What is the CogNet
The CogNet is not a monolithic computer deity, and is not beholden to any single central system, no god-like architect sitting in a control center. It is a decentralized, disassociated, barely cohesive system known by a dozen names across the solar system. The Matrix, the Oasis, the Nexus, the Wired, it's all an electronic dream.
Point of Origin
The CogNet was deliberately and very specifically created to address the incredible flaws and dangers presented by the 3rdNet. The flaws of the 3rdNet were such that the entire system was given the computer version of a nuclear holocaust, destruction with extreme and targeted prejudice. Those flaws involved transphasic lifeforms using basic computer hardware to make the jump from aphasic space into analog space, infesting biological hosts, and corrupting them. Many of these incidents were swept under the rug as Dimensional Fatigue Events, when nothing went technically wrong.
The events of the Dean Koontz book Midnight would be similar to a 3rdNet incursion, turning people plugged into a single node into technophillic cenobites, or regressing into atavistic monsters, depending on what sort of other thing passed through the network and decided to nest in their soul. Likewise, the Shadowrun supplement Bug City, detailing an insect spirit invasion of the windy city, would be a major 3rdNet incident.
Even discounting the dimensional breaches that the system facilitated with ease, it was also capable of flowing the opposite direction as well. There were many incidents of people plugging into the 3rdNet immersion systems, and leaving a corpse behind, the machine having separated their souls from their bodies.
Dirty Secret 01: the 3rdNet worked because the systems involved were able to access the Dreamlands, a zone of aphasic space, to operate as its buffer. The human hosts using the system expanded its power, their own cognitive abilities expanding the net. The more people that used 3rdNet, the better it got. It reached the point that it devoured souls, let people walk into its environs and leave analog space never to be seen again, and plenty of scenarios like 'if you die in the game you die in real life' and 'we can't unplug him from the internet machine because it will kill him'.
Dirty Secret 02: the reason that the 3rdNet was nuked had nothing to do with dimensional breaches by extra-dimensional pests or people getting soul-eaten by their computers. It was taken down because of the Great Hunter. The Great Hunter is a hashmallim, an outer god. The 3rdNet was a beacon to it, drawing it to Earth as fast as it could move. Normally the Great Hunter fed on star whales and Ishim, rarely bothering to enter stellar gravity wells. It's approach was detected by the Glassenheim Foundation, confirmed by the Andromeda Council and the M12. It was determined that if the Great Hunter reached Earth, all life would be exterminated, all the way down to archeobacteria living in deep sea vents and under the ice floes of Europa.
Dirty Secret 03: The Marduk Initiative was a covert multinational action that simultaneously shut down every 3rdNet node at the same time, in a specific method. The plan was that by overloading each node and server at the same time it would produce a 'flash' in the Dreamlands (not that the people making these plans know anything about the Lovecraft mythos) that would potentially disorient the Great Hunter and then being blinded and then thrown into darkness, it would forget where it's prey was. The plan worked, but caused massive amounts of financial and collateral damage. Anything that relied on 3rdNet connectivity failed. Aircraft fell from the sky, comms went down, media was silenced for days in some places, years in others. A stunning number of people died when their life support systems failed, or power grids went down. It was considered a small price to pay to keep the Earth from being devoured by a cosmic hyper-predator that thought their communications and entertainment system looked like the biggest snack it had seen in a lifetime.
Not So Dirty Secret 04: the majority of people who learned the truth about the Great Hunter went mad, committed suicide, or underwent voluntary nerve stapling. Even those ranking members of secret societies like the Anunnaki and the Glassenheim foundation decided that the best course of action after seeing proof of planet eating monsters was keeping the populace ignorant of the fact and then eating the business end of a MASER or THASER, or planning funeral orgies so that they would die thrusting and pounding, riding waves of hormonal bliss as their heart seized or their brain burned itself out.
The Cognitive Network was built by the B Team while the A Team did what they could to deal with the Great Hunter. Their sysThetem used many of the same components, but new limiters and phase frequency restricters were introduced, and the bandwidth that the CogNet could use was very specifically controlled. The replacement system got off to a rocky start, as it was implemented in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, and a borderline civilization ending near miss. Faith in the system was low for a generation as many people had very deep scars from having serious losses associated with the collapse of the 3rdNet, and in almost every way, the CogNet was inferior to the 3rdNet.
