbital travel became possible for wealthy individuals, while suborbital space or transcontinental journeys remained a luxury for most consumers.

Medical care improved life expectancy to over one hundred years during the course of the Information Era and increased the possible human life span nearly fifty percent over base-line levels.  Elective cosmetic procedures became more commonplace and allowed for significant cosmetic alterations of the non-skeletal structure, though such procedures provided no significant enhancement to an individual's physical capabilities.

Society

The primacy and immediacy of information created both opportunity and risks for Information Era societies.  The same technology that could gather and display obscure data could also develop detailed profiles of individuals.  Locator services also provided tracking information to controlling organizations.  Restrictions and controls over data determined whether Information Era societies developed into open free societies or into controlling totalitarian regimes.  Intellectual property rights on data-based products could only be maintained by data tagging, leading to a constant struggle between enforcement of economic rights and counterfeiting operations.

Manufacturing employment continued a precipitous drop during the Information Era, eventually stabilizing at single digit employment rates similar to agriculture.  Employment in data-related fields, including analysis and entertainment, continued to grow.  By the end of the period, robotic units supplanted many simple service job functions.  Unskilled labor requirements eventually evaporated, condemning the uneducated to permanent unemployment.  An Information Era society required a population exceeding ten million to develop and could maintain itself for near indefinite periods across a planetary scale.

The increasing life expectancy of an Information Age society was often coupled with decreasing fertility, leading to eventual population size stability but to an aged-imbalanced economy.  Subsidized social structures adapted to this crisis by extending the working years of skilled employed individuals and providing fewer guaranteed services for those without private savings.  Unofficial employment in criminal or marginal activities often supplemented minimal legal sustenance for the unskilled or aging population.  In many societies, the availability of medical care began to differentiate the wealthy from the poor in both life expectancy and appearance.

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