Classification of Virch Worlds, The

OA Scene 23
Image from Keith Wigdor

Not wanting to be late for Alana's party I traded fidelity for clockrate. My private virchscape simplified accordingly; average voxel size increased, complex calculations were swapped for assumptions and abstractions. In return the few minutes I had left increased subjectively to a number of hours. I'd have preferred more time but I was currently using my virch to study novel alife evolved in an unbounded, three dimensional medium. If I lowered the fidelity anymore the very processes I was investigating would be replaced by less accurate models.

I squeezed in as many observations as I could get before time ran out. It was tempting to make use of my exoself's psychoware to edit my social preferences, removing any guilt at not attending. But that path led towards an asocial state that I wasn't keen on at this point (forking was the obvious alternative but this part of the cybercosm was fraught with social etiquette on the matter). Pausing my virch I prepared to transfer. The invite specified a dress code; fixed bodies of biont appearance and function (this did cause me to tweak some aspects of my psyche; my preferred state was incorporeal with sensory modalities that allowed me to perceive much of my environment from no particular point-of-view). Hastily customizing a corvid form from an avatar library I initiated the transfer.

Appropriate motor functions and proprioceptive modules had been installed but despite that I immediately found myself flailing my wings in shock. I'd arrived in the virch submerged in water which kicked off all manner of survival reflexes, none of them particularly dignified. Feeling the privileges afforded to me by the virch owner I issued a flurry of commands. By fiat my airways became unobstructed and oxygen filled. Water flowed around my body as though air. Capable of moving more gracefully now I flew towards the seabed where other guests had congregated. An eel swam up to greet me, radiating Alana's identity tag: "Happy bootday!" I squawked. She rolled in amusement. The message hadn't travelled well in water. With slight chagrin I adjusted my avatar to something more appropriate. Scales replaced feathers, lungs swapped out for gils. Now aquatic I could experience the ocean as it was meant to be. Alana laughed, "thanks for coming, and for the grand entrance! Maybe take a look at your attention filters and fully read the invite next time. It would be poor form to drown at a bootday party"

Assorted virchlife stories circa 8112a.t.

There are a near-infinite number of possible virch worlds, and thus of the virch entities that can inhabit them. The vast majority of sophonts predominantly live in this great Cybercosm. Distinguishing between this multitude of often rapidly changing and alien environments can often be difficult for predominantly physical and virtual sophonts alike. Because of this a number of classification systems have grown up to allow different types of virch worlds to be distinguished. Some of these use various aspects of the properties of the virch, other classification schemes divide virch worlds along different lines, including, for example, along world concept-based ones.

It should be noted that regardless of the world it runs in, a baseline virch entity will normally require roughly the same computing resources (cycles per second, memory and so on). Likewise a higher toposophic virch entity will require correspondingly more and so on up the toposophic ladder. The only exception to this is the few number of known virches where, rather than the mind running as a process which effectively runs the virch body as a puppet, the mind is running 'naturally' as an emergent property of the simulated particles which make up the simulated brain.

One of the most common of these virch classification schemes is the Erbagoos-Cylliw classification scheme (also known as the EC or 'Easy' classification system) invented in the first millennium AT by the two First Federation anthropologists after whom it is named (Erbagoos was a vec, Cylliw an AI):

The 'EC' System

The EC system classifies virches along three major categories and three minor. Each axis defines a fundamental characteristic of the virch world which, in combination, allow the distinguishing of most virch worlds from one another. The major categories are:

1) Realism. The extent to which the physics model and components of the virch are similar to that of the Ril. Among the most realistic virches are system-double-worlds which often replicate real locations precisely, even down to updating their features in real-time to stay current, often as a way of dealing with high tourist demand. The least realistic virches operate on principles that are incomprehensible to modosophont minds adapted for life in the Ril.