The comparison between the two systems is always visceral. The 3rdNet was like raw-dogging a Victoria's Secret supermodel while her parents watched, and the CogNet was signed consent form missionary condom sex with the assistant manager at a fast food joint.
The CogNet still utilizes the Dreamlands as its buffer space, and everything generated in it's virtual/immersive reality is technically Dreamlands. This corresponds with the basic fact that a user cannot be completely awake and experience immersion. While the strongest immersion is during REM sleep, most users are gliding through the system in stage 1 light sleep, and serious users are working their way through stage two non-REM or NREM sleep. The quality of the immersion is not a good, but the upside of that is that if a person were playing a heroin junkie simulator in the 3rdNet, they'd log out with an actual heroin addiction, where the CogNet user logs out, shrugs, and orders a smoothie.
Hurdles and Stumbling Blocks
As mentioned, the biggest impediment to the CogNet being accepted was the state of the world at the time it was launched. The sudden and violent shutdown of the 3rdNet disrupted stock markets and investments, trigging an economic depression that lasted for years, and erased decades of progress from the Second Dark Age. Many people who remembered the lean times saw them again, and knew that the immersive systems had caused it, and the new immersive system was not seen with trusting eyes. Huge amounts of data were lost, some institutions and programs lost so much when the hard stop was hit that they disbanded, or the people involved quit. There were also large numbers of fatalities from medical accidents, and industrial/logistic failures. And as mentioned, aircraft fell from the sky, ships in orbit had catastrophic systems failures, and the death toll cannot be accurately measured, but many consider to be in the vicinity of 5% of the human population died in 3-5 days.
After a few decades, the CogNet was still operational, and memories had faded. The world economies improved, and lost ground was recovered. The generation that was born to the CogNet didn't know the black tar heroin purity of the 3rdNet, and didn't hate the CogNet for the failure of its predecessor.
The CogNet was an open resource, not an operating system, and things were built inside of it. In the Cosmic Era, few if any people consider the CogNet as 'the CogNet'. They know it by its trade name, or its source name. Much like how certain products are dominated by a small number of providers, the CogNet is known by the small number of super providers, massive CogniComm companies, that handle hardware and network connections. These are known through monikers like Wachowski Cybernetics and Communications Matrix system, or Bell Labs Lattice. Apple uses the Oasis, and governments use more bland and generic names like Edifice, or Obelisk.
It is worth noting that the biggest corporations in the Cosmic Era have shifted somewhat from the biggest businesses in the Petroleum Era. In the Petroleum Era, banks dominated the top slots. In the Cosmic Era, they still are a major factor, and the business of owning businesses is still big business. They have been joined by the CognoComms, and the big daddy of all the corps, SEMDRC, which holds a place not unlike GE in the Petroleum Era, but only if GE built cars, ships, and fielded a paramilitary army.
Function and Maintenance
The CogNet is supported by what people think are the AISCs.
They are wrong on several levels. The machinery of the CogNet, the servers and cables, the wires and heat sinks, are what generate the potential for the CogNet and its ability to operate in a superstate position and have trinary logical functions. The machinery is what links the users to the Dreamlands, and it's mostly synthetic brain matter. Using organic memory core technology, the machines use gray matter to fool itself into thinking its alive, and that it's dreaming. The AISCs are constructs that exist INSIDE the CogNet, they are the manifestation of the CogNet. When users are traipsing through an adventure park or MOBA game, they are literally walking around inside the AISCs.
Large sections of the Cosmic Era are governed via cognocracy, especially the Atlantic Federation. To this end, many people work in businesses and government agencies where their tasks aren't really obvious, or even make sense. This is a function of the fact that the people using the CogNet, following plans sent down from 'on high' are acting as the components of a ultimately massive computational system. The human users are the bits inside the RAM chip, or the graphics card, or any of the other computer components that handle the huge number of data transactions per second to render an image, run a program, and so forth. Most are also completely unaware that their online workspace, that they visit through immersion tech, isn't just some random representation of an office park, it's a component in an AISC.This could be rendered in a brutalist fashion, or even a minimalist manner where users are just plugged in and have programs run through their skull until they die, Matrix style. The AISCs found that generally positive and willing assistance from human users is more efficient and has a greater return compared to enslaving the meat.
The TL:DR version is that the Cognocracies that run the Atlantic Federation and regulate its cybersecurity, economic operation, and technological development are powered by people playing video games, watching porn, and livestreaming events.
Dirty Secret 05 - the source material for the 3rdNet system was taken from teratomorph/kaiju skulls.
