Altered Carbon, Netflix’s ambitious new sci-fi drama, takes place in a future far, far away, both in terms of actual time passed, and technological progress. The residents of Bay City, a descendant of San Francisco modeled in the cyberpunk aesthetic mold, are able to live forever, thanks to a remnant of alien metal that can store a person’s consciousness like a memory stick. As a result, people wealthy enough to afford the procedure can switch their mind into new bodies, indefinitely.
Along with freaky, occasionally problematic new technology, the residents of Bay City and beyond have developed a whole new vocabulary to describe the new normal. At first, you might find yourself confused at the rapid unveiling of these words. What the heck is an Envoy? We don’t blame you. Here’s the run-down of all the most important terms you’ll encounter in Altered Carbon.
Aerium: A city above the clouds, where the super-rich (calls Meths) live.
AI Hotel: Simply put, AI hotels are hotels run by overactive, overinvolved virtual hosts, kind of like if Siri could control all aspects of your life. In the show, Takeshi (Joel Kinnaman) stays in the Raven, an AI Hotel designed to look like a 19th Century mansion. It’s run by an invasive, but totally charming, Artificial Intelligence form named Edgar Allan Poe, and is completely abandoned. AI Hotels went out of fashion decades prior, after hosts like Poe became too “clingy.” Essentially, since they had free reign over every aspect of the hotel, the AI beings had room for guests – but none for privacy.
Broadcast Blocker: Imagine if the physical world were like the internet, and gaudy ads kept popping up everywhere, blocking your vision. After placing broadcast blocker into the back of the neck in the Cortical Stack, one is spared from the madness.
Bay City: Bay City is a megacity on the coast of North America. It’s home to tens of millions of people. Years earlier, it had been called San Francisco.
Contagion Bomb: An old method of warfare that spreads plagues rapidly. The residents of Old City in Bay City are descendants of those infected by a contagion bomb, and are still quarantined in the area.
Combat Sleeve: A “sleeve” (a.k.a. body) designed especially for fighting.
Cortical Stack: The receptacle for a human consciousness, called a Digital Human Freight. Cortical stacks are made of metals left behind by an alien civilization. This is the technology that allows for virtual immortality. Humans can download their consciousnesses on these cortical stacks, and either transmit their consciousnesses to other waiting bodies far away (needlecast), or resleeve and transfer into a nearby body.
CTAC: An acronym for Colonial Tactical Assault Group. CTAC is a Protectorate fighting force that quells rebellions and keeps the colonies under control. Takeshi was in CTAC before fighting for Quell's (Renee Elise Goldsberry) army.
Digital Human Freight (D.H.F.): A fancy word for the human consciousness itself. The “you” of you.
D.H.F. Backup: Only the wealthiest individuals (Meths) can afford to make copies of their consciousnesses, or D.H.F.s. The D.H.F. backups are stored in cortical stacks in storage facilities. Every few minutes, new memories are transmitted into the D.H.F. backup via satellite. This ensures that even if their cortical stack is destroyed, they always have another waiting.
Dipper: Hackers that specialize in extracting personal information from a cortical stack.
Double Sleeving: The highly illegal process of implanting a consciousness into more than one body (sleeve). Typically, if a person is caught double sleeving, one sleeve will be eliminated, and the other will be imprisoned, though this crime is also punishable by Real Death. Also known as Twinning.
Grounder: An inhabitant of Bay City who is not exorbitantly wealthy, and cannot afford to live in the buildings above the clouds.
Head in the Clouds: A floating brothel owned by Psychasec.
Methusalah (Meth): An extremely rich individual. Meths are able to achieve virtual immortality by creating clones of their bodies, and making copies of D.H.Fs.
Neo-C: A version of Catholicism that believes that people should not be “spun up,” or revived, after death. Cortical stacks threaten the religion’s core principle that we only have one life to live.
Neo-C Coding: If a person identifies Neo-C, their D.H.Fs are branded with religious coding that indicate they should not be resleeved or resuscitated.
Needlecast: The act of transferring your D.H.F. from one body to another, rapidly, anywhere throughout the universe. Needlecasting too often leads to psychological fraying. Envoys are a special force of soldier trained to withstand rapid needlecasting by repressing their human sides.
On Ice: The state of a D.H.F. in storage. Sometimes, as punishment, a person’s D.H.F. is put into storage for hundreds of years, which is what happened to Takeshi.
Personality Frag: When a cortical stack is transferred too many times, it can lead to “personality fragmentation” and mental decay. Meths make copies of their D.H.Fs to avoid personality frag.
Portable 3D Bio Printer: A machine that prints a person’s clones on the spot.
Proposition 653: A government initiative that would allow people with Neo-C coding to be spun up and testify in their own murder trials.
Protectorate: The UN Protectorate governs the Earth and all her space colonies.
Psychasec: The powerful company that creates all of the technology Meths frequently take advantage of, like clones, Head in the Clouds, and virtual torture chambers.
Psychosurgery: The process of repairing a D.H.F. that has been damaged emotionally. Poe does psychosurgery for Lizzie by uploading her D.H.F. into the hotel.
Rawling’s Virus: A virus that infects cortical stacks, and causes people to turn on one another.
Reaper: A drug that is used to lower body temperature and emotions. When taken in high doses, reaper can turn people into killing machines.
Real Death: The destruction of a cortical stack, meaning that a person cannot be resleeved. There’s no coming back from Real Death. That’s why D.H.F. backups are so useful. Even if a person's stack is destroyed, they have a copy of their consciousness.
Simulspace: Virtual reality, which is pretty much indistinguishable from real life.
Sleeve: A fancy term for body.
Sleeve Death: When a sleeve is damaged to the point of being unusable.
Sleeve Sick: The period of disorientation that comes after a person’s stack is inserted into a new sleeve.
Spin Up: When a cortical stack is temporarily placed in a sleeve for interrogation purposes, or just for occasional visits (like Ortega spinning up her abuela for Day of the Dead).
Synthetic Sleeves: A silicon body constructed in a lab. These bodies can be altered to have superhuman or shapeshifting abilities. In the show, Lizzie (Hayley Law) inhabits a synthetic sleeve which she makes look like her.