If the Dimensional Engine (and to a lesser extent the arc reactor) is the pounding heart that powers the Cosmic Era, then the CogNet is the wired and wireless brain that ties everything together. The CogNet is omnipresent, filling physical space with tailored and targeted ads on mass transit systems, flashboards in hallways, to full length electric windows that broadcast 2D adverts, amusing videos, and other teaser information. It composes the cyberrealm of the cosmic era, and is the primary artery of news, education, entertainment, and socializing.
Seven Themes of the CogNet
The Commodity of Luxury
Luxury, decadence, indulgence, these terms don't always mean the same thing in the Cosmic Era as they do in the modern era. The luxuries of the future are non-synthetic food, real meat rather than mycoprotein, distilled and aged alcohol rather than synthetic, and then the more common staples come in, jewelry, top end androids and companions, designer clothing, designer furniture, visiting fancy restaurants, and enjoying decadent spa treatments, or retreats to exotic locales. The bread and butter of the elite, and just out of reach for the masses, but they are so very close. They can indulge in entry level jewelry, splurge on a basket of fruit or chocolate, or save up and buy a nice home companion.
The Commodity of Sex
One of the most powerful human urges is the desire to procreate, and this correlates into this being one of the best advertising tools available. Porn stars are celebrities, virtual parlors allow for the common schlub to visit and bone wild nymphettes and bored housewives can be ravished to their wildest dreams. As morals have changed, so has opinions towards sex and marketing, now full frontal nudity is considered passe and hardcore pornography is mainstream. But watching two people engage in intercourse is hardly a thrill compared to paying the access fee and not watching, but passively participating.
The Commodity of Entertainment
People like to be distracted, and the best distraction (after sex) is art, music, and mass media. There is a constant barrage of new musicians, peddling their songs and lifestyle. Artists create interactive works of art, and movies and television shows have grown into holodeck like immersive fantasies, and rather than watch a movie, viewers get to live it, or remember it as a memory, a personal experience, rather than a few hours sitting in a theatre.
The Commodity of Violence
Violence is popular. Violence can be funny, it can be cathartic, it can be a great deal of fun. The commodity of violence can range from simple reels of people hurting themselves doing something stupid to patriotic displays of war and firepower. The Stuff Blows Up Channel, the Ow! My Balls Channel, and the Fails of the Net Channels are always going to be popular venues, much like the ubiquitous action hero/heroine blasting things to bits, saving the day and looping up into sexual encounters.
The Commodity of Beauty
Skin must be smooth and youthful, hair must be thick and vibrant, breasts must be luscious and full, abs must be tight, and the erection must always be magnificent. With easy genetic mods, biochemical treatments, cosmetic procedures, and a variety of other remedies for being a normal lumpy imperfect human, the commodity of beauty is sold with the preface that unless you have availed yourself of these goods you are obviously poor, genetically inferior, ugly, sexually inferior, and probably a bad person. In line with this, most 'bad' characters will display substandard phenometrics, such as small breasts, bad hair, balding, bad skin, scarring, etc. Because you're worth it!
The Commodity of Necessity
The least glamorous and sexy of merchandise is the day to day goods, food, mundane clothing, tooth paste, appliances, and the other detritus that litters homes. While not fun, and sometimes not easy to sell, someone has to buy the Chicken Chuggits, Nuka Cola, base line droids, electronic devices, toasters, and so forth. While the commodity of necessity is a large portion of the CogNet presence, it is also the easiest to ignore.
The Commodity of Manipulation
The core of the advertising paradigm is manipulation. Ads are placed in a manner that would leave military planners speechless with it's ruthlessness and efficiency. Everything is paced, placed, and designed to pull people in, make them want whatever is being sold, no matter how pointless it is. This is a major point, as materialism in the real world has long since been stomped out by generations of pragmatism and collectivism, human greed, envy, and the bouquet of other emotions is free to spill over into the CogNet. People spend relentless amounts of time and money purchasing, modifying, personalizing and otherwise tailoring an ocean of virtual content to suit their every whim and desire.
