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The CGI (Cosmic Gateway Interface) System is a set of commands which (nearly?) anyone anywhere can intone in order to trigger some kind of alien tech (which exists somewhere far away), which opens a wormhole between two points, with the size of the gate and the locations of its end points defined by the commands given. This gateway can allow basically instantaneous interstellar, or even intergalactic travel. Whether you're an advanced AI on an automated ship, a freebooter astronaut in a small rocket, or the shaman of a primitive tribe, leading his people from the frosty land of their heritage to some tropical paradise, if you are able to speak the correct commands, a gateway will be opened between two points, and travel is enabled.

I'm not particularly concerned (yet) with how the the tech knows to not open a gate between a populous city and the heart of a star, or between the bottom of an ocean and deep space. I'm not asking about how the gates are created, or what this alien tech looks like.

What I would like is at least a hand-wavy fig leaf of an explanation for the really hard problem: How does the CGI System even know that someone several galaxies distant is giving commands for it to follow?

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    $\begingroup$ An aside from the question, and one you might already have considered: you'll also want to consider relativity. First, there's no privileged frame of reference: a planet's surface is a rotational reference frame, while a spaceship will likely be in motion with respect to its destination. Second, different ends of a wormhole be at different points in space and time; this might not seem obvious, but there's no shared "clock" between two galaxies that are accelerating away from each other at enormous speed. (You could have a lot of fun with this!) $\endgroup$ – Jordan Gray Aug 13 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought when considering this was magic in Ra, a great story I recommend to anyone who likes not-quite-Egan-hard scifi. At the price of a truly massive spoiler, this chapter unpacks magic in detail; if you search for "the whole solar system" and imagine that scaled up enormously, it might be a suitable mechanism for CGI to receive commands. $\endgroup$ – Jordan Gray Aug 14 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JordanGray a side-effect of this be that wormholes would need to be "long" in some sense (wormtunnels?), as otherwise the time-gradient would result in spaghettification/pancaking regardless of velocity matching. You can't have "Portal" holes, because your body would get squashed or stretched out the other end. $\endgroup$ – Cireo Aug 14 at 21:39

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Your universe is a simulated reality ... and CGI is your admin console interface

Ever been playing an immersive video game, you're really into it, and you accidently press the '~' key? In many games this will bring up a hidden console that will allow you to make changes in the game that players are not supposed to be able to make. Give yourself a stack of resources, spawn or delete things out of existence, teleport where ever you want to go, so on and so forth. Well, your universe is kinda like that. It always follows the same set of rules except for where the CGI is concerned. The CGI has rules, but they are very different rules that are not supposed to be part of the normal simulation.

The creators of your universe made it with the intention of the creator race being being able to enter the simulation and interact with it; so, in the early days of existence when reality needed to be tested, the creators made the CGI. An interface for doing impossible things inside of reality from inside of reality to make debugging it easier. Well, now that a few billion years have passed, the CGI is still there just in case one of the "aliens" needs to come in and debug something.

The CGI can always hear you because it it not a thing inside of the simulation, but rather, it is an interface to the simulation itself. The thing about simulated reality is that all rules are just that, rules. Light can only move in certain ways because that is the rules, but in actuality, the simulation can put whatever it wants wherever it wants whenever it wants, the rules are just there to give it structure.

The CGI can actually do many things, if you know the right commands. It could be used to summon entire galaxies out of nothing, it could be used to delete an entire enemy civilization from existence. It could even be used to factory reset reality back to the big bang... the good news is that the creators were smart enough to put proper authentication steps on all the more dangerous functions of the CGI so it's much harder to accidentally end the universe, but they got so tired of saying thier full username and password every time they wanted to do a simple teleportation; so, they disabled authentication requirements on the command making it relatively easy of intelligent beings to find it by accident.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course, 'proper authentication' may fail too, either due to poor design or simple laziness. That general concept crops up a couple of times in Swrod Art Online for example, and is actually a major plot point for the Alicization arc. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 14 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ If this is accepted as an answer then I would strongly suggest that it is never outright stated in the story, and instead only hinted at. Maybe have a small cult which has this as a belief, with other groups having their own ideas for how/why the CGI works the way it does. Admitting that your reality is simulated would decrease reader investment (characters are even less real than normal) and opens you up to some boring deus ex machina situations (the world blew up but then the sysadmin reset it). $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Aug 14 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @D.Spetz That depends a lot on how the story unfolds. A story in a simulated reality that does not challenge the simulation would be boring, but a story where people think the CGI is the "ear of God" or some vaguely unprovable scientific theory could be really interesting if your protagonist could prove the simulation as part of the story... there are honestly tons of fun plot hooks you could use for a simulated reality. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Aug 14 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the more I think about it, even a story where everyone knows it's a simulation could be quite interesting unto itself. It could explore all sorts of unexpected psychological and sociological influences on a culture: Magic explained through hacking. Gods who aren't gods. Anti-science/anti-magic cults devoted to protecting reality from corruption. The existential crisis of knowing that you are just one admin's boredom away from being deleted from existence... an admin turning your head into a giant banana as a joke... the possibilities are both intriguing and disturbing. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Aug 14 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ I saw a movie once where everyone lived in a simulated reality but only a few were aware of it. You've seen it too. But even thought the Matrix was a simulation, we were still invested in the story because characters could really die and their actions had consequences inside the Matrix as well as outside. $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Aug 15 at 17:40
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How does the CGI System even know that someone several galaxies distant is giving commands for it to follow?

