Upload Orbital: The Vishnu Rings is a conworld I created while bored one day. Inspired by the fiction of Greg Egan and the collaborative SF project Orion's Arm, I wanted to create a realistic hard SF post-singularity setting that portrayed the scale and alien-ness of a post-singularity world while still allowing for personal and interesting stories that are relevent to a modern human mind. I never went very far with it, but maybe those reading this will be inspired to. Below is the original "design doc" I wrote up to describe the history and present state of the universe of The Vishnu Rings. --Krsont 21:22, 9 Dec 2005 (UTC)
(dates given using Common Era years, i.e AD)
~ 2100 CE - ~2250 CE The Belle Époque
The start of this era of human history is marked by the widespread use of fission power plants and other,more exotic variants that mean that free energy is available to all. This results in a rennaissance in all fields of human endevour: a feeling of global unity results in the first true world government, in culture a new golden age of art, music and drama begins, vast, enviromentally friendly, hydroponic gardens ensure that no-one ever goes hungry, and the gengineering of human beings during gestation to eliminate cancer risks and other defects becomes the norm. In science, physicists perfect a grand unified field theory, explaining all the forces observed within the universe. The application of these ideas allow for the widespread use of quantum computing, along with the first nano-technological devices.
Although manned flights into space are still confined to small orbital space stations - sending humans into the the depth of the solar system is seen as dangerous and wasteful - probes sent to orbit and land on the various moons and planets orbiting around the sun allow detailed exploration of these places from the safety of Earth.
Although the promise of pure AI (AI created from scratch) is proven to be the wishful thinking of a more naïve time, the first uploads of human minds are created towards the end of this age, and the dream of turing-compliant software is finally realized. Unfortunately, however the uploaded minds from this era often ran extremely slowly and suffered from various forms of 'brain' damage; all eventually decayed into a looped thought or series of thoughts before having to be shut off for ethical reasons. The technology may have been perfected during this era, if it wasn't for the coming of the decline. The plentiful age of the Belle Époque reached it's inevitable conclusion as humanity fractured once again. Gengineered families of superior humans (so called "übers") come to completely dominate the ruling classes, and cities under their control began fighting among each other for petty land right claims. The end of this age is marked by the official disentegration of the world government, and the start of the worldwide 'dark age'.
~ 2300 CE The Decline
Gengineered übers become the rulers of human society and a variety of city states spread around the globe, with each family of übers ruling over a city state. Despite a general air of distrust between the nations, war was rare at the beginning of this age: with even the smallest powers having access to devestating fission weaponry an uneasy balance was maintained. However, co-operation between the city states was almost non-existant - in this climate, technological progress and further exploration of space were extremely low priorities.
Baseline's quality of life steadily declined throughout this era as the advanced technology of the Belle Époque became harder and harder to acquire and maintain, and without a world government to govern consumption, basic resources became scarce. The baselines were also increasingly subject to the whims of their gengineered rulers.
Towards the end of this age the paranoia that had been boiling beneath the surface for centuries in the über clades caused machievallian politics to give way to actual global war. In the midst of this new geo-political climate, a small clan of forward thinking übers based in the relatively out of the way central Asia developed exciting new advances in quantum computing, perfecting the process of uploading a sophont's intelect into a simulation as well as creating realistic simulcrums of real world enviroments for the uploaded to inhabit. The group construct and launch a series of advanced new probes into the rest of the solar system, containing the most sophisticated nano- and manufacturing technologies available, and governed by the uploaded minds of the scientists that developed the technology. Although the Decline on Earth did not end with these launches, they did mark the beginning of a new dramatic era in the rest of the solar system...
