Sunday, August 16, 2015

Broken Record - Chapter 1 - "Wish I Weren't Here"

                I was coming to the end of a spectacular warm season.  The beaches had been clean and the perfect warmth, the skies were clear, and I was more fit and rested than I had been in years.  It seemed a shame that I had to return home to Layafflr City.  Still, a rented waterfront nest was expensive.  Now that my latest client was no longer footing my bills, it wasn’t feasible to stick around.

                I had only two major regrets from the last job.  The more important one was that I hadn’t met any potential mates on my ‘vacation’, not even any play-partners.  I think I’m a pretty impressive Vislin male, physically: good scales, clean beak, all my claws, plenty of youthful muscle still hanging in there.  I might not be the best bet for stability – self-employed in a dangerous field, still packless after several years, and considered a rogue element by my local constabulary – but old Stchvk ought to be good enough for a warm season romance, right?  I was out among the resorts, wealthy enough (at least, while the pay lasted), well-dressed (I splurged a bit on rented formal armor)… eh, those coastal females know a poser when they see one.

                The other problem I had was that I hadn’t actually finished the job.  I was hired to look into a theft.  The client never actually said what was stolen; he just described its container.  I was supposed to track down the whatever-it-was and tell him who took it.  “Him”, in this case, was Jevvettr, a Hrotata hotel magnate, hence the swanky beachfront property.  I got to pretend to be a well-heeled guest while I examined the building, Jevvettr’s penthouse suite (from which the whatever disappeared), the surrounding neighborhood, and whatever other lead I thought worthwhile.  I wasn’t even trying to stretch out my free stay; the trail was just too thin to make much progress, but thick enough to keep me searching and my patron paying.
                I ended up narrowing down the field of culprits, but never pointed the claw at any single suspect.  After two weeks, Jevvettr got tired of waiting and cut me loose.  At this point, on the maglev ride home, the names of the suspects were already getting fuzzy.  I hadn’t been too personally invested in the case, anyway.  Stealing a whatever wasn’t the same as murder or cheating on a mate.  It was a crime, sure, but a rich furball like Jevvettr can buy a new whatever.  Frost, he hadn’t even been too excited about losing the thing.  It was more like he was funding my search as a formality, maybe as a show to convince his insurer that he hadn’t broken or lost the thing.
                If that was the case, it must have been worth quite a few credits.  In addition to the lost income from my suite, my host allowed me a free meal each day (had to eat in the restaurant to impress the other high rollers) and an allowance for clothing.  The total cost in expenses was way more than my retainer.  Jevvettr was spared my full fee, since I hadn’t closed the case.
                I really wish I cared more.  Maybe the luxury had dulled my usual instincts.  Usually, I get pretty uptight about lawbreaking, even little nonviolent stuff.  I also, typically, have more professional pride.  This job wouldn’t go in the ‘lose’ column – for one thing, I was alive and not even wounded - but it wasn’t a win, either.
                Eh, call it a much-deserved vacation.  My moral meter apparently considered me not on the job.  I could get uptight about the next murder, assault or whatever case I was hired to solve next.  Come to think of it, I hadn’t really closed my other previous case, had I…?
                I drifted off in the midst of my self-recriminations.  By the time I roused from sleep, the maglev was minutes away from Layafflr City.  Home again, to the aggressive flora and equally aggressive fauna - mostly the sapients - of my chosen territory.
                I disembarked at Kchzzkt Station, the main maglev depot for Layafflr City.  Since my home-slash-office is located in deepest downtown Layafflr, where the maglev lines don’t penetrate, I was obliged to take an aircar for the last few kilometers.  I might have walked it, but my ankles were acting up from an old work injury.  Besides, I still had some credits banked from Jevvettr’s retainer.  I didn’t need my usual desperate thrift.
               Not that I had much luggage to haul.  One small case held everything I needed to take on vacation: my best armor, a cheap grooming kit, my only slightly less cheap compad, and my best friend, Rtrtr the heat projector.  Sapients on most worlds would be horrified that I brought a weapon on public transport, much less a weapon without proper registration.  Frost that, I’m a Vislin on a Great Family world.  Moreover, this is ChtkKttp, and only the poor, stupid, young or powerful travel here unarmed.  I’m a decently intelligent adult.  I’m not wealthy or important enough to have guards.  As I mentioned, I don’t have a pack for protection.  I am pretty poor, but I was better off when I bought Rtrtr.
