The world of Altered Carbon is set in the 23rd through the 25th Century, and so most of the technology is highly advanced – digitized consciousness, human clones, particle blaster weapons, artificial intelligence hoteliers, settled colonies across the galaxy. Is this foretelling a possible, plausible future for us? After all, science fiction from Jules Verne and beyond has had an uncanny ability to predict or inspire a few future developments — including cyberspace, Twitter, Skype, iPads, trends in genetics research, and much, much more.
"All of these things were just ideas that became reality," pointed out Dichen Lachman, who plays Takeshi Kovacs' long-lost sister Reileen. "Technology is advancing exponentially, and there are a lot of things on the show that don't seem that far away."
"Between them, [author] Richard Morgan and [showrunner] Laeta Kalogridis have come up with a whole bunch of things where you go, ‘Yeah! That's it! That's what would happen," said James Purefoy, who plays Laurens Bancroft, a long-living "Meth" character who has amassed great wealth.
SYFY WIRE invited the cast of Altered Carbon to take a leap of imagination and tell us what developments in tech and society at large they think will actually happen a couple of hundred years down the line, both from the show and beyond. As it turns out, they had all given it quite a lot of thought.
Martha Higareda, who plays police officer Kristin Ortega, believes that paper money or any form of cash currency will be phased out, because it's a trend that's already starting within some businesses in both the U.S. and beyond. Sweden, lead actor Joel Kinnaman pointed out, has made the move to a cashless economy, "and there's barely any cash left," he said. Within the world of Altered Carbon, payment is accepted in the form of UN credits, because the governing force, the Protectorate, encompasses not just many countries, but many worlds. As a result, "we don't have much nationality in our show," Purefoy said. "I suspect in time, nationalism will become a very outmoded form of thinking. No ‘U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,' because I don't think we're going to be able to afford it, us all competing against each other as nations. We're going to have to think globally."
Or universally, if we colonize other planets, as Higareda thinks we will. "I think this planet is not going to be enough for all of us," she said. "We're going to start migrating to other places, other planets, starting with the moon and Mars."
Accessing the Internet will become a more intimate process, the cast guessed. Our devices might be, like in the show, something we see in our field of vision via a contact lens (Lachman's prediction), or in our head (Purefoy's prediction), via implants. We wouldn't carry a cell phone around with us, as an actual physical object. "Look at our phones now," Lachman said. "In twenty years, we're going to be like, ‘We carried these heavy things?!'" Will Yun Lee, who along with Kinnaman plays Takeshi Kovacs, thinks it would be better for humanity if we actually continued to carry a separate device, to allow us time to "stop aimlessly doing stupid things" and disconnect. If we don't find a way to do that, Kinnaman predicted, technology and virtual reality will take over. "I think we'll probably merge with the technology, unless we get completely replaced by artificial intelligence," he said, and then added with a laugh, "I'm pretty pessimistic!"
Neural networking will also advance so that we could map out the brain and download consciousness, Lachman said. In fact, Caltech's Doris Tsao recently announced the ability to extract photographic images from MRI scans of monkeys just last year. The possibilities are endless, but more important than whatever advances we make in technology are how we apply checks and balances to it, said Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays the show's revolutionary thinker Quellcrist Falconer.
Falconer looks at a technology within the world of the show – the cortical stack, which houses consciousness – and realizes how it could be used and abused. Likewise, Goldsberry believes we should eye some of the developments within Altered Carbon as a cautionary tale. It's not the tech but human greed which causes problems, "the way we conduct business, the lack of responsibility, how we hold people accountable for what they do with their money, or how they hoard certain things that everyone needs," she said. "This kind of behavior really will bring this kind of world."
"The good fortune with have with sci-fi is the opportunity to fantasize what would happen if we keep doing this," she continued. "And hopefully there is a warning in that, which lets us change our behavior in the now. It's beautiful what people dream in this way, but let's add some measure of responsibility along with it."
But what responsibility do we truly have, Purefoy wonders, if we're all living in a simulation right now as it is, as Elon Musk suggests? The idea is that a sufficiently advanced civilization has created what we think of as this world, and are playing us like a video game version of the Sims.
"Some 14-year-old, sitting on a couch, is playing you," Purefoy explained. The argument is that video game graphics advanced so much in the 40 years between the early tennis game Pong (essentially two rectangles and a dot) and the more photo-realistic, 3D, multiplayer games of today, and if we assume a continued rate of improvement, the games will become indistinguishable from reality. "Imagine what the simulation capability would be like in another 50 years," Purefoy said.
It's a billion-to-one shot, Musk has said, and Purefoy seems to agree, that our world is actually reality. "It's just a nightmare, he said. (And that's actually the good news, because if civilization doesn't advance to the point where it can create such a simulation, it means the world will come to an end, "through global warming, or nuclear disaster, or virus, or whatever it is," he said. "And if that's the case, we won't be interested enough to create the simulation that is now.")