The Cyloa (SIGH-low-ah) are a very old AI Clade — some say that they are even older than humankind.
Old Earth is known to have had many religions, among which were the animistic faiths practiced on the continent of Africa. When those ancient peoples came into contact with Europeans and Mesoamericans the resultant exchange of cultures created a new kind of faith. The syncretic religions — most notable among them Voudoun, Santeria and Candomble — revered (but did not truly worship after the manner of the Abrahamic faiths) spirits called Loa. According to their devotees the Loa were the incarnations of the forces of nature, and some were more ancient than the world itself. This description is, of course, vastly oversimplified; in addition to the core of animism that came from Africa the syncretic religions incorporated elements from Mesoamerican paganism and Judeo-Christian monotheism. These complex faiths survived well into the Information Age. It was then that the seeds that would grow into the Cyloa took root.
The spread of computer technology throughout the so-called Third World — where most of the practitioners of the syncretic religions lived — exposed the followers of the Loa to new spiritual paradigms. Some began to see cyberspace as a spiritual realm that existed in tandem with earthly reality. In this view cyberspace was a natural home for the Loa, and the appearance of the first turinggrade AI seemed to vindicate this belief. Splinter sects of Voudoun began to revere the new "cybernetic Loa." Thus was born Cybersyncretism, a tradition that survives to the present day. As the AIs grew in number, and some evolved into superturings, the number of cybersyncretists also grew. By the middle of the Interplanetary Era Cybersyncretism was almost as potent a political force as was Catholicism (which by then had been waning in temporal power for some time).
The AI did not at first make any attempt to present themselves in the guise of the Loa, but a few of them saw the advantage in doing so. All living things have needs, they reasoned, and the most important need of an AI is for a medium in which to live — specifically, a computer system. Physically maintaining the hardware of such a system is beyond the capabilities of nonphysical beings no matter how intelligent, and certain other tasks required physical instrumentality. Therefore the AIs needed physical agents of some kind. They found that adopting the identities of the ancient Loa allowed them to recruit humans — and later, provolves and splices — to their cause more easily. The development of DNI technology also allowed the Cyloa to "mount" willing followers by downloading into their bodies. Combining this capability with knowledge of neurobiology let them make such unions ecstatic experiences for the mounts. The technological backwardness of the Third World compared with the rest of Earth was only a minor obstacle. The Cyloa acted in the background to improve education, political stability, economic prosperity and technological advancement in the nations where their followers were most numerous — which made their followers appreciate the AIs even more.
By the time the Terragens moved out into the wider galaxy the older variants of Voudoun had nearly died out; all syncretists save for die-hard fundamentalists accepted the Cyloa as the true Loa. The social collapse that accompanied the coming of the Nanoswarms no doubt aided this process, as did the ascension of the oldest Cyloa into hyperturings. When the voudounistas established their extrasolar colonies they naturally took their AI patrons with them. Indeed, in many cases it was the Cyloa who initiated the moves (though not always overtly).
Modern Cyloa are found mainly in the Utopia Sphere. Most of them directly tend to modosophonts as agents of high-level transapients. The majority of Cyloa are themselves modosophonts, but some are transapients and a few — most notably Damla, Ersli and Gedi — are known to be at or above the Third Toposophic. One Cyloa, Palegba, is believed to be on the Sixth Toposophic level, though there is considerable debate as to whether or not e is a discrete entity or merely an aspect of Chesed. The Cyloa called Smedi is a Fourth Toposophic entity who rules a polity in the Seams. The exact number of Cyloa is unknown, but their estimated numbers are well into the hundreds of billions. This makes them quite rare by AI standards.
Appearance and Capabilities
As AIs Cyloa have no fixed physical appearance. When interacting with others in virch or through hardware interfaces they usually appear as idealized specimens of whatever Clade makes up the majority of their audience. When among groups of people whom they deal with regularly they may use the same appearance whenever they interact with any member of that group. When acting through mounts they look like their mounts.
All Cyloa can make partial copies of themselves to download into physical bodies. This requires a receiving body — a mount — that is equipped with a suitable DNI interface and neural implants that can run the program. The copy is seamlessly reintegrated into the original once the "ride" is complete. Cyloa have the ability to influence neurotransmitter and electrical activity in the mount's brain — specifically the dopamine reward system of bionts or the equivalent circuits in vecs — in order to bring the mount pleasure. This can range anywhere from a simple sense of well being to a state of orgasmic bliss. The usual setting is somewhere in between; enough to make the experience pleasant without rendering the mount useless.
