Monday, June 13, 2016

To Vesper Skies III: The Aether

"Welcome back to the Aether 20.1.31, tr0llingst0ne12! You have several new emails, blog updates, and events coming up. rocdaboat88 has sent you an invite to their Orcish Coming of Age ceremony on the 18th. It's a tribal costume party, so here's a list of local costume shops that sell war paint and plastic weapons. rocdaboat88 loves fighting games, so I would suggest getting him a copy of Brawl of Fame IV for his party. There was a recent bombing in the Free City of Greyhawk by half-elf terrorists that has shaken the nation. Please send your condolences and any credits you wish to donate using this link here. Finally, it looks like your favorite idol Karina will be touring in your area shortly. Would you like me to reserve tickets for you?"

- tr0llingst0ne12's Muse AI Persephone, giving her human the morning news as she wakes up

The Aether is the next evolution in communication. Combining cloud storage and wireless internet, the Aether connects all of the world thanks to powerful satellites that help bring ideas, cultures, and people together. Advances in satellite communications allows for WiFi signals to be picked up virtually anywhere in the world. And now, transhumanity has this power at their literal fingertips. You can call a friend in Beijing all the way from Miami with little latency, hold a conference call in your mind, play a virtual reality FPS with friends from around the world, or simply browse the Web while your teacher is boring you with facts about manticore breeding habits.

Any person with a Aether Access Application (simply A3) implant can connect to the Aether anywhere. Most people have this installed to keep them completely connected to the world around them. News, social media, and entertainment are generally consumed by people with the A3, and many are more than willing to use it for checking into new areas, liking posts, updating blogs and profiles, and other things you can imagine someone using the internet for. The few people that haven't had the A3 implant installed in their cyberbrain can still access the Aether the old fashioned way. Using a terminal (personal computer, smart phone, tablet), you can access the Aether like anyone else. It's much slower and certainly much more archaic, but still available for those uncomfortable with the invasive nature of the A3 module.

Aether isn't quite like the Internet of old. The satellites are all owned by the Integer Telecommunications. Integer is a massive mega-corporation that is made up of made older telecom companies, internet services, and computer engineering companies from the early era of the Internet. Integer works with the world's governments to launch and upkeep the satellites that have since become the lifeblood of the world. Most governments are rightfully worried about one company owning the Aether, so most have majority ownership of the satellites over a given country. In addition, most countries have their own Aether provider separate from Integer that acts as a third party, ideally keeping the power of the Aether out of both government and Integer hands. Still, Integer is a powerful and wealthy company, consistently on the forefront of continual telecommunication evolution. Many space faring companies are working with Integer to create an advanced communications and scanning suite for extrasolar space exploration.

Critics to Complete Connection

This permanent connection to the web hasn't come without critics and pitfalls. The first year of Aether connection saw many people remaining connected indefinitely to the web, even when asleep. This brought in hackers and griefers that would gain access to records and secrets that normally would have remained in one's cyberbrain. Some conservative news bloggers even had reports of transmortals being hacked and losing control of motor functions, effectively being mind controlled. The most infamous of this was a mass suicide of several half orc groups across five different cities. While no foul play was proven, the panic it incited over this made transmortals more concerned over their own security. Now, several anticracker and antimalware security companies provide people with the protection and peace of mind needed to parse the Aether.

It doesn't end here, however, as the allegations made against Integer reveal something a bit more sinister about the company. Many hackivists have found proof of Integer's more invasive procedures. These range from smart adware AIs that watch what you buy, read, and consume and give you suggestions, to applications that prune (some say censor) certain news blogs and articles that may conflict with a person's beliefs, mapped out by their search history. While Integer has said that these programs are harmless, the outcry from these very invasive programs forced Integer to change the programs to more of a set of opt-in suggestions, keeping the control seemingly in the hands of the consumer.

While that's been the largest proven scandal that Integer has been caught in, there are several other accusations and conspiracies that have befallen the company. The largest two are the Glass Darkly theory and Project: Shepherd. Glass Darkly has been an ongoing series of conspiracy theories and accusations of Integer doing social engineering experiments on the public. The theory suggests that Integer actively targets an area and bombards them with different facts and news stories, usually focused on a singular theme or idea, and records what the mental, emotional, and behavioral effects are on that population. If this is true, then what purpose does Integer have in doing this? Some suggest behavior modification and profiling for more despotic countries, or even subtle cultural control. One conspiracy theorist suggests that Integer is testing the waters of memetic and behavior control to turn the populace against their own governments and ally/depend more on Integer. 

Project Shepherd is the shame of Cewynia, the homeland of the elves. Project Shepherd was a failed attempt at the failing elven magocracy using reprogrammed Integer ad-ware, subliminal messages, and good old fashioned charm person to invade the minds of younger transelvens to turn them against modern technological culture and back to the teachings of ancient elven traditions by force. When this was discovered by journalists and published on the Aether, the outcry was massive and the magocracy was overthrown practically overnight. What was curious is how many conspiracy theorists tried to connect Integer to this situation. Some said that it was Integer giving the magocracy the tools so they could see them tested in the field for future use, while others say that it was done by Integer agents to sabotage and overthrow the largely anti-tech elven government to install one more friendly to Integer interests.

These two theories, while popular, are far from being proven. But, despite the scandals and dangers of an Aether connected world, the overall change has been one of a positive nature. Aether has brought the shattered world together. After a century of internet usage. people are finally beginning to cross their party lines and see each other not as enemies, but as neighbors. At least, for the time being.