The CogNet is the fourth iteration of of the modern Internet (of which the modern net is the first). The Internet moved to become the Hypernet during the end of the Petroleum Era, and into the Resource Wars. This was a function of the first AI mainframes going into service, and later supplemented by the first generation of LAISC mainframes. The Hypernet was one of the so called 'Lights' that went out at the end of the Resource Wars and marked the beginning of the Second Dark Age. The Oxygen Depletion Incident and the subsequent construction of the O2 Towers and their controlling AISC mainframes saw the struggling rebirth of the net in its incarnation as the 3rdNet. The 3rdNet would eventually suffer a catastrophic collapse, but not before running functionally for almost a century. The CogNet was born from the tattered ruin of the 3rdNet, and is more than 50 years later, still growing and going strong, without any of the instabilities of the 3rdNet.
One of the core features that sets the CogNet apart from its antecendents is the high rate of immersive technology. The 3rdNet could only be 'entered' by the use of a brain penetrating Wachowski probe, or a multi-ton Chayefski sensory tank. The improved interfaces and floating point quantum systems allowed for users to enter to Net with something as simple as a SQUIDband or something as hifi as a S3 rig (Synthetic Stimulation System). Designed from the ground up not by humans but by machines, the CogNet is almost unfathomable to human consciousness.
The Net is greater than the sum of its parts. There is more to it than processors, server farms, and the AISC mainframes that control and police it.
The CogNet can be divided into Business Transactions, Media, Social Networking, and Utilities.
Utilities are the day to day functioning of everything ranging from power grids, to thermostat controls, environmental operations inside an arco, water purification facilities, down through the mass transit system and logistic systems moving and tracking items as they make their way through the human industrial engine, and finally down to the operation of lights, air conditioning, and so forth in an arco apartment unit. The efficiency of the CogNet is starkly balanced by how quickly everything in an arco can go to hell if the system goes down.
Business Transactions cover the unseen functions of the economy in the Cosmic Era, bank transfers, crediting accounts, making purchases, paying taxes, and all the other transactions that occur every second. It is through the superluminal (20c) aspect of the CogNet that commodities brokers on Earth buy, sell, and trade the contents of ore haulers that are still running out in the asteroid belt. This is all very boring.
Media covers the vast amount of entertainment, and the bulk of the commodities of the CogNet. Holocast events, music streaming, immersive features, and porn are the fuel for this segment of the CogNet, and generates a large section of it's revenues.
Social Networking is the new traveling. Rather than getting in the car, driving across the state to another town, the majority of people in the First world 'phone it in' and have their family get togethers, parties, sexual encounters, and other socializing through immersive social networking realms. This is a large business as their are companies that exist to create dream homes to host these events, and Social Networking is the realm of interactive games, the grandchildren of modern MMOs. Some people get so into their gaming realm of choice that they will invest in real world genetic mods to change their race to match their virtual persona.
Denizens of the CogNet
The CogNet is inhabited by human users, machine users, resident programs, and malware programs.
Human users range from skimmers who are only interfacing with a device or physical device like a data slate, wristcomp, or interactive kiosk. These users are the largest category of human users, but their low data use interaction with the system means they are far from the heaviest data using group. Swimmers are slightly less common, and represent humans who are using semi-immersive technology and mass media entertainment equipment. Divers are users who have gone fully immersive. These users represent cybernauts, professional hackers, entertainers, and net addicts.
Machine users are the AISC controllers of the system, and artificial intelligences that are sophisticated enough to manage an online persona. A single AISC can manage dozens even hundreds of personas, while a household droid companion can function and control a single persona for doing online business. There are mainframes that exist solely to populate the CogNet with blank personas, so that the system has a hustle and buzz of its own, rather than being a cold sterile environment. The blanks function much like cookies, gathering information about users as they make their way through the net.