The CGI is not a single collective, it has a network of remote and local processing stations. It has levels and each level is responsible for everything at that level and 1 or 2 level below it depending. So each suitable planet has a node, and each part of the galaxy has a node that provides local services and communicates with a couple master hubs in each galaxy. Then there are galactic nodes that communicate between galaxies and so forth and so on.

In order for such as complex system to stay working it would need multiple independent replicas so if station #1 breaks down station #2 sends its drones over to fix station #1.

So each planet would need to have a local hub(s), which the CGI would have drones roaming the universe seeding planets.

The hub would have a list of neighboring stations which it would stay in communications with. So if one station failed it would have backups, obviously drones would be dispatched to fix said failure.

Once your civilization starts broadcasting radio waves, those become easy to listen to and pick up so your CGI has an easy job of that. Your AI on an automated ship, a freebooter astronaut in a small rocket, and etc will have no problem broadcasting the commands on a frequency.

Your problem is going to be primitive races. You will have to have massive networks of listening microphones to listen for commands that are interrupted by the local hub. The local hub opens a micro-wormhole to one of many wormhole devices which will do the actual work.

If you go too primitive you will have to have planet wide MRI like machines which constantly scan the vocal processing center of all lifeforms brains.

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To avoid the simulated universe, you can say that the CGI is able to bend spacetime as it sees fit, which it effectively has to do to create the wormholes you want. Using this ability, the ancient aliens also made sure that all points in space are exactly adjacent to the CGI, from the perspective of the CGI. In other words, wherever you are, the CGI is always next to you. It's a universal listening device because it exists everywhere at all times.

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The wormholes themselves probably don't violate causality, and are mildly plausible. However, they cheat by changing the topology of spacetime itself such that no objects technically ever travel faster than light.

But more generally, you absolutely have to obey that limitation. Not even information may travel faster than light (unless you scribble it down and send it through the wormhole). This makes your premise suspect without either just abandoning the pretense of hard science fiction or appealing to some higher level of physics still.

That might not be the worst approach. I mean, after all, do the users even "speak" the way we do? We vibrate folds of meat in our throats which in turn cause sound waves in atmospheres. What kind of user interface is that? Does it care about pitch? If my timing's off by 110ms on speaking these syllables (because I'm lucky enough that I can speak them), does it fail? How close to perfect do the commands have to be?

Does this require that diatomic oxygen molecules have to resonate with these sound waves? What if it's a helium atmosphere? Or even that it's some funky isotope of oxygen? What lag does this interface have?

Well, unless you want to explore that stuff (and it soon becomes frustrating unless you're Greg Egan or something), then the simplest way to deal with all this stuff is to say that it does not matter. The correct patterns in any medium and at any speed will initiate the magic. You and I would speak the invocations, but the bug people of Zebulon VI would light up their carapaces in blue pulsing lights and either is good.

Thus, it's less of a listening device, and more of a "monitor". The universe seems to proceed in a manner reminiscent of computing. Whatever goes on at the level below that which we can perceive or even imagine seems to run a sort of software that calculates where this electron should be, or how much energy that photon has. Is it time for the neutrino to turn into a tau neutrino? Well, in such a case, the listener might well be just another aspect of the software that does that.

Does this mean the universe is a simulation? Not necessarily, or at least not the sort you're familiar with from popular fiction. That always posits a "real" reality, where ours is virtual. But the scenario I illustrate is more of one where there is no such real reality, and this "software" just executes at the bottom level of physics. Little perturbations in string theory strings, maybe.

Does this mean that some aliens or gods created the universe? Again, not necessarily. It might be possible with some extraordinarily advanced science to alter that software. In which case they did so billions of years ago before anyone else figured it out. Or, if you prefer, no one did it. And the universe just manifested that way without someone orchestrating it (though, from what I read of Wolfram, he contends that such universes are unlikely to develop with any sort of deep magic... if you're appealing to him, you might be down one book sale).