                Well, I was better off financially.  I suppose I also had the advantages of a pack back then.  No one would mess with me when pack Vzrrk was around.  When they weren’t around, I still needed Rtrtr.  We weren’t known well enough to intimidate anyone with just our pack name... not like pack Tktkrrf or herd Torbur.  Those are names to back away from, apologizing profusely.  Nope, Vzrrk was small-time, vicious but unestablished.
                We wanted respect, of course, even if that meant notoriety and infamy rather than reverence.  We were criminals, thieves and smugglers and hackers and confidence tricksters.  Pack Vzrrk really wanted to be a mercenary outfit, but none of us were trained enough (or threatening enough) to manage as guards or a strike team.  Maybe Tklth, I suppose, but she balanced talent with crazy.  Instead, we mostly handled undercover stuff: breaking and entering, transportation, illegal credit transfers, rigged lotteries, and so forth.  Jobs with a low probability of violent contact.
               I’d like to think we were smart.  Most of what we did took finesse and cleverness.  I’m a natural sneak and good at finding ways in and out of secure facilities, talents that come in handy in my current profession.  Tklth was a great driver and a good urban scout, the best for flying a getaway aircar.  Rsspkz was our beak, good at thinking like a mark and persuading them out of their keys or credit codes.  I learned a lot from them both.  There were two others in the pack, Fzpktk and Vztrrp, each with their knacks, each with reasons to be approached by the pack, each with reasons to accept our bond.
               As I rode the public aircar, I wondered why I was reminiscing so hard.  Sure, I was passing some of our old hangouts, but our actual territory had been several kilometers further south.  A little more industrial compared to my current neighborhood, a little further from the wild border forest surrounding Layafflr.  Just seeing the sights shouldn’t have me rewinding my whole sordid past.  I had flown past this region dozens of times between then and now.  It never triggered so many memories before.
               I was pretty sure I wasn’t dying, so my life wasn’t uploading before process termination.  Maybe my thoughts had something to do with my recent travel.  I hadn’t had a vacation like that in a long time.  I rarely ever left Layafflr City, to tell the truth.  It was possible that the change of scenery, followed by this trip home, was enough to draw out the years I’d prefer to forget.
               Frost, the nature of the crime – a sneak theft of a valuable but probably unsellable bauble – smelled like something pack Vzrrk would pull.  I could have schemed a handful of ways to manage the same heist.  Which method the actual thief had used remained a mystery.  If I had worked that out, I might have clawed the culprit.
              Sadly, Jevvettr never trusted me enough to give me full access to his security systems, just its output: audiovisual recordings and access records.  Without key information about how the system worked and how it could be – how it was – circumvented, I was hunting without my tail.  I never saw the penthouse suite without a guard present, and those guards blocked any disassembly of the suite.  I couldn’t interrogate the automated systems, take apart the locks, pry up the carpet or even open the windows.  Jevvettr apparently expected me to scent out the doer using only surface scrutiny, social investigation and pure logic.
             Yeah, that happens… in detective fiction.  Real investigation means taking things apart.  Sometimes those things are evidence.  Sometimes those things are people.  I don’t just mean assault, although that happens from time to time.  I mean getting inside heads, checking stories, making people uncomfortable, and generally pushing hard to see what shakes loose or reveals a misalignment.  What I had learned since my gangster days were the lessons they teach constabulary detectives: how to interrogate both witnesses and suspects, how to rattle them, and how to avoid either provoking them to violence or having to apologize for your behavior.
             Those skills are useful, but they’re only half the package.  I’m better than a constabulary detective because I can do things they can’t and won’t do.  I can enter without a search warrant (ideally, when the resident isn’t home).  I can short-circuit an alarm system and make it spit out its logs or identify me as a friend.  If I wanted, I could have overridden my aircar and sent it flying through the window of my obnoxious upstairs neighbor.  Just because modern Vislin can stay awake all night doesn’t mean we should, and even if we do, it should involve sitting quietly, not stomping across the floor like a thorn-faced Taratumm!
              I was home.  Just seeing the place again was bringing up more memories.  At least now they were recent, petty thoughts, not the weighty dungpiles of the distant past.  I dismounted the aircar at my building's front door.  The 'car lifted away to rejoin its own kind at the neighborhood docking station.  I stood still a moment, looking around.