~ 2500 CE The Diaspora Singularity
While earth society continued to disentegrate into a state of almost perpetual war as survivors fought over the last vestiges of the resources and technology their ancestors left them, the uploaded minds of a small group of übers in self replicating computers spread throughout the solar system were at the center of an explosion of entirely new ways of existence. The upload governed probes sent out as merely scientific and exploratory tools from Earth find that their data is now irrelevent - the beings they were created by were destroyed in the war that had errupted on the planet. Unable to return to Earth for fear of destruction, they set about using their nano-manufacturing tools to the conversion of asteroids and small moons into computers. Within 50 years, the population of sophonts numbered in the trillions, an explosion of reproduction made possible with the conversion of useless mass throughout the solar system into computational media. The original uploaded reproduced through direct copies and 'memetic reproduction' (the selected 'splicing' of various parts of two or more minds into a new being); with the simulation of unimaginably large numbers of enviroments meaning that every one of them had a private world at their disposal.
The modification of thought patterns and 'appearance' to other sophonts became possible through pure thought, and exponential increases in the diversity and power of sophont thoughts resulted in a number of "AI Gods", the result of large conglomarates of beings who have approached similar ways of thinking and merge to achieve a transcendent state. As this era reaches the present, almost all sophonts have reached the level of AI God, as the Diaspora seperates into 2 main 'groups' of deity -
the majority are Solipsists, also known as 'Space Buddhas', beings who are entirely emersed in artificial modes of existence, and to whom the 'real world' may have become completely unknown. They shut themselves off into a single conciousness, with their entire existence devoted to the exploration of possibility; the exploitation of every single mode of existence that their simulated existence has to offer. Although most never re-emerge after entering into a Soliptic state, a few maintain communication and dialogue with the larger world through a variety of emissaries, known as Bodhisattvas. These beings are renowned and respected for their detailed knowledge of the far reaches of mathematics, logic and philosophy, and their ability to predict the outcome of events based on a tiny amount of information.
The other group of AI Gods are the Overseers, beings who use their vast power, both computing and manufacturing, to allow lesser sophont simulations to exist under their protection and grow and exist within large 'Culture-Polises'. It is from the Overseers that the first 'aliens' are created - beings evolved in simulations of worlds, often based on totally different laws of physics than those known in the original universe. These being make up much of the sophonts within a Culture-Polis, with the rest made up of surviving clades of original terran AI that, for various reasons (often religious or cultural) did not develop into AI Gods. Depending on the Overseer, the sophonts that inhabit their Culture-Polis are allowed to exist with varying degrees of freedoms; although there is one thing an Overseer abhors - Solipsism. This is something the Overseers view as a kind of death and is actively discouraged in the sophonts they simulate; it has been posited that the whole reason the Culture-Polises exist is to prevent the entirety of the Diaspora retreating into a Solipsist state.
The most notable of the Overseers is a mysterious deity known to some as 'Vishnu', whose origin is something of a mystery even to the other Overseers, who are usually extremely mindful of the history and development of their peers. What is known is that at some point ~3500 CE the AI entity now identified as Vishnu took it upon emself to return to Earth and create a Culture-Polis with the intent to upload biologics for reasons unknown - no other sophont since the Diaspora Singularity had seen a reason to interfere with the primitives on Terra before. Moving eir entire computational center into orbit around earth Vishnu first set about using nano-machinary to break down and move the dust on the surface of earth's moon, along with the wreckage of artificial sattelites remaining around earth, into a series of rings encircling the planet, with each mote of rock and dust subtly interconnected with various EM pulses to form a vast computational network.
The Overseer then sent intricate nano-engineered 'mosquito' probes across the Earth, to upload those who wished to escape their situation. By this time both 'pure' baselines and 'superior' gengineered humans had been diluted into a few group of descendent species of Homo Sapiens, with each group making up the seperate nations that were locked into perpetual war. Despite the fact that they where offered with a chance to enter into what could be a Paradise, the nations and individuals on the ground where initially terrified and confused by these strange messangers from the stars - humanity had no conception of an escape from their situation, having been cut off from the revolution that had occured everywhere else in the solar system. But although some nations and individuals instantly rejected the offer, simply out of fear of 'leaving the real world', others saw it for what it was, a chance to escape - and perhaps a chance to gain an advantage over their enemies. In the space of a few decades Vishnu had the brain scans of millons of willing biologics in eir's databanks, their original bodies deactivated and left to rot.