What limitations does this impose on your scheme? Very few. If it's not a simulation, then it's more of a state machine and not a full-blown-computer. In which case the invocation will have to be somewhat constrained. The gas balloon people of New Jupiter who live 100 million years and take 10,000 years to say hello... they might not be able to speak quickly enough for it to work. Nor could the pattern itself be spread across megalightyears and work, for the Gigantor race of the Xeegene Supercluster who scribble with stars the way you and I play with Lego blocks.

The real question is whether your characters cheat and figure out to harvest usable energy from the scheme or not. Sure, a gradeschooler would figure out to just open a gateway to the interior of a large star and siphon off a few stellar masses per day (kindergarteners in your story are probably Kardashev II before they graduate to 1st grade), but if the CGI thingy is creating photons ex nihilo, then you could really do some truly interesting things.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't CGI's ability to instantaneously open wormholes that are arbitrary distances apart require FTL signalling, or is there a "trick" it could use to make that work? (You're likely more knowledgeable in physics than me—this is genuine curiosity.) $\endgroup$ – Jordan Gray Aug 14 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JordanGray I'm honestly not sure. I read more fiction than I do journals. In some conceptions, one end of the wormhole has to be towed to the destination at subFTL. In others it just opens where it is needed. $\endgroup$ – John O Aug 14 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ This does not appear to be an answer to the question asked. Not in any way that I can figure... $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Aug 14 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @RBarryYoung There's no polite way to explain how you're wrong. $\endgroup$ – John O Aug 15 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ It is an answer @RBarryYoung, it just doesn't follow the tl;dr format others do and includes some discussion of the premise and possible implications. If you skip ahead to the sentence starting "the correct patterns" and read to the end of the next paragraph, that's the answer in a nutshell. $\endgroup$ – Jordan Gray Aug 15 at 19:25
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It doesn't actually listen. The future is written in stone, and the program has that stone.

Since there is FTL travel, there is necessarily FTL communication, which means time travel. Since there is time travel, there is no causality, except if everything is predetermined.

The Listener is not actually Listening on anyone, it's just following the predetermined path of reality. It doesn't Listen to anyone speaking, but knows exactly when someone is speaking, or has spoken, or will speak. It's a deterministic program with an already defined input from t=0 (dawn of time) to t=EOF (End Of the Freaking universe), and it's just executing in a deterministic manner, which is perceived by us mortals as responding to our commands because it coincides with when we speak those commands (so long as there aren't any bugs).

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It doesn't.

The "listening interface" is actually a distributed network of long-range sensors hidden in space. They are so sensitive that they are able to detect and decode brain activity at orbital distances, so they "know" when someone is going to speak and are able to determine when someone is explicitly addressing the CGI.

The myth says that in ancient times, the race that built the CGI was planet-bound and in every dwelling had one or more gadgets that were tailored to their owner's voice and connected to a world wide network. They used them to control air conditioning, ambient music and whatever. Then they evolved to the point that they just had to prepend a special word - приказывать, Siri, Accio, the various versions of the myth do not agree on what the word actually was - and finally they made it so they just needed to know they were addressing the Gateway Interface, to get the answer to any question, or anything reasonable done.

When they at last left their original solar system, they expanded the network to go with them, in time allowing access to their allied races. In the end, they built Answerer as a service to less-sophisticated races, and departed in a unique manner. Where they went, only Answerer knows. Because Answerer knows everything.

The myth has it that in every generation, there was at least one user who would ask a question about entropy reversal. While the exact form of the question has not survived, most legends agree on the answer always having been, 'INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER'.

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  • $\begingroup$ Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice reference to AC there. $\endgroup$ – Will Crawford Aug 16 at 1:52
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Simple, your universe is a simulation and the CGI system has administrator (or similar level) access, and is thus omnipotent and omniscient. The "alien tech" is simply the supercomputer running the simulation, and the CGI "commands" are actually designed to be moderator and system administrator tools for when some sysadmin needs to dip their toes into the simulated universe.

Maybe the aliens overseeing the simulation stepped out for a coffee break or something and the simulations inhabitants somehow figured out their command phrases while they weren't looking.

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The CGI system server briefly opens extremely narrow wormholes everywhere for listening, say once an hour/day/year... . A command for opening a wormhole must synchronise with the appearance of the listening wormhole, which adds an extra dimension to the invocation (but there could be commands for requesting listening wormholes to be more frequent or at a particular time if someone knows they are going to need one soon). As the listening wormhole exists there are no FTL issues in communicating the wormhole request to the CGI system server; it can open a larger wormhole for travel as requested. There are a host of options with this scheme such as which parts of the universe are served, how frequently the listening wormholes appear, whether you have to go to a special place for the listening wormhole, whether some areas have good "coverage" but some have none etc. It also lends itself to the classic scenario of the heroes/villains needing to escape but have to wait for the listening wormhole to open.