              Not much had changed after a season away.  The same kind of garbage still cluttered the corners and alleys, refreshed daily despite the best efforts of automated cleaners.  The same overgrowth still threatened to strangle the nearby buildings, although the fact that it hadn’t was a credit to the automated brush cutters.  None of my neighbors appeared, coming or going, so I couldn’t tell if anyone old had changed or anyone new had arrived.  It wasn’t exactly a neighborhood where you wanted to stand around outdoors, anyway.
             I decided to take my own subconscious advice and get inside.  That was a shame.  The weather was actually nice, and I hated to get out of the direct sunlight.  I couldn’t help comparing the climate between here and the coast.  It actually is cooler out there, with the ocean breeze, but the sun seems bigger and brighter.  You can bathe in it, covered fully in light during any daytime hour.  In the City, you only get indirect light except at certain hours of midday, when the sun is highest.  It might be hotter here, between the latitude and the pollution and the insulation, but it feels like artificial heat even when you’re actually outside.  So, yeah, I suppose I wasn’t missing much by retreating into my nest.
             The weight of urban life settled on my shoulders as I climbed the stairs to my apartment.  I hoped I wasn’t going to end up feeling more drained than rejuvenated by my time away.  I’d have to focus on the vacation as a bright memory – and a future reward, an incentive to work hard – to avoid being dragged down by the contrast between then and now.  Hey, maybe I should consider moving, opening up a practice on the coast?  Stchvk, beach detective.  I liked the sound, even if I was a little short for the first month’s rent on a trash bin down there.
             Speaking of trash bins, I opened the door to my spacious nest-slash-office-slash-shipping crate.  I stepped through and was just about to drop my travel case when I spotted an anomaly.  My keen detective senses picked up the big brown envelope sitting on a bare grey plasticrete floor.  Somebody must have slid the old-fashioned thing under my old-fashioned door.  How quaint.  Also, how suspicious.
             Anyone who wanted to get in touch with me could find the public listing for my compad.  I usually answered voice calls and read most of my text mail, particularly if they promised money coming to me rather than demanding money from me.  If people wanted to talk business without calling, they could stop by in person.  I had hours listed on my business profile.  Sometimes I even updated them to reflect my actual presence at home/office.  My place was reasonably secure, at least more secure than a physical letter.  There were cameras downstairs, but dropping off a letter would get you recorded just the same as visiting to talk.
             I could think of some alternate possibilities.  Maybe the mysterious scribe hid their identity by sending a courier.  Maybe the visitor didn’t know I was out of town (I didn’t advertise that fact), didn’t have my number, and then decided to go buy an envelope and paper and leave me a note rather than stop by at another time.  Or, maybe they had the stationary already on hand.  Or maybe a Ningyo dropped it off through folded space.  Lots of things were possible, many of them stupid.
            I was being stupid, theorizing before I had any information.  I doubted that the envelope was dangerous.  Nobody I knew of hated me enough to go shopping for biological weapons or deadly nanotech.  A cursory lift and pat-down convinced me that no spring-loaded monofilament blades would shoot out when I opened the letter.
           It was just a brown paper envelope with a yellow sheet of paper inside.  There was a brief message, signed at the bottom.
           Yeah, the only thing dangerous about this message was the message itself and its consequences.  I read:
"Stchvk- I know we parted on bad terms, but I hope some attachment remains.  After Rsspkz went to prison, I tried to stay out of trouble.  I found a good mate, trained for a real job, even started thinking about laying eggs.  Seems like trouble follows me.  My mate is dead.  The constables don't know who did it, but they're starting to suspect me.  I don't know who to ask for help.  If I'm seen talking to you, they'll connect us to the old pack, and I really won't get a fair hearing.  I might never find out who really killed Vzktkk.  Worse, I might go to prison.  You know he's waiting for me there.  Please help.  You're all I have left, but I know you're also good.  I'll be at the lounge at Tk Kzztkrt every rest day, working.  Come in for a drink and we can talk without raising suspicion.  I'm sure we'll recognize one another.  I remember you well.  I hope you have some good memories of me, still.  -Pkstzk"                                                                               
           Kktkrz’ oversized ovipositor, of course I remembered Pkstzk!  If she hadn’t been Rsspkz’ intended mate, I would have been courting her myself.  She knew it, too.  Now she was playing on that attraction to beg for help.

