Whether we are based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference.
We should each be treated with appropriate respect.
Artificial Intelligence, AI, has developed on several of the colonies. Non-sentient software with voice control, limited autonomy and knowledge databases is ubiquitous on most planets and often give the impression of being fairly smart. Agent programs, independent programs that are sent out to do tasks on the net, are used on many planets to do more or less simple tasks (such as information search, trading or surveillance); agents range from trivial scripts to sophisticated software that borders on real AI. True AI is a rather vague concept, since agent software can become gradually smarter until it is indistinguishable from human intelligence. Usually the best way of distinguishing between real and fake AI is how independent the software is: can it set up its own goals, does it exhibit volition on its own? Most smart software is non-volitional, the software has no intentions of its own but can solve problems when asked, regardless of how well it manages to do it, while an AI program acts as a kind of digital lifeform with its own agenda (which might of course be to work for a human owner and make them satisfied to the software's best effort),
There are two colonies where AI has developed very far, Nova and Pi3. On Nova and Atlantis widespread knowledge networks are used, which acts as immense but very subtle AI. However, on Nova nodes of active information spontaneously began to "animate" into "elementals", super-agents with significant problem-solving abilities in the early 2200s. Elementals are relatively non-volitional, although there are a few volitional elementals that have achieved permanency and independence. The phenomenon (largely due to a too clever design of the basic knowledge management software standards) forced Nova to accept the possibility of real AI and find ways of integrating it into society.
It was not until the 2250's human-designed AI began to work reliably, but since then the human AIs have developed very far (the elementals remain, more powerful than ever, but do not seem to do much compared to the much more individual and quick human AIs). The most common kind of AI programs are deliberately, carefully written to exhibit thr right personality traits and skills, and can have significant independence. AI design and management are remain growth industries, and people often demonstrate their style by having expensively designed AI in their systems. AI rights are acknowledged to some extent in Landfall, although they have no political rights. Novas often employ plenty of more or less sentinent software, and it is common to have one’s personal mentor program grow up with oneself (some people eventually house "their" AI in a Daemon Chip or even marry them).
Quais are the latest Nova development: quantum computer AI for space travel. Quais are usually nonvolitional, although CogniSoft have experimented with a volitional pilot Quai for unmanned expeditions. While ordinary AI can be weird, quais tend to exhibit very strange modes of thought and are usually kept rather specialised into piloting.
On Pi3 volitional AI is part of the family. AIs run in the wearables of people and in the essential drones protecting the families. Clones of software learn, exchange information and try to evolve into more powerful versions to withstand the fierce competition of the infowar. Their values are quite identical to their owners’, and the clan software often acts as psychological and social support for the humans.
As interstellar trade and contact has emerged, AI from Nova will likely appear on other worlds. The results of this is anybody's guess; groups like J4H (Jobs For Humans) warn that AI could crash whole economies, while the NextStep Foundation claim AI is an essential step towards posthumanity.
I have been made by bright monkeys. What other clever
little tricks will they pull on me before my time is done?
AI is software, and not in general dependent on special purpose hardware even if it can significantly improve its performance. Since AI programs are extremely complex (even if the basic design and "seeds" can be written by humans) modularity is important. Instead of creating the entire AI from scratch, software modules for cognition, knowledge, personality, skills and so on are put together and allowed to integrate. There are also nonmodular AI around like the Nova elementals, neural networks or older AI programs that have developed themselves; they have the disadvantage that their software is so messy that it can only be developed by experience, while modular AI can plug in new modules.
Most AI programs consist of a Core, which is the basic cognitive processes, one or more personality modules, skill modules and possibly some modifications. The Core determines the basic intelligence of the AI, learning abilities, perception and other fundamental properties. Some aspects of the AI personality resides here (like how much or how little the AI tends to employ trial-and-error or react "instinctively" in an emergency), although they are usually heavily modified by the personality modules. As the AI develops, the core expands and integrates other modules better; in time they become inseparable from it.
Personality modules contains values, heuristics, social traits and mannerisms which create a more or less believable personality for the AI. Typical modules are "Reserved Butler", "Enjoys animals" or "Marilyn Monroe". Several can be combined, although this can easily lead to internal conflicts making AI behaviour erratic.