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  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively, listening wormholes are being opened constantly, so there is always one nearby to hear a request. $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Aug 15 at 1:07
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The CGI thingy was created by ruling aliens, which ruled the galaxy before they were somehow killed. Before they were killed/driven out/something, every object was imbued with some sort of magical something that lets it connect to the CGI 'brain' and tells it when someone is speaking a command, then activates the corresponding wormholes.

Keep in mind, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. just make something up about why each rock has a mic in it:) have fun!

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I'd go with the classics - massive swarms of nanobots all throughout the universe - or at least the livable parts. They live in atmosphere so they can hear you. As JohnO said, it would put limits on who can cast the invocations (you need to have vocal capabilities in the right range), but maybe that's acceptable.

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  • $\begingroup$ That would still require the request to travel no faster than light speed back to the CGI, which would then be able to execute that command. Depending on where you are in the universe, that could take up to billions of years, which isn't particularly practical $\endgroup$ – Kevin Wells Aug 14 at 16:20
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The alien race who created the CGI might have already mapped out the limits of the universe, so they could turn it into a coordinate system. Then, it would be a matter of choosing which coordinates to pick.

You could alternatively give the CGI a limit to where you can place your teleporting points. If it's land undiscovered by the alien race, for example, the CGI would forbid teleportation there. Although, that would make the CGI useless if this alien race hasn't contacted Earth yet.

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The problem of sub-FTL communication to the source of your portals was already explained by a few answers, but I think I have an idea for that from the field of distributed computing:

The problem: Having a singular "listener", but the distance to "clients" is too long for them to overcome without using using the portals themselves.

My solution: Have several distributed listeners throughout the universe with a permanent portal from them to the main listener. This way the slow initial connection from a client can be shortened to the nearest listener, which then uses it's call-home-portal to transmit it further. The only tradeoff is how many sub-listeners you want to have to increase latency, but with a bit of handwaving you could "hide it between the worlds" or something and fill up your universe with them.

These sub-listeners with permanent portals could also be exploited by evil-doers who search for them and take their portal to the portal-source if your story desires, but that is easy to prevent (if desired).

(This is similar to content delivery systems, I could look at my old study notes if anyone wants to get a more precise term for it. )

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I building up upon the prior answer by cybernard, saying roundabout:

There are alien tp*/receiver satellites in every galaxy/system receiving a tp command
to execute

*tp = teleportation

How to interact with Alien Technology? They might not have a usb port.
The question just says "intone" to interact with the system.
But how does the System hear you?
With an device like Aloys focus
It might not even have to be worn like Aloy it does.
The tribe leader with just have it in his staff or his headdress

Why are there so many devices?
The aliens have fought in wars and dropped them
The devices feel that they are not attached to a person and change to room mode.
Now they execute all order in a room.
Maybe the aliens were very very quiet and the devices room mode can hear someone from across a canyon.

How are they still charged?
Remember portals? You can have a charger go through the portal and charge the device

Hope it helps

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Polling the Universe

I assume it works by randomly poking holes through space-time. It is constantly creating tiny, very short lived wormholes between random locations throughout the universe and one of its sound sensors. The holes aren't perceptible because they are so small, and they are not big enough to allow more than a few molecules through at a time, but they can pick up vibrations.

Although you aren't garenteed to have a wormhole nearby when speaking your CGI commands, one will almost definitely open in time to catch the echo of the command. The CGI controller is smart enough to pick realize when it has heard a beginning of a command at the end of one of the wormholes' lifespans and intentionally open new ones nearby to catch the remainder of the command.

Its not terribly efficient, wasting a lot of energy on useless holes, but polling the entire universe is the only known way the CGI could perform as well as it does.

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If you swallow some of the obvious objections (isn't FTL signalling necessary for this? Why would it respond to sound vibrations within the range of human speech and humanly-possible accuracy?), here's a few more handwavey options in rough order of "we already have god tech making wormholes, how much weirder can it get?" handwaveyness.

Disclaimer: please assume that all of this is absolutely impossible nonsense and I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Filamentary network

The entire universe is permeated with a vast network of permanent wormholes, many of which are connected to either the central CGI node or one of a vast number of local subnodes.

Distributed listener nanobots

The entire universe is suffused with a staggering number of self-replacing, self-repairing, shockingly stable nanobots. These communicate directly with local subnodes or a single central node.

Timeless physics

The universe is a static mathematical object—a configuration space, every point of which is a possible state of the universe. Time is a consequence of whatever rules (perceived as global physical laws) govern the structure of that mathematical object; it does not exist outside of it.

CGI isn't a system responding to events in time, although that's how we perceive it. Rather, it's a very weird, complex physical law imposing a static relation in the configuration space between a sequence of states where certain sounds were produced and states in which a precisely-defined wormhole exists between two locations.

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