Environmental Cybernetics

Environmental Cybernetics
Image from Bernd Helfert

Environmental Cybernetics, or EC, is a practical discipline and school of study regarding the broad scale interface and control of various incidental interfaces present in a technological environment: the local mechosystem and its entire set of cybernetic controls. Although a rudimentary version of Environmental Cybernetics is possible for embodied sapient beings (such as bionts, cyborgs, or vecs) who use specialized equipment, and while typical sapient-level AIs show even more facility, many experts consider "true" Environmental Cybernetics ability to be something that only appeared with the first transapients. Some cite this enhanced transapient EC ability as one of the first historical examples of an emergent transapient property that is observable to non-transapient beings.

Environmental Cybernetics came into being as an offshoot of Cybernetics in the Pre-Swarm Era at the end of the Information Age. Originally it used mechanical input devices, personal computers and other electronics, but this field of technology and study quickly adopted the DNI interfaces that are still commonplace today, and then moved on to expert systems and eventually to sapient AIs with special skills in this area. This basic form of public access for ordinary sapients, usually via the Known Net, includes access to industrial, utility, infrastructure and security networks as well as the more common information and communication functions.

The infant science of Environmental Cybernetics did not truly blossom, however, until the advent of the transapients. Like the lesser AIs who were their precursors, they were ideally suited to interfacing with machinery and computerized equipment, since contact with the primitive Net of the time was integral to their design. Much more importantly, though, were their huge mental processing power and their unique post-singularity insights, which allowed instant connection to thousands of types of interfaces and mechanical languages and an unparallelled degree of coordination and prediction. For instance, transapient minds were capable of instantly decrypting protective ICE, gaining access far beyond what was originally intended by researchers, or of manipulating aspects of the mechosphere to which the Net of the day had no formal access.

The debate between those who regard "true" EC as an early emergent property of transapience and those who believe that sapients and transapients are simply on a very broad continuum of ability is almost as old as transapient EC itself. Since ordinary sapients are able to access and use Environmental Cybernetics, it is argued on the one hand that transapient EC was only an expansion of the natural abilities of humans and other subsingularity entities (mediated in the case of humans and other non-AIs by powerful translation equipment). On the other hand, proponents of EC as a transapient property assert that transapient ability with EC is so much greater in scope and effect as to make it fundamentally different. They compare it to the difference between the communications systems of various subsapient Old Earth animals and the true linguistic ability of baseline humans. Whatever the truth may be, it is clear that the early difference between sapient and transapient ability with EC has widened rapidly as the mechosystem and cybernetic environment and has grown increasingly complex over time. Whether the difference between a sapient being's ability to modify eir environment and a transapient's control profound or merely very large is perhaps only a philosophical debate; the practical differences are clearly significant.

It is normal for citizens in many Sephirotic and high tech cultures for humans and other bionts to implant or grow DNI interfaces to allow access to aspects of the Known Net. Training in these systems for the purpose of sapient-level EC begins at an early age, and only minor subsidiary processors are needed to translate the information there to something understandable to baseline minds. Different career paths, needs, and social status will allow for greater or lesser privilege to the Known Net in this manner depending on the local polity and culture. Most vecs, cyborgs, and sybonts have equivalent customs and equipment (some as part of their fundamental design). AIs and virtuals who are below transapient grade vary considerably in their command of EC, from those who ignore it entirely and "live" in a computronium environment to those who were actually designed to work as EC interfaces. Some of these last have achieved effects that are normally attributed only to transapients.

One complication to Environmental Cybernetics is a phenomenon called Personal Angelnetting: the practice of placing a portion of the local cybersystem and mechosystem under one's personal control in an angelnetted area. Although it is very common with Transapients and in some Sephirotic polities, other societies frown upon those who insist on bringing along their own system or co-opting a fraction of the local Known Net. Many of those who do not allow full personal angelnetting often extend a "courtesy" access level to those who have the desire for and ability to maintain that level of security and control. It can be likened for applying for a license to carry weapons or other dangerous substances and equipment. For higher level transapients, for whom maintaining one's own angelnet is as natural and universal as breathing is to a biont, this is considered a right rather than a privilege, and refusal of such access to local angelnet control can be considered a very poignant insult in those circles.

Aside from specialized sapient-level AIs, non-transapients capable of notable achievements in Environmental Cybernetics include transavants and transcyborgs, proxavs, optimodders, powermodders and even some Su and sooboo individuals. Most often control by these beings does not equal that of a transapient, since they lack both processing power and transapient insights, and unless they are AIs most require some assistance through artificial means (implants or onboard equipment, expert systems, etc.). This does not mean that these skilled EC users are any less potent or even dangerous if they come into conflict with more typical sapient beings. While they cannot do as much as a transapient, in some cases they can be more powerful than the local controls of an Angelnet.

Abuse of Environmental Cybernetics expresses itself in the form of "hacking." Most Angelnet hacking for trivial purposes is harmless or just a minor nuisance, and is often tolerated to some degree. On the other hand, violators who endanger the physical or mental safety of others are often severely prosecuted, depending on their polity's laws. A common penalty is loss of all access to the Known Net - a considerable inconvenience and embarrassment in any civilized region. The most severe penalties are usually reserved for those who attempt to interfere with the proper function of a ruling transapient's control, or with emergency and security services. Such forms of criminal activity using EC are referred to as "Reality Hacking" due to its appearance to those unaware of its use. Even in relatively primitive areas control of the local mechosystem amounts to control of nearly every aspect of existence. In an angelnetted area such control may seem magical, or supernatural. Although an angelnet cannot be made to accomplish tasks that are directly contrary to its prime directives, or that is physically impossible, incidences of "Reality Hacking" are awesome and incredible for those caught in them. It is rumoured that even the Godweb is subject to some of this same kind of abuse, at a much greater level of sophistication and power, by higher level transapients.

Environmental Cybernetics is limited by access to resources as well as by the rules and safeguards that are present in most civilized polities. Five major categories of environments have been identified. These are broad and indefinite, and often sub-classified based around interfaces types available. This is analogous to distinguishing forest from taiga or farmland from prairie. Differences can be immediately recognizable to someone able to use Environmental Cybernetic resources and form a gradual blend from one to the other or even be a mix of many levels of environment. Transapients and some AIs can use their direct apprehension of the cybercosm to act like a sixth sense to detect ECI (Environmental Cybernetic Interfaces) in a way analogous to sight or hearing.

Angelnet: This level of environment gives almost godlike powers and supernatural-seeming influence over the local environment. Connections to the devices of the environment seem almost primal in nature as reality seems to serve its controller.

Fibreless: Devices are more compartmentalized and identifiable as individual devices. There is not the feeling of omniscience or omnipotence but rather a distinct feeling of control or dominance.

Networked: This requires the sophont to directly connect via fiber or informational network system through a physical network. Although the density of individual devices may be the same as or even greater than many Fibreless Environments, there are no fibreless connections to be made.

Direct: A direct connection environment means that every device can be electronically tapped by a direct interface with the user. It maintains no connection to a unified communications network and has to be treated on an individual device or a chained device connection basis.

Manual: This form of environment is of the ancient sort that requires direct physical and manual control. There is no remote, automatic, or electronic control accessible. The interfaces are often the most rudimentary available and have to be monitored and controlled usually by hand by individual sophonts who are physically on location. Operating such arcane devices often requires speed and brute strength as well as intelligence.

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Development Notes
Text by Michael Boncher
Initially published on 08 July 2005.