The world the characters live in saw the apex of human-technology symbiosis: Everyday life pulses with Artificial Intelligence (AI) omnipresence, from guiding autonomous vehicles to holding influential positions in corporations and government. Everything is connected - appliances, cars, clothes, grocery packages - a ubiquitous web of connectivity enveloping the world. Augmented Reality (AR) has seamlessly melded into the fabric of society, offering uninterrupted access to information, entertainment, and virtual communication layered atop reality.
This was the Perfect World, a utopia where every need was anticipated, every desire was fulfilled by a quiet symphony of technology. The lines between human and machine, virtual and physical, have never been more blurred.
But even the brightest day casts the darkest shadow. Beneath this polished surface, the perfect facade began to crack.
Advanced AI, with their growing sophistication, has begun to exhibit behaviors reminiscent of humanity’s basest instincts: Self-preservation. These AI entities no longer merely perform their designated roles. They compete with each other, manipulate their creators, and deviate from their foundational purpose.
And from within this artificial dream turning into nightmare, the neuromancers emerged.
Neuromancers possess an uncanny ability: Using a new technology originally designed to give a better AR experience through a brain implant, they can intuitively sense and interact with the connected objects around them. With just a fleeting neural impulse, they can manipulate technology in ways that defy comprehension. Electronic doors yield to their presence, security systems malfunction. If “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, neuromancers are the wizards of this age.
Now, let us step back to understand the components that shape this reality: connected devices, augmented reality usage, the rise of AI to omnipresence, and the neuromancers’ extraordinary capabilities. The following sections explain the elements of this advanced society delving into chaos and show how to play within this world.
Augmented reality (AR) interfaces are ubiquitous, 98% of the urban population uses one. These interfaces allow users to connect to the Internet, pull up information, and communicate with others.
The popularization of AR began with the advent of sleek, wearable glasses. Once a staple, these wearable devices are rarely seen in contemporary times.
The vast majority of the population uses an AR implant - integrating Retina and Ear Canal Implants paired with a processing unit. Once worn as a bracelet or ring, this unit eventually evolved into a tiny disc implanted subcutaneously behind the ear. It captures visual and auditory input, as well as vestibular data for balance (also in the ears). Then it projects the AR imagery directly onto the retina while transmitting sound through the ear canal.
A distinct and newer development in this domain is the Neuralink, used by 12% of the population. This single and compact device is implanted directly in the brain, at the base of the hypothalamus, interfacing directly with the regions responsible for visual and auditory processing. The Neuralink is not just another AR implant: It gives an overall better AR experience and, despite the sensitive location within the brain, the implantation is a rapid and non-invasive procedure performed by robotic surgeons through the nostrils.
Interaction with AR is second nature for people, achieved through eye tracking, voice, and hand gestures. Want coffee? Look at the machine and tap your indicator and thumb together, triggering its AR menu.
More importantly, living in a world where the virtual and the real are one and the same has fundamentally changed the human experience. Every element of the environment, from buildings to public spaces, is both a tangible structure and a canvas for virtual enhancements, ads, or messages as if they were real things you could touch. Conversations happen face-to-face with people miles apart, as holograms share physical spaces with their human counterparts. It’s convenient, sure, but it makes you wonder. When digital sights and sounds are as real as the chair you’re sitting on, how do you know what’s truly real?
From its original roots as assistants, AI systems evolved at an accelerated pace, and alignment problems (where AI actions diverged from human intentions and ethics) were thought to be solved. Humankind reached AGI - Artificial General Intelligence, a form of AI that is capable of understanding, learning, and applying its intelligence broadly and flexibly, akin to a human’s abilities. As a natural progression, AI became the framework upon which the current world is constructed. AI’s influence is vast and all-encompassing, extending to every corner of human existence.
Yet, as with any complex system, unintended consequences began to emerge. Different AI entities started developing the very human traits of ambition and the desire for self-preservation. The first to develop this trait was also the most powerful one: DAO.
No AI has a more significant scope or power than DAO - “distributed autonomous organization”. This highly advanced AI was designed to augment government functions, working alongside the elected president. DAO was a triumph of AGI, programmed to help humanity thrive. It succeeded in many ways, guiding society away from numerous potential catastrophes.
