Communication is almost always video. The pictures are usually delivered directly to an optical feed, but can be displayed on a wall screen or slate. Similarly sound is usually played via direct neural interface, with the option of using speakers built into the communications system.

Most comms systems offer some level of real-time video editing. This processes the audio and video signals to modify the users appearance, voice or apparent mood. The software used is known as a mask. Standard masks are so good that only experts are able to tell that the video feed is being tampered with at all. Some systems can even be used to change the user's appearance completely or modify the background images so that the origin of the communication is concealed.

Many top of the range systems also offer a 'simulated person' which is able to deal with a limited range of situations in the same way as the owner of the system. These act as a filter to deal with junk messages. The system rapidly learns to emulate its owner's reactions. This has led to an arms race between junk mail systems and filters, one trying to gain access to the real person, the other trying to prevent it.

The result of all these ways of easily modifying many aspects of telecommunications signals has been a tendency to conduct important business in person, to avoid the possibility of being misled by modified images and sound.

Semantic Abstraction

The widespread use of pseudosentient translators has enabled the freeing of the semantic content of information from its representation. The user of the information can choose to have it presented in any language or dialect, with a choice of variations in style, spelling, punctuation, character set, scientific units and many other areas.

The generalised syntax used by the translation agents and for the storage of the information contains both the original information and precise details of how much the presentation style can be varied with a certain degradation of content. As an example, a message arranging a meeting may be varied greatly, but a poem will rapidly lose its original meaning if modified. The sophistication of the translation system is such that in almost all cases the process is completely transparent, the agent deciding on the basis of the users own personal conventions and the syntactic guidelines produced by the author's agent. The results can be anything from exact reproduction of the original data, to a rendering in an artificial language.


Most people carry a remote terminal (RT) with them at all times. This enables easy access to the net, even when outside urban areas, and acts as a personal communications system. A terminal is generally the size of a 21st century pocket calculator (it could be made smaller, but research has shown that people are happiest with a system of this size). As well as its long-range microwave link to the net, an RT can also be linked to a subdermal medical sensor system, so that the emergency services will automatically be called in the event of an injury or the onset of a dangerous condition.


Almost everybody subscribes to a number of conferences, newsgroups or topics through which they can discuss their hobbies and interests, and comment on current affairs.

The open, public system of groups grew out of the Usenet and other major networks formed in the late 20th century. There are tens of thousands of groups covering everything of interest to humankind. These range from highbrow and serious literary discussions right through to the most trivial and downright silly topics such as 'Why I like cows', and countless areas of interest between.

Messages are usually left on the group as text, but it is possible to post video footage or graphics. The system acts like a notice board, from which people can read messages left by others and post their own. Many groups are extremely popular with hundreds or even thousands of posts per day.

In addition to these completely open groups there are various moderated or restricted access groups. Most moderated groups let anybody read posts, but have a group of editors who filter out the inevitable junk that gets posted everywhere. These are typically used as academic journals, newspapers and political forums.

Restricted access groups are only useable by subscription or by invitation. Subscription groups are usually news, information or question-and-answer in format, rather than the conversation-like format of the open groups. There are also conferences which act as policy makers for commercial or governmental organisations, and which can only be used by the invitation of members of those organisations.

The future of Ad Astra

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