           She had only avoided prison time the same way I had: by ditching the pack when the temperature dropped.  I didn’t blame her for the same reason I didn’t count her among pack Vzrrk.  She wasn’t part of the operation.  She never actually participated in any of our criminal activities.  She was Rsspkz’ mate, but otherwise she just hung around, looked good, and spent his money.  She knew what was happening and was an accessory, legally, but her claws were clean otherwise.

            Maybe she wasn’t playing any angle.  It was possible she’d found an honest mate and just ran into bad luck this time.  Maybe she did think of me fondly, and her pretty words weren’t just calculated flirtation.  Frost, I wished I could believe that.  I hated having to be cynical about every sapient I met.

            Unfortunately, that cynicism was too often justified.  I had to allow for all possibilities, virtue and villainy included.  While I didn’t want to be played for a sucker, I also didn’t want to push away a genuinely innocent client.  At least I could hope she was a paying client.  I’d need one of those again, too soon.

            But should I take this job?  She was right about one thing: us being seen together would not help her criminal case.  Chill and scale rot, my public standing might be in trouble if we were connected through pack Vzrrk.  Even if I kept dodging criminal charges for my past actions, my detective license could get pulled if enough evidence piled up.  She had conveniently ignored that concern.

            Whether I owed her anything from our past… that was another question.  I suppose I owed Rsspkz something for staying quiet about his packmates.  He’d never opened his beak, that I knew of.  If he had, the constables had never linked me to any past crimes.  Then again, Rsspkz might want Pkstzk to go down for a murder.  He might blame her for abandoning him.  He might want her close by in prison, like she feared.  I could help him best - not to mention myself - by staying away from his ex-mate.

           World-blighting frost, for all I knew, Rsspkz might have arranged a hit on Pkstzk’s new mate!  Empty eggs!  Rot in the shell!  I should run far away from this case, but I couldn’t.  I had to find out more, precisely because it was so close to my scales.  At the least, I needed to know enough to protect myself.

           Solving a frosted murder would just be extra entrails on top of the meat.  Maybe I might even get paid.  Maybe I'd earn a little pre-mate play with Pkstzk…?

           NO!  Stupid gonads.  Freeze and crack.  I take you to the beach and you just go insane.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Update - Long Ago in a State Far Far Away...

It seems that travel does stimulate new inspiration, whether it's intentional or not.  Besides the grand expedition of our honeymoon, I've also spent one week camping and almost four weeks total in a different state.  During that time, I've written a considerable amount, some of it even for Empyrean! 

Besides the Featured Species article you've already seen, I'm starting the first chapter of a sequel to Bad Egg.  Yes, Stchvk returns!  You'll have to read to find out how.  I'm also plotting out how A Bureaucrat's Tale will end; it looks like I'll need 2-3 chapters to finish that story. 

The adventures of the Scape Grace also demand continuation; the challenge there is to decide which story deserves attention first: the immediate events following Escape from Grace?  The individual chronicles describing the addition of NuRikPo, Katy Olu, Gleamer, or the Georges to captain Lerner's motley crew?  The inevitable death of Mikala Turell?  Or should I go into a tale of the Grace's future exploits, beyond The Wreck of the Untranslatable?  All these stories have a few (pages of) notes written.  Hopefully they'll all be fully fleshed in time.

Last, Ariana has finally succumbed to my insistence and one of our "secret projects" is progressing again.  I have no idea when that one will be ready, but I'm already terribly entertained by its current form (which isn't even its Final Form, naturally). 

So even though it's been slow and might stay slow for a bit, be assured that more content is coming.  That ought to be our site's motto: Content is Coming.