Resident programs are semi-sentient enclosed collections of computer code. These balls of code exist completely within the net, and have no physical component. Resident programs are as simple as 'cashier/teller' programs that work at virtual storefronts to the popular holographic girlfriend program. These programs are the descendents of the Viral Intelligences that spawned, multiplied out of control and caused the forced shut down of the 3rdNet. In the CogNet, these free floating programs are monitored, and there are other machine programs that exist for the sole purpose of policing and eliminating these programmed personas if and when they go rogue.
Malware programs are resident programs that have gone rogue or been corrupted, deliberately designed malicious programs, or anomalies that are randomly generated from the white noise the system makes. These programs steal data, corrupt servers, cause physical damage to hardware, hog bandwidth, and the rest of the entries in the encyclopedia or malice. The first generation of Viral intelligences spawned in the 3rdNet were first magnitude malware and in addition to damaging systems, a number of people were injured and killed by the infestation and subsequent collapse.
The CogNet exists as a sprawling gleaming metropolis. The servers exist as virtual cities, and there are entire worlds that expand out from those cities. The individual arcos have own cities, and these cities are all connected by various means. Rather unexpectedly, the CogNet has it's own terrain, it's own topography, and even its own weather. While anomalous, these things have been formatted and stylized by the daemon programs that control the system.
Most of the business and utility transactions of the CogNet are carried out in urban cityscapes, composed of giant arco towers all connected by rail, light pulses, and electronic ships (the police and control systems). The entertainment sectors are massive factories and broadcasting facilities, all beaming their signals to distribution hubs, and relays, creating non-stop lightshows. This is only visible to cybernauts who go full immersion, and only glimpsed rarely by casual users and skimmers.
Beyond these bastions there is virgin/unformatted territory. This fringe is the unrealized potential of the CogNet, and proof that there is still plenty of room and power in the system to continue expanding for a currently incalculable amount of time. Cybernauts, sentient programs, and other users can venture out into this territory and start formatting their own realms, and many users do just this. This can be as mundane as a megacorp expanding it's virtual domain, to as exotic as a new MMO realm being carved from the virgin turf, to the subversive, with dens, lairs and dungeons delved out of the cyberterrain to function as bases for black stream data feeds, and cyberrunners.
Behind the Curtain
For more behind the curtain: Ghosts of the 3rdNet, spoilers.
There is much more to the CogNet than even its creators know. It is an amalgam of human interfaces, machine systems, and it's all powered by arcanotech. The servers float in LCL, the machine interfaces are made with arcanotech processes, and as such, the Net is many times larger than it has any right to be. Technicians and engineers handwave this away, and point to things as floating point processors, quantum servers, and other heaps of technobabble. While these points and pieces of hardware are impressive, they are incorrect.
The CogNet, and its predecessor the 3rdNet, are hyperdimensional systems. The human machine interface allows for the system to functionally create gateways and permanent portals into the Dreamlands. Humans who enter the CogNet enter do so by entering stage 1 sleep, where the brain is operating in a semi-lucid state and producing theta waves. These casual users are skimming through the hardware and into the overlap where the waking world and the Dreamlands, and remain mostly aware of their physical surroundings, and their interaction with the Net.
Full immersion occurs with the correct hardware, and entering an induced REM state. While in this state, the host is unaware of their surroundings, and fully involved with the CogNet. In this mode, the user is effectively having an out of body experience, where they are fully in the Dreamlands. This isn't the same as a real Dreamer entering the Dreamlands by the 770 steps of sleep as detailed in the Mythos. These technodreamers are entering a technoformatted realm that machines and men have carved out of the Dreamlands. The 3rdNet lacked protection and defences against arcane threats, and this is one of the things that lead to that system's collapse. Many forms of Malware are generated from things in the Dreamlands encountering the avatars and technotitans of the CogNet (the AISCs) and are formatted into programs, or are tagged for deletion.
Every day, millions upon millions of humans casually stroll into the Dreamlands to conduct business, trade, and spend leisure time indulging in things as innocent as a family picnic in the faux Swiss Alps to depraved sex and death filled abattoirs.
Machines do dream.