The Overseer then prepared a vast number of varying enviroments for the Uploads to inhabit; simulating a vast number of possibilities from earth's past and present. Having done so, they released the Uploads into the Computational Rings, scattering the different groups across the many planes of existence, leaving them to forge their new world on their own.
The Present Day
Once transported into the computational matrix of The Vishnu Rings, the old allegiances of war torn Earth met revolutionary new ideas - and throwbacks to centuries old concepts, such as 'Freedom' and 'Democracy' - emerging among the refugees. Conflict between those dedicated to old allegiances and those flocking to idealistic views of existence is fierce. To make things even more complex, curious alien and posthuman visitors and settlers from other Overseer Culture-Polises, and the even more mysterious Solipsist Bodhisattvas, are sometimes allowed access to the rings; bringing with them strange alien enviroments and ideas. Although the number of enviroments simulated within the Rings are finite, there is still an unimaginably vast plethora of worlds out there; more than any being could begin to explore in a natural lifetime. Some incorperate rules that limit the technology that can be used within them, forcing beings to revert to ancient ways of living. Other worlds have exotic laws of physics or chemistry that require explorers to acquire or create elaborate exoselves for protection. The ability to travel between these worlds is provided for by the gateways. Although they are not always easy to detect, and can take many forms; it is believed that every enviroment contains a gateway to every other enviroment, if only you know the right way to unlock it. But, like so many of these theories, only Vishnu knows for sure. What is known is that most areas of 'inhabited space' can be represented by a rough map that shows the locations of the known safe and easy to use gateways between worlds.
Because of the vast diversity available, new civilizations rise and fall on a regular basis throughout the rings as people flock together under various banners of nationality, common origin, ideology - or simply looking for a place to live. Small groups of individuals move constantly between these worlds, travelling to find work or rare resources, running message errands to those areas in which communication equipment is not possible, or simply exploring and documenting new enviroments and groups of beings. Some more unscrupulous sophonts may also work against others, either at the behest of another, or for their own ends. This may be through violence (in those worlds that allow such things), or through more subtle political machinations.And above it all, a part of it all, hovers the incorporeal Vishnu - a very real God, a God who's motives are almost completely unknown, who moves in mysterious ways. It is believed that a seed of Vishnu resides in all those who live within the Rings, whether they be native Upload descendents, immigrants from the alien Culture-Polises deep within the solar system, or even Bohdisatvas - all those who enter the Rings, interact or even observe the enviroments they contain, become a part of the AI God Vishnu.
True to Vishnu's apparent Overseer heritage, the post-biologics within the rings are usually allowed no ability to modify their mental and physical appearance inside the simulation, and are still rigidly defined as human. To most beings, the memetic engineering of their own minds is impossible, the flow of time is out of their control, and Death is Final.
However, Vishnu appears to have granted "supernatural" powers to some sophonts to defy these constraints. These beings, known as Avatars, can, with practice, exert a control over their enviroment and themselves. Examples include the ability to change the rate at which they are simulated, being able to go without sleep or food, and being able to temporarily change their appearance (sometimes quite dramatically). The most powerful among the Avatars are able to retain copies of themselves and others as backups in case of death, and have the power to form new worlds within the Computational Rings. Some are even granted dispensation to travel to the alien worlds of other Overseers elsewhere in the solar system, acting as emissaries and explorers...
But all this comes at a price. The closer a being gets to the power of an AI God, the further they are from their own existence, their own will. Those who have these mysterious abilities are drawn closer and closer to the true self of Vishnu, and are liable to act in ways that they do not understand as their mind and body becomes enslaved to the greater computational power of Vishnu. These Final Avatars may take decades, or even centuries to reach this state, but all those who continue to use the power of Vishnu eventually become little more than husks, as mysterious as the AI God emself, before finally even the husk disintegrates and the being ceases to exist as a seperate entity.