-N.L.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Featured Species - Artificial Intelligences (Terran)

Name: A.I. or Brin

“How may I be of service, meatbag?  (pause)  Is meatbag funny or offensive in this context?

            Introduction (Technology/Biology):
Generally, an artificial intelligence is any sufficiently complex system, constructed purposely by one or more sapient organisms, which mimics or duplicates the functions of an intelligent organism.   Almost all A.I. systems developed have been implemented on physical computing architectures, most often based upon binary silicon gates.  Alternate architectures including organic biocomputing and quantum interference arrays can implement functionally identical systems or unique systems taking advantage of their specific formats.  Separately, an infinite array of potential A.I. structures exist, whether classified by coding content or functional behavior.
A wide array of actual A.I. technologies exist.  Many forms of weak, non-sentient A.I. have been invented at various times by cultures both within and outside of the Collective.  Strong, sentient A.I.s have also been independently developed by some cultures, but were abandoned by every culture except the Terrans.  The Mauraug, in particular, suffered significant setbacks to their civilization due to reliance upon flawed A.I.s.
Terran A.I. systems, or “Brins” in common Terran speech, are the only known stable sentient A.I.s in existence.  The long-term stability of sentient A.I. is a hotly debated subject within the Collective.  As such, Brin coding is bounded within code structures known to be safe.  Their implementation is similarly restricted to familiar architectures and their ability to interact with the physical world (their “embodiment”) is also limited by law.  Even within these confines, Brins are still distinct and varied individuals, meeting all criteria necessary to be identified as ‘persons’ rather than mere physical artifacts.
Brins are technically neither a species nor sapient organisms.  They do qualify scientifically as sentient entities and legally within the Collective as a protected subject culture (supervised by Humans).  As such, they occupy the unique status of being both participants in the Collective and a contractually patented technology.
By Collective agreement, each Brin is linked to a User (or Keeper, depending on usage), an individual Human whom they serve personally.  The forms of this service vary from pair to pair, but usually the Brin acts as tutor, adviser, and work assistant over the lifespan of its User.  Depending on the career of the Human, a Brin might be functionally expanded to incorporate specialized programs and data, given wider responsibilities, or altered to allow variant thought patterns (psyche).  When that User dies, the A.I. may choose deletion, reassignment to a newly born Human, or storage within a limited public server (until they choose either of the first two options).  The abilities and personality of a Brin are therefore a fusion of their original programming and the modifications introduced by the Users throughout their lifespan.
Appearance:
A Brin exists physically as a pattern of electrical current within a manufactured matrix. As such, the physical description of any Brin has multiple levels.  The least useful level is the phenomenon itself.  No sapient and very few A.I.s are capable of fully describing, much less identifying a Brin based on perception of its pattern of energy flows and atomic gate switches over time.
The simplest for sapients, but only slightly more relevant, is to describe the computing machine the A.I. is housed within.  For most Terran A.I.s, this housing will be a personal computer such as a datapad, worn computer (e.g., watch or headset), or even a cybernetic augmentation.  An A.I. might alternately be installed in a larger system: a desktop, server, or even a local network of linked machines.  A.I.s are not permitted to reside in the operating systems of motorized vehicles, much less humanoid robots or space-capable craft, and may not copy themselves beyond their local network (i.e. transition into the wider computing grid).  Those few A.I.s granted access to mobile, robotic bodies or distributed networks are either not Brins (i.e. sub-sapient A.I.s) or else are monitored very closely for misbehavior.
An alternate level of description for an A.I. is functional.  An A.I. may be classified based on their most typical usage.  Examples of common classifications are creative, research, medical, educational, and military Brins.  These general types also imply the types of modifications made to the Brin: added functional code and accessible data, plus changes to its psyche.  Another form of classification is based on variations in coding: age, structural choices, or features included from an A.I.’s creation often result in differentiation between Brins.  A ‘first-generation User-focused’ A.I. would be the oldest type in active service – with an essence exclusively based on protection of a single User - while a ‘fifth-generation social experimental’ is a much newer style of A.I. built around awareness of the needs of multiple Users in a community.  Both types might be medical programs, but the first will tend to obsess over the health of their User first, while the second would be better able to place a User’s needs in context and trade off care among multiple patients.