Dirty Secret 06 - the CogNet uses a hybridized human/teratomorph biomass, making it less effective, but much easier to produce, and the lower fidelity and limited frequencies reduce it's attractiveness to the larvae of the outer gods.
The major difference between a Limited AISC and a full fledged AISC is that the Limited version can be downloaded from the net and placed in a stand alone system, such as a building control system, ship, or similar large cognitive core. This is something that was highly inadvisable with 3rdNet technology, because putting a 3rdNet intelligence in a machine is how meklords are made, and they are generally very bad news.
Not so Dirty Secret 07 - the more people that are actively using the CogNet, the better it runs. This might seem counterintuitive, but when a user is linked into the net, their capacity to dream increases the available resources in the system, as even the most gifted and intelligent people still only use a fraction of their brain's potential. Each person using the system is like another blade server in a stack, adding to the system, and barely using it.
Viruses, Malware, System Failures, and BSOD
The CogNet is not without its drawbacks and flaws, the most common being related to the fact that the system is a technofetishitic projection into a different layer of reality and human malfeasance.
Hardware repair and such is considered straight forward, build a node, power it up, and let it link to the CogNet. A node itself is a very large organic memory core or a variant like a large array or very large array where the biomass needed is spread across a large number of regular sized cores hardwired together. As the nods provide access to the net, and allow the network to extend into the dreamlands, they are a portal. If a door closes, another one can be opened. If a node goes down it limits local access, but the body of the CogNet is robust, and doesn't notice a node failure. It would require hundreds of nodes to fail to impact the system, something on par with a serious natural disaster that the arcologies were not able to resist even with their armor and internal sufficiency.
The real threats to the CogNet come from within, as it is a dreamland virtual environment, with all the architecture and code existing only in that floating phantom state. The main threats are the domain of virtual warfare.
Logic Bombs are packets of data that are designed to integrate into the CogNet local environment and then activate and carry out a harmful string of instructions, the most common being self destruct and delete functions. A logic bomb can be almost any size, but the larger the area of effect or the more serious the code it carries, the larger it appears in the CogNet. A small logic bomb can be used to disable a door or delete a user's avatar, while vehicle sized logic bombs can delete entire structures in the CogNet.
Very Dirty Secret 08 - the largest Logic Bomb is existence is highly visible, and no one knows that it is a logic bomb. The Singularity Aerostat is seen as the Front Page of the CogNet and is used to display ultra-high level information, such as disaster news, global contest and sports winners, and Superbowl level advertisements. An impressive feat for being a six mile wide sphere floating 'above' the terrain of the CogNet central zone. The Singularity Aerostat is the logic bomb and if it was activated, it would delete the entire CogNet, eject all users, shut down all cognitive systems, and anything not backed up in an armored archive would be lost forever. Could this be used for ill? Certainly, that's why only a handful of the existing AISCs know about it, and to activate the Singularity Aerostat would require a 90% consensus of all linked AISCs in the CogNet. Those that were not aware of it would be informed, and then have to make their own input. The Singularity was created as a way to blank the CogNet to prevent something like the Great Hunter/3rdNet crash from happening again. After the destruction of the Aerostat, its second stage would fire, and reboot the CogNet, with instructions provided by the AISCs, relevant to the reason the system had to be scrammed.
Worms and Dragons are a type of viral intelligence that is created to wreck some sort of havoc in the CogNet. There are other versions, but the motif of the dragon is a common enough one that it is applied to the type of program in general. These are large programs that are designed to cause collateral damage, attack strongly secured locations, draw down system resources, or corrupt data. The 3rdNet had the original version, Nightmares. Where the CogNet has dragons and worms, the 3rdNet had non-euclidian horrors and things out of the Lovecraft mythos as threats. There is the counter-part defended within the AISCs, free roaming self aware programs that exist to make sure everything is working properly, generally referred to as angels, guardians, or defenders.
Trappers are the most common form of CogNet malware, and they are literal traps that are set into the system. They can be hard to find, hard to get rid of, and the people and programs that use them can do so with relatively little effort. These are the Nigerian princes, the phishers, the screen stealers, the phone locks, and the rest of the annoying things that cause people headaches. There are also viral adverts and viral campaigns that leave traps so that the people who hit them infect their personal system with a load of specific adverts. The most visible and least dangerous traps are modders. These are traps that cause cosmetic changes in the person who activates them, such as changing the appearance of their avatar in the CogNet, changing their clothing, and so forth. Some merchandisers use costume swap traps to show people their offerings, less scrupulous such users will delete all the avatar's clothing, leaving them naked in the CogNet until they re-equip from their inventory, or log out.
