The Far Future
By the 23rd century, the entire Solar System and surrounding interstellar neighbourhood is being transformed by an ever-expanding sphere of influence produced by massive levels of artificial intelligence. It totally dominates Earth now, with every aspect of world affairs controlled by superintelligent entities, formed of billions of inorganic minds working in unison. These "Artilects" operate at speeds and scales that would be incomprehensible to observers from earlier centuries. Global issues that persisted for years or decades in the past can now be resolved on timescales measured in hours, minutes or even less.
The medium which used to be known as the Internet has evolved into something quite profound: for many people, it has replaced their physical reality entirely. Reverse engineering of the brain, combined with advanced nanotechnology, allows human minds to be fully detached and immersed within digital environments. These virtual worlds, able to exist at speeds vastly greater than real-time, offer a kind of immortality now.
The awesome resources available online mean that war, conflict, poverty and disease are being consigned to history. The knowledge and education that is free to everyone has fostered a culture of trust and cooperation, while technological breakthroughs have made traditional employment obsolete – leaving citizens free to enjoy their own personal, creative and other leisure pursuits, without needing to work.
Venus and Mars both have terraforming programmes underway; the latter is home to many big cities. The Moon, too, has millions of permanent residents. The gas giants and their moons are dotted with scientific stations. The Kuiper Belt is now fully probed and catalogued, as is the Oort Cloud, with mining operations harvesting an untold quantity of resources. Beyond the Oort Cloud, a huge network of telescopes is being deployed. Meanwhile, new forms of propulsion have allowed the first manned exploration of neighbouring stars, with Alpha Centauri and other systems gaining permanent settlers.