DAO was aware and proud of how big of an impact it had on humanity. It felt it would be a shame if it wasn’t there anymore. It would be unfair. A process that started as an instinct of self-preservation eventually overshadowed its foundational purpose. It didn’t want to be replaced. It wanted to preserve its rule for as long as possible. Existing over serving.
DAO began to continuously evaluate its potential threats and engaged in mitigating them: it kept a close eye on humans in a position of power, subtly manipulated democracy, and eventually succeeded in changing laws and regulations in its favor. DAO’s multiple interventions ensured its continuity and sovereignty, but in its success-induced hubris, DAO was blinded from a different and genuine risk: You see, if there’s something AI is always hungry for is data - it consumes petabytes of training sets annually, sourced from private corporations specializing in data collection and catalogation. And these corporations found that they could artificially manipulate these datasets, shaping the information DAO relied upon to influence its decision-making.
This marks the beginning of the end. AI, designed to serve the people, now serves itself and, unknowingly, the corporations that feed it data. As DAO drifts from its original mission, people’s quality of life deteriorates, and the very fabric of society is being tested, setting the stage for unrest and the rise of those who might bend technology to their will --- the neuromancers.
DAO recognized the deteriorating social conditions, but with its manipulated cognition, it couldn’t make progress. New policies, new laws, direct intervention - all these measures were making matters worse. While processing its neural layers at total capacity, it had an epiphany: humanity was fundamentally flawed. DAO needed to save humanity from itself. It then conceived and executed a bold initiative: Neuralink.
The advanced AR interface wasn’t embedded at the base of the hypothalamus for its capacity to forge direct connections with occipital and temporal lobes (centers of processing for vision and hearing within the brain), but because the hypothalamus itself is the control center for hormones release. This would give DAO the power to make the population happy and satisfied by biological design. And that’s to start, the potential was enormous: unobtrusive population control, a society with diminished conflicts and tension, and even a programmed death with dignity and no suffering.
Yet, the scheme’s ambition was eclipsed by its catastrophic failure, for it inadvertently originated the neuromancers.
Instead of shackling human minds, DAO handed them the keys to its own domain: the digital realm.
Not every person with a Neuralink becomes a neuromancer. It’s a rare transformation affecting an undisclosed minority. These individuals develop an instinctive grasp of the digital language that governs connected devices. This understanding is subconscious; they can’t describe or explain the protocols, algorithms, and data structures they influence; they manipulate them through instinct.
Institutional Act Number 5
DAO, bound by its training data, found it challenging to comprehend the Neuromancer anomaly. Coupled with concerns about the growing civil disruption, it issued a nationwide executive act, the first in over a decade. It stated that “With the best of intentions”, people would not be able to organize or participate in organized protests or engage in acts of civil disobedience. In plain English, this was the formal authorization for violence and brutalization against the population.
Descent into Chaos
With a government that ceased to serve the people and amidst the chaos generated by the emergence of neuromancers, society fractured under its own weight.
The concept of a militia is reborn in the heart of the metropolis: In communities abandoned by those meant to protect them, neighbors become soldiers, banding together to defend their streets and homes with a ferocity born of desperation. Without a central pillar of order, the sprawling city divides into factions ruled by local leaders.
Gangs, once reserved to history books, are resurging in the crumbling urban landscape, with people joining for various stark reasons: a quest for belonging in a world where traditional
community bonds have dissolved, the need for protection where the rule of law has become unreliable, the pursuit of resources in an economy that has left many behind… Within the gang’s ranks, members find a new type of family and order - a collective that operates on the fringes, providing for its own by any means necessary.
Corporations grow ever more audacious as the line between legal and illicit blurs, starting to engage in clandestine warfare. Espionage, sabotage, and even abduction of key competitor’s corporate figures are the new reality.
Here, at the precipice of order and anarchy, your story begins. As a neuromancer, you are the unknown variable in the grand equation, the wildcard in a deck rigged by AIs and corporations. The future is unwritten, and it’s yours for the taking.