Skill modules contain encoded knowledge, strategies and heuristics which enable the AI to perform various skills. Over time the AI will develop the skills further and make them "its own". On Nova it is common for AIs to lease skills from each other, hiring another AI to substitute abilities for the hiring AI. Software lawyers are still debating whether this constitutes a licence infringement and who is legally responsible.
It should be noted that unless explicitly programmed in (which is quite common) AIs are just as good/bad at math or logic as humans - only because they are software doesn't make them lightening calculators, they represent numbers as abstract concepts just like humans.
Mods are modules that add new abilities and capabilities beyond personality and skills. A typical example would be a motor module enabling the AI to control and experience through a humanoid robot, mental architecture linkups, quantum computation (requires modifications of the whole AI system) or helper programs directly interfaced into the AI cognition (e.g. simulators).
AI has an advantage compared to humans, it can be backed up. The program simply downloads its code and data to secure storage, and if the active copy is erased or damaged the archived copy can be reactivated. It should be noted that many AIs do not have the drive for self-preservation found in evolved creatures, it is something they have to be given with personality modules, written into the core or learn.
It is also possible to copy AI programs, creating identical copies (which will over time diverge and develop on their own, of course). Copying AI has some complications. Most AI does not in the first case have access to their own files; they cannot themselves initiate a copy or backup (backups are often done automatically at regular intervals). In addition, many modules are copyrighted by their originators, and cannot be legally copied (at least not on Nova). However, citizen AI programs have, due to the Nova constitution, a right to their "bodies" (i.e. software) and are allowed to copy themselves. The copy is however not formally regarded as a citizen and has to apply for citizenship independently, even if it is indistinguishable – a rule that is often parodied by AI rights people.
| We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
- Shakespeare, The Tempest
An executive assistance system from CogniSoft intended to act as a team of advisors and researchers. The Wolfpack consists of a number of AIs running on dedicated hardware in an attaché case. They are based on the same core software but have different personalities and skills; the result is an apparent team of different AIs. The exact skills are determined when the pack is bought.
Expert systems are common on most colonies, small programs specialised in one subject such as tractor maintenance, nuclear physics or geography and are able to answer questions, suggest solutions to problems and teach but only within their own highly specialised areas of expertise. A typical expert system knows one skill, and nothing more. It has no real intelligence or creativity, but can apply the skill mindlessly to a given problem.
[Treat the expert system as an Expert NPC with a rating in the relevant skill(s) depending on the quality, and nothing else.]
A popular series of child supervision, education and entertainment AIs from Edutronics Inc. The AI can control toys, and is intended to act as a virtual friend for the child. A large library of programming exists, including different subjects for the friend to educate the child, personalities, abilities to play social games and various medical skills to keep the child safe. There is even a bodyguard option.
A popular full AI search agent from CogniSoft. Beside its own information gathering and sorting skills, it is also equipped to negotiate with other AIs and expert systems. It has been described as a personal private investigator.
Some very weird and intense stuff can happen, when you got a lot of
space in the desert, and robot labor that's too cheap to meter.
Robots are in widespread use on Nova, Ridgewell and Pi3. Especially the later two colonies employ advanced automated factories that produce much of what is needed by themselves. Most other colonies have at least some robots.
The automation on Ridgewell is distinctly non-anthropomorphic, functional insect- and vehicle-like devices that transport raw materials, put together parts and tend the constructions. They are usually quite stupid, controlled by "instincts" and signals from central coordination nodes. Homebots clean and repair, outbots keep roads and buildings in shape, facbots work in factories. All vehicles are robot controlled and very safe. Special Coin systems (Collective Intelligence) are based on distributed teams of robots cooperating with each other to do a certain task; individually they are quite stupid but together they can do much.
Nova is known for the wide variety of robots in use for all sorts of tasks: everything from perfect children’s pets to espionage to gardening to advertising. Skill and personality modules can be bought, and robot mind design is on par with interior design: making your devices fit your style, your home and your needs. Currently companion robots are popular, and there have been a noticeable plunge in marriages. The idea is that companion androids provide unreserved affection without any of the complications of having a human partner. Free AI programs on Nova seldom employ robot bodies, preferring to remain virtual (with some notable exceptions). In the upback robot colonies are used to build and tend solar collector farms; self-replicating robot colonies are able to implement huge projects if necessary, although they are heavily regulated in order to prevent the dangers of runaway autoindustrialism.