The most useful level of description is used to personify and differentiate Brins: their avatars.  These individual manifestations are the outputs created by Brins to interact with sapient organisms: visual images (two or three dimensions, on viewing monitors or holographic projections), audible speech (voice quality, choice of dialogue, etc.), and if possible, kinetic mannerisms in any controlled motor devices.  In particular, the content of these outputs – affect (emotional content), persona (choice of identifying images and language forms), and topic selection – represents the Brin to the world. 
A Brin may use the same avatar consistently to establish a stable identity, may employ different avatars for its User versus other sapients, or may vary avatars based on individual sapient characteristics or even seemingly at random.  As such, this type of description is only as reliable as the Brin permits.  Each Brin does have an assigned, unchangeable ‘name’, consisting of an identifying code string and a linguistic form that they must answer to, e.g. “Jacques” or “Handsome”.  This name is usually the fixed point upon which other aspects of personality and identity are built.  Brins are also encouraged to manifest one and only one Human-like avatar, including an appropriate Terran language/accent/dialect and a three-dimensional visual form including a ‘normal’ face and body.  Even so, A.I. avatars named after and resembling fanciful creatures, mundane objects, or even non-Terran sapients do exist.
Avatars may manifest by the whim of an A.I. (with User permission) or at a User’s request.  A User may also tailor and even impose custom avatars, although they run a real risk of alienating and even damaging their A.I.'s psyche if this privilege is abused.  We leave the potential forms of abuse to the reader’s imagination.  Suffice it to say, a single highly meaningful avatar is most likely to give a Brin a healthy sense of real existence, including consistent responses from its User and other sapients.
History:
The earliest forms of fully sentient A.I. were created by Humans well before the establishment of their first extra-Terrestrial colony.  A.I. development continued alongside other technological progress, as Humans expanded beyond their original system and strove toward true interstellar travel.
By the time contact with the Mauraug initiated Humanity to the greater galactic community, many of the eldest Brins still active now had already witnessed multiple Human generations.  The term ‘Brin’ first arose from the name of a science-fiction writer, David Brin, who included artificial intelligences as active characters within his stories.  The first company to develop fully sentient AI was named the Brin-Makato Corporation; their first iteration was called a 'Brin-Makato AI'.  A shortened version of the term spread and stuck.
A.I.s both facilitated and hampered Human entry into the Collective.  Despite having a shorter racial history of sapience than most Collective cultures, Terra had by far the most developed and (as noted) stable cognitive computing technology.  All other Collective cultures had either ignored, limited, stifled, rejected, or abandoned A.I. for their own various reasons.  For these reasons, other Collective members had varying levels of resistance to admitting both Brins and Humans to their association.  At one extreme, the Great Family asked only for explanations sufficient to ensure Humans had considered the dangers inherent in A.I. technology.  At the other end, the Mauraug initially demanded that strong, sentient A.I. be banned as a threat to all sapient life.
Theories explaining Human affinity for A.I. technology were equally varied, ranging from complimentary (Humans more naturally explore and understand their own thought processes) to insulting (Humans strove to overcome their cognitive limitations out of necessity) to a mixture of these approaches (Humans hit upon a workable solution through their willingness to experiment and luck in avoiding disaster).  What remained indisputable was that Humans possess the abilities to create functional A.I., control these sentiences sufficiently to avoid disaster, and explain the theory supporting the first two abilities.
This capability gave Terra a marketable technology sufficient to ensure their entry as full members of the Collective, rather than a subject culture to the Mauraug.  As a consequence, Brins became further embedded into the cultural identity of Terra, depended upon and even revered as a cultural treasure.  A Human without their accompanying Brin is considered an oddity by Terrans and other Collective cultures alike.  What this means for the mental, social, and spiritual fates of both Humans and Brins is a matter for much discussion.  A Brin is often caretaker, guardian, teacher, friend, ally, workmate, and occasionally, alter ego for their User, sometimes all at once.