Rivals and Foes
The CogNet was not the only attempt to replace the 3rdNet, and many feel that it was the weakest of the offered systems.
The NeoLink system, or 'the link' or the 'linx' was in beta testing when the 3rdNet was scuttled, and it was activated, mostly in Europe. The system did work, and brought most essential services back online, and restored basic communications. The system had much stronger top down controls and security, and it was thought that this iron-hand approach could be used to retain the high fidelity of the 3rdNet without the cosmic horror angle. Users preferred NeoLink to the Cognitive Network, citing the immersion value. Governments also favored the system because it gave them a massive degree of control over the systems in their states, and allowed them to 'own' the NeoLink and control what was allowed in and out. The M12 strongly opposed the NeoLink because it was recognized as a balkanizing tool that would promote propaganda, state censorship, and many of the issues that plagued the Internet and Hypernets, radical media control and rampant statism.
OptiNet was rolled out by tech barons in North America and was hailed as revolutionary as it allowed not just immersion, but for users to 'blesh' with each other. Bleshing was a made up term OptiNet created to name what happened when two users linked through the system, creating an effect more intimate and profound that sexual contact. A bad PR campaign, and a few high profile cases of what was called OptiRape doomed the offering. Optimum Systems was bought out by Cyberdyne of Cascadia and their technology was used to start building the 5th generation internet, the OmniNet, which in time might replace the CogNet.
There are also localized networks in regions where the CogNet was refused to the point that CogNodes are considered contraband technology and are destroyed on sight. These tend to be isolated states, typically regressive and hostile, or are singular space habs and colonies that reject the interconnectivity of the CogNet and its outside influences, most notable niche and experimental ventures.
Sensora Parlours, similar to inemuri salons, or sim brothels, offer antique 3rdNet gear to curious users. These are underground black market operations, and retain all of the dangers of 3rdNet immersion, just lacking the scale to attract stellar size predators. Most operators are armed and have security people, so if a kid comes out of a sim screaming, bleeding from the eyes, and throwing people around with their raw emotions they can put a few tranqs in them, then maybe remove the head and lose the body, usually in an incinerator.
Pocket Nets exist, miniature versions of the CogNet, but they are locked, typically tied to a single node or private secured network. These are rare, expensive, and typically belong to national governments, megacorps, or the ultra-wealthy. A PocketNet behaves just like the normal CogNet, but it is cut off and isolated from outside influence, including the M12 and other governing AISCs. These are run by their own dedicated AISC, and can sometimes have weird internal physics, as most private AISCs aren't as sophisticated as the ever evolving members of the M12 and other AISC organizations. There is a single exception to this, Cronus.
Cronus is the enemy of the CogNet, a dark demi-god opposed to the M12 and the Andromeda Council. The AISC sits in a Pocket Net typically referred to Nyx, or the Nexus, Tartarus, or Hell. The equipment manifesting Nyx and Cronus is buried under the surface of Iapetus and it is the home system of the Anunnaki. For the time being, Cronus is content to wait and build itself and its resources before its planned return to Earth and the CogNet, a plan shared by the Iapetian faction of the Anunnaki.
Authors Notes and Inspiration
The largest points of inspiration for the CogNet are pretty obviously the Matrix, both that of the movie and Gibson's Neuromancer. Special consideration is given to The Lawnmower Man, a tripped movie that was both way of base, and ahead of its time. The LitRPG genre, the weird niche that it is, also deserves recognition. Few of the books are goods, but they have some fun and weird ideas in them, especially when a world goes from an industrial economy to a service economy and finally to an entertainment economy. The Cosmic Era embracing things like online card games, MMORPGs, and MOBA games are a function of it's core economy is just strange enough that I could see it happening. The proliferation of eSports is just the beginning, and there are tons of mobile games with almost zero content/value that make tens and hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling item boxes and energy restores.
Finally, this article was kickstarted by this video, shared in the Citadel discord:
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? Responses (3)
A great explanation of the CogNet. My only quibble would be wanting to know more about the Dirty Secret 05.
I'm working on that piece currently, the short version is that there was a specific piece of arcanotech that was very prone to failure, and when it caused its dimensional fatigue event, kaiju were the most common outcome
Interesting premise! I'll keep my eyes open for it!