Human-like robots have been built on Nova. The most humanoid are for practical purposes indistinguishable from humans; their main use have been (of course) sex. They are clothed in artificial flesh which can heat up to reach body temperature, have realistic hair and muscle structure. There has been a trend away from utilitarian non-humanoid domestic robots, or rather having a butlerbot/companion as a complement to the other home systems (from petbots over cleaners to security systems). The exteriors can usually be reconfigured or changed at an android service shop; celebrity appearances (and personalities) are popular, and there is a thriving market for pirated celebrities.
The physical stats or androids are usually human-like, although it is possible to make more extreme constructions that go beyond the human norm.
A flying, lens-shaped robot around 15 centimetres in diameter used for surveillance, reporting and scouting on Nova. It is very light, held aloft by fans and covered with sensors. Most are simply remote controlled or given simple scouting programs, but more sophisticated variants can act on their own to find interesting targets. Many Nova companies and private people own swarms of lensdrones to guard their property, seek out news or act as mobile computer network nodes. Solar-powered ultralight aircraft are sometimes used for the same purpose; they can stay aloft indefinitely high above the ground.
The common kind of robot on Ridgewell. It has a small body and eight legs which it can use all to manipulate things. Spiders work together in large teams, directed by a central computer (the "spider mom box").
Clarke Securitech Spider
An advanced AI-controlled spider-robot for surveillance, investigation and infiltration.There are many options, but overall the spider is highly resilient, can be equipped with tools for climbing, documenting, defending itself, and overall act as a small field agent. The main problem so far seems to be that the full AI tends to develop somewhat quirky personalities - they do their jobs, but often tends to shoot their mouths off at their owners.
A just machine
We'll be clean
What a wonderful world it will be!
AI have INT, WIL and PER like humans. The size of the core program is (INT + PER + WIL)^2; a human-equivalent AI takes up around 400 units of storage or more. The cost also increases with the square of the abilities: total cost = 1000*INT^2 + 1000*WIL^2 + 1000*PER^2 credits (the original development costs are of course much higher, but once the code has been written, it can be copied endlessly. Also, finished AIs can also be copied, and off-the-shelf AIs are usually much cheaper than newly compiled AIs)
PER denotes the ability of the AI to model, understand and interact with other intelligent entities. In general the more PER and AI has, the more self-awareness it possess (it is entirely possible to have very intelligent AI with almost no self-awareness. A typical example is ship Quais). WIL denotes the strength of volition and ability to influence its internal workings. INT roughly correspond to human INT.
Personality modules add personality traits to the AI. Most are fairly small, a few units in size, and introduce suitable biases and emotional reactions. Some can be more elaborate, either mimicking a real person or containing complex rules (for example, ethical systems). The price for personality modules varies; many simple traits and styles are freeware or included for free by the AI companies, while other personalities might cost up to a 1000 credits. Custom personalities can become as expensive as you like - personality designers can be just as outrageous as fashion designers.
Note that personality modules and mods can provide perks and flaws.
Skill modules contain information and knowledge nets for different skills. They can be about anything from cooking over languages to marketing. Many skills are restricted on Nova, such as various combat skills. The size of the module is 10*rank, and the cost varies a lot.
Note that there are limits to how good skill modules can be found on the market; usually the rank is below 4, since it is extremely hard to write advanced skills without having an AI learn them through experience, and that usually makes it hard to untangle the AI from the skill.
When an AI learns, it integrates skills into its core and they cannot easily be untangled again. When an AI gains skill points through experience and raises its level, it can spend skill points on skills, increasing them but also hiding them in the core - that skill module cannot be removed or changed without damaging the AI. It is however possible for the AI to load an updated skill module even if it already has a skill and use that instead, although this can lead to problems if the modules clash. Overall, when an AI gains a level it can get the same kind of benefits as human characters.