A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...
-- William Gibson, Neuromancer
The Cortex is a vast global information network, critical to the engines of crime and commerce that drive the world and the endless entertainment feeds that keep the average citizen complacent. Run on corium-powered backbones of hardlines, satellites, towers, and transmitters connecting webs of servers, data nodes, and personal terminals, the distributed network of the Cortex is often referred to as "the global mind made digital" or even a "shared hallucination." But more than just a network, the Cortex is a world unto itself; a world where the raw ones and zeroes of data become visual constructs, buildings, people, objects that can be interacted with using little more than the mind and the right interface. And in the hands of someone who knows the code, who understands how to manipulate it... the Cortex is limitless.
But like everything in the world, the Cortex is not without its darkness.
Stimulation of the right neural pathways means living in the Cortex can become an addiction unto itself. While the constructs are digital, the dopamine is very real, and "wireheads" wasting away physically while their brain chases a digital drug are no rare occurrence. Direct links between brain and network mean with enough power and precision, software can be programmed to fry a mind and kill a person over the wire. Psychotropic or hallucinogenic programs can trap a person in a seemingly never-ending digital hell, torturing their minds or brainwashing them while their body remains helpless in "meatspace". Its uses are limited only by the minds of those who can control it.
ACCESSING THE CORTEX
The Cortex is accessible in multiple ways. Basic Access is the type you would see on a holoscreen, television, desktop, or handheld PCD (portable cortex device). Basic Access covers voice and video communications, text and images, and non-immersive holographic projections. The user remains fully aware of the world around them. This is the most common type of access employed in day to day life by everyday citizens.
Augmented Reality is similar to Basic Access in that it is not fully immersive (the user remains aware of their surroundings). AR involves devices that project data into a user's field of view and adjust the data based on the user's actions and positioning. Visors, glasses, and cybereyes that employ a Heads-Up Display, scanner, GPS map, or SmartBridge weapons link are all considered AR.
Virtual Reality requires the use of a headset consisting of dermatrodes that interface with the electrical impulses of the brain and a visor that completely envelops the user's field of vision. The headset is connected either to a hacker's deck, or a specialized non-portable personal computer system. This allows access into the virtual reality of the Cortex. In this state, the user loses awareness of the world outside the Cortex. They are able to fully interact with the virtual environment of the Cortex and its constructs. This method of interaction can be used by non-hackers as well as hackers. The former simply use it to socialize in digital spaces, while the latter use it to access systems and data for their own ends.
Full Immersion requires a datajack (a brain-computer interface) and a specialized deck or terminal. The Cortex connection into the datajack in the user's skull means that all sensory information is transmitted directly to the user's brain, providing the most realistic experience possible. This is the origin of the term "jack in", and is most closely associated with the hacker community. Full immersion allows hackers to manipulate the Cortex with greater precision and react to events with greater speed due to the lack of input lag. Aside from hackers and tech-minded mercenaries, only the most addicted wireheads would bother to purchase a datajack for Cortex use. While jacked in, a user will lose all awareness of the outside world.
Constructs are the shapes, objects, buildings, and avatars that exist in Cortex space as representations of data. A construct can be anything; a login node to a system could be a door, a gate, an archway, the mouth of a cave. A security program could resemble a police officer, a guard dog, a drone, a robot. Users themselves become constructs, their avatars taking whichever form their imagination dictates - a cartoon character, a robot, an animal, or even just an idealized version of themselves. The Cortex is absolutely filled to the brim with constructs of every shape and size; a crowded, seething, glowing mass of confusion and activity, the largest and most slapdash-designed city you've ever seen, stretching on endlessly in every direction.
Every system is represented by a building construct. Corporate systems are massive and elaborate - towering arcologies, castles, pyramids, even space stations looming over the lesser systems below. Many corps employ "Cortex architects" who design the constructs for their public-facing systems, because a business's construct is just as important to its image as its real world headquarters. Physics are irrelevant. The size of constructs are relative to the amount of data and traffic they represent. More data, bigger construct.
GEOGRAPHY OF THE CORTEX
In the beginning, the Cortex was an empty, infinite grid. Slowly populated by one system and then another, it branched out from closed test networks, linking with other networks, webs of connection growing and building. Then, the researchers observed, the Cortex began to form its own construct -- the nuclei of the system nodes connected to each other by digital axons and dendrite branches. The Cortex became the digital mind.
As the Cortex took shape, it was divided into corresponding Lobes. The Lobes were further divided into Areas, making navigation within the Cortex more logical. As the Corporations took over, they took control of entire Lobes for themselves, pushing the wild, free Cortex of the past into the fringes and filling the populated areas with advertisements. Within a controlled Lobe, the typical corporate setup involves priority treatment for users on corporate hardware or with corporate subscription plans while everyone else has to wait in line. They mine their subscribers for data, monitoring everything they do on the Cortex. Hackers employ various techniques to spoof corporate subscription status, block trackers and advertisements, and to create spaces for themselves free of Corporate control.
The Deep Core refers to these free spaces beyond the Corporate lobes. It cannot be accessed by ordinary means. It does not appear in searches or directories, and the average user can't just travel there. The Deep Core is a place for hackers, criminals, and even some wireheads to exist outside the notice of the authorities and the general public.
Short for Intrusion Countermeasures, ICE is the umbrella term for a wide variety of security programs in use in the Cortex.
White ICE refers to sniffers, scanners, and other surveillance and analysis programs used to monitor Cortex activity and detect threats.
Grey ICE refers to the legal security programs that isolate and attack threats and attempt to remove unauthorized users from a system.
Black ICE refers to illegal security programs that are capable of damaging users directly through the wire, causing biofeedback loops, neurological damage, and even death. Black ICE is normally only found in criminal, high level corporate, or top-secret military systems and will not be encountered by anyone other than a hacker.
Brain-Linked Immersive Sensory Stimulation is an entertainment experience wherein the user is given first-person access to the perspective of a celebrity or star character. BLISS stars engage in carefully tailored stories of adventure and romance, giving the downtrodden masses the opportunity to experience first-hand the glitz and glamour of a life they'll never have. Whatever the star sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes is broadcast directly into the viewer's brain - filtered and edited, of course, for the most perfect experience possible.
Users generally watch official BLISScasts on specialized terminals within the comfort of their own home, though the BLISScasts can be accessed by ordinary decks and terminals as well, as long as they are equipped with an appropriate headset or datajack.
There are many unofficial uses of the BLISS technology. Pirate BLISS feeds are used to broadcast taboo and shocking scenarios, unedited BLISScasts, or scenarios the corps don't want the plebs to experience. They pop up just as quickly as they're shut down, so fans of the pirate feeds must spend time scouring the Cortex for the next one. Offline chips - known as BLISSters - can be slotted into chip-reader implants to provide sensory experiences far beyond safe thresholds, far beyond the moral event horizon, far beyond the law. BLISSter dealers move in the shadows, and even finding one will take a person through some of the shadiest locations Midcity has to offer. BLISSters are bootleg tech, and the risk is high of permanent neurological damage due to their use.