2) Fidelity. This category is a measure of how granular the physics model of the virch is. The most extreme model their environments down to the quantum level (if also adhering to high-realism), this often comes at a significant cost to processor capacity making these worlds smaller and/or slower. Consequently it is rare for an entire virch to be of very high fidelity outside of scientific research requiring that level of detail. Very low fidelity worlds are places of significant abstraction, tending to be very mathematical spaces such as hyperbolic spaces, Fourier transform spaces, Laplace transform spaces and so on. The majority of virches use variable fidelity depending on how much the area or entities in question interact with virtual sophonts. Lowering fidelity in regions only tangible interacting with real individuals saves on processing power that can be better put to use elsewhere, though for technical investigations this leads to less accurate outcomes.

3) Consistency. Regardless of what fundamental rules a virch operates on consistency is a measure of how universal said rules are across virtual space and time. The majority of virches in the terragen sphere are moderately consistent; following the same physics model undisturbed aside from when sophonts command for local exceptions, for example: spawning objects de novo, editing the characteristics of environments, characters or oneself, creating exemptions of various rules by fiat etc. The least consistent virches are chaotic and even dangerous places. The rules can change at any time, history within them may even be rewritten. Conversely the most consistent allow for little editing or control from their users who must diligently work within whatever rulesets are created in order to achieve their goals (highly consistent worlds are popular amongst more conservative cultures and gaming/sport virches).

These three major categories, somewhat overlapping at their edges, form the core of the EC system. The minor categories have changed over time and in some places variants of the EC system include more than three. The mainstream version includes:

1) Clock rate. The most objective of all the virch metrics clock rate is simply the ratio of time taken to perform various benchmark processes compared to the ril (at a location at rest to the virch processor). Clock rate is measured in units of Rilspeed (Rils) where 1 Ril is equivalent speed, 10 rils is 10x faster...etc. There are many consequences to running faster and slower both at a personal and societal level (see Greater Cybercosm for more).

2) Privacy. Less well defined than all other measures privacy is a metric that looks at the disparity in virch user permissions. Despite its name it has little to do with whether or not a virch is secret or well known, rather the term stems from that of private vs public property. The more private a virch is the more administrative controls will be in the hands of a few, or even an individual. Fully private virches are relatively rare in the major empires, places where one user has total control over everything and everyone within it. But private virches in which most controls reside with the owner, including the right to expel any other user are, by contrast, very common. Most sophonts in hitech and above have a number of private virch programs (whether or not they live predominantly virtual lives) that they've developed over time. Public virches exist as more laissez faire environments with visitors having roughly equal ability to edit, adjust or otherwise have their say in the underlying rules and physics model.

3) Connectivity. Connections between virches are fluid and ultimately merely a matter of appropriate software and permissions. However throughout the greater cybercosm there are a variety of networks that have arisen whereby data, and sophonts, cannot freely pass between all virches. Instead some virches are only accessible via others, often with specific requirements in order for information exchange to be granted. A popular modern example is the Antipodal Onion Quest popular in Cyberia. The virch is an ascension maze hosted by an S3/S4 entity (exact toposophic designation unknown) and consists of a series of nested planetary environments. Each one has specific restrictions, underlying physics models, hazards etc and each layer of the virch contains two portals (one to an upper layer and one to a lower) which are on opposite sides of the virtual planets to each other. The only way to leave the virch is through backtracking. Most entities that do some have come away with nothing but a smaller, luckier group have been blessed with ultratech augmentations and in a few very rare cases: ascension.

No full census of the cybercosm has ever been completed. Trillions of virches are spawned, paused, deleted, slowed and otherwise changed every day. Exactly where most fall in the EC classifications is unknowable. Yet the system has persisted as the gold standard in the major empires, though whether or not radical entities living in the fast running, poorly connected, inconsistent and alien virtual worlds of the terragen sphere are aware of it remains an open question.

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Development Notes
Text by Tony Jones
Updated by Ryan B (2019)
Initially published on 28 September 2003.