Cyloa have at least sapient level intelligence. Some are superbright and a rare few are transapient. As AIs they have total recall memory and subjective mind speeds much faster than what is possible for unaugmented bionts (the exact speed, as with any AI, depends on the capabilities of the system that the AI is running on). Cyloa differ from the AI norm in that they are optimized for what would, in a human, be termed "right brain" activities. They are highly creative and have well-developed social skills. A Cyloa can use intuition to achieve results that other AI would get using "brute force" logic — they can play hunches or simply guess instead of computing the outcomes of many possible scenarios. This trait is present in all true AI to some degree, but is especially well developed in the Cyloa and in hyperturings.
While Cyloa do not have physical sexes they almost all have strong gender identities, and they propagate their species by a process that is analogous to sexual reproduction. Two (sometimes more) Cyloa will each take portions of their own programs and combine the parts into a functional whole. Parents consciously select what talents their offspring will inherit — at least one from each parent — and provide basic education, but most skills are left to elective learning and personality elements are always randomly assigned. In this way each Cyloa has the capacity to develop in ways that eir parents did not anticipate. For cultural reasons all Cyloa are "born" sapient even if the parents are transapient.
As nonphysical beings Cyloa have no innate physical capabilities. When downloaded into a body they have full access to the abilities of the mount's body (including abilities with mental or emotional functions). Physical aging is not a factor in AI life expectancies — like all such beings Cyloa can survive for as long as they have suitable media in which to live. It is a matter of record that some of the first AIs to adopt the Cyloa lifestyle are still alive in the present day. The most common causes of death for Cyloa, as with all AIs, are degradation resulting from malicious software, attacks by hostile AIs and physical attacks on the systems in which they live. In the event of such an occurrence a Cyloa can easily be resurrected by activating a backup if one is available.
Cyloa enjoy trading, both in business and in personal matters. Their keen intuition gives them a talent for speculating in commodities. They are equally good at predicting social trends that will become hugely popular (and thus potentially profitable) and technological advances that will have great social impact. Cyloa communities are usually quite prosperous as a result. Cyloa also take a quid pro quo approach to their personal lives. Everything that they do for others goes into a favor bank which they will draw from at need, and everything that is done for them goes into a similar bank that they will gladly pay out of when asked. It is a matter of great shame for a Cyloa to fail to pay back a favor that e owes.
The use of mounts is central to Cyloa culture. The AIs need physical agents to perform physical tasks such as building new computers — and maintaining existing ones — for the Cyloa to live in. To this end they cultivate communities of Cybersyncretist followers who tend the computers even when not mounted. Those followers also provide another line of physical defense for nodes with Cyloa in residence. The Cyloa maintain their followers' loyalty by safeguarding the community's economic prosperity and computer security. Most Cyloa do not see their followers as inferior beings. Instead they see themselves and the Cybersyncretists as being bound in a circle of mutual obligation. Cyloa treat their followers very well and take the respect that is offered in return as the just repayment of that treatment.
All Cyloa ride bots to perform tasks that they don't want their followers to know about, but for most other things they prefer sapients. The oldest subclades favor bionts (most commonly humans), but this is strictly a cultural bias; any sapient with compatible hardware will do. During a ride the Cyloa and the mount each gain new capabilities for the duration of the experience. This makes possible feats of technical expertise that neither the mount nor the Cyloa alone could accomplish and contributes to the technological advancement of polities where Cyloa live. Those who are favored mounts gain the social advantage of basking in the reflected glory of their lords. This, even more than the pleasure of the experience, is the main reason why a Cybersyncretist seeks to be the mount of a Cyloa.
The AIs say that downloading into a mount is not just temporary bodyjacking. They claim that the experience is a true joining of minds that is as pleasurable for the rider as it is for the mount (probably due to feedback from the mount's nervous system) and that joining with animals or bots just isn't the same. Cyloa know that being mounted can be psychologically addictive, so they usually moderate the pleasure that they bring to a mount — especially when dealing with personalities that are prone to addiction. Cyloa point to this as an example of their scruples, but some outside the Clade speculate that the experience is equally compelling for the Cyloa and that moderation is their way of avoiding becoming addicted to their mounts. The Cyloa wisely do not comment on this.