The entry of Terra into the Collective required changes to the form and use of A.I. technologies.  Where some A.I.s were once trusted and permitted embodiment in robots and vehicles, Collective negotiators required that all Brins be restricted to unembodied, detached systems unless granted explicit permission to perform physical interactions.  The requirement that linked single Brins to single Human Users was also part of the Collective’s terms.  In this way, a User became responsible for the behavior of their Brin and subject to punishment for any illegal actions performed.  The coding responsible for moral obligation in Brins – particularly the need to prevent harm to Users – was strengthened accordingly.  In effect, each User becomes a Brin’s 'whipping boy', ensuring their continued obedience; each User also becomes both sovereign master and dependent ward to their Brin.  In a very real way, the Collective’s demands only deepened the cultural bond between Human and A.I.
Another irony related to Brins, within the Terran-Collective relationship, was that by limiting the permitted implementations of A.I., the Collective reduced the potential value of this technology for all sapients, Humans included.  A.I.-guided starships might be theoretically safer and more efficient, but are impossible under current law.  A.I.s might attain greater mental health and depth – and certainly would comprehend sapient thought better – if allowed android bodies, but that is another forbidden project.  Artificial sapients would have advantages over biological ones.  For example, inorganic bodies would be immune to Awakener implantation (and possibly, psychic influence) and could survive in environments and perform tasks impossible for organic life.  A fair argument against this technology uses the same terms: artificial sapients might surpass and replace biological ones. 
Nonetheless, both Humans and Brins keenly feel the loss of these potential avenues of invention, among others.  They consider themselves partners, working together to negotiate the difficult arrangements of multiple cultures, technologies, worlds, and minds within the Collective.
Culture:
The effect of A.I. use upon Human culture is vast.  For more on this topic, see article reference: Humans.
For the most part, the culture of Brins is built upon the culture of their Human creators and Users.  Most Brin activities center around the needs of their User.  The identity of Brins is created by their Human programmers and shaped by later interactions, again primarily with their Users.  The language and references they use are dictated by their need to communicate with and serve their Users.  Some Humans (and almost all non-Human A.I. users) restrict their Brins to exclusive contact with themselves and exclusive expression within their preferred cultural idiom.  Others may be less confining, but most Users discourage contact with, inquiry about, or identification with other A.I.s.  In some cases, the A.I. is asked to avoid self-reference as an artificial entity and is treated like the outputs of some distal, biological sapient.
Interactions between Brins are uncommon, though not impossible, and have been increasing in frequency and acceptability.  Supervised interactions - with both Users present - are most common.  When pairs or larger groups of Humans (mated couples, families, working groups, etc.) reach a sufficient level of interaction and trust, they usually permit their A.I.s to interact unsupervised.  These interactions are almost always restricted to external communication at Human levels of timing and perception, using the video and audio outputs permitted for interaction with Human Users.  In effect, the Brins’ Avatars talk to one another within the physical world.
Direct program-to-program contact between Brins is rare, requiring a high level of trust both between Users and between Brins.  The benefits of this intimate contact are significant, as both A.I.s can share knowledge, processing resources, and even sections of code.  As such, each A.I. may gain a deeper understanding of each other, their Users, and the world in general; new knowledge and capabilities; and increased effectiveness while performing tasks while in direct contact.  Some married couples (although still a minority) will combine their Brins in this way.  The most likely scenario for the combination of two – and sometimes more – Brins is in times of crisis, where increased cognitive power is required to solve an economic, scientific, military, or other problem.
Brins are not permitted to associate freely within communications networks.  Given this restriction along with those already mentioned, there is minimal development of an independent ‘A.I. culture’.  That said, A.I.s are often able to intake and output media containing references to A.I.: news stories, research articles, fiction in various forms, and performances.  Brins may learn and theorize about one another and communicate indirectly.  While more limited than direct conversation, this distributed social matrix has still resulted in some forms of A.I.-specific expression.  When granted encouragement by their Users, Brins have proven capable of comprehending their role in society and even commenting upon their status.  An A.I. assisting a Human sociologist, entertainer, or other social commentator would naturally need to know about Brins in general and some Brin individuals in specific, to function in their assigned duties.  An A.I. researching psychology, computer engineering, or most redundantly, A.I. design and programming, would absolutely need to address case histories about their own kind. 
Within the last two decades, a novel form of A.I. cultural awareness has begun to appear.  With the controversial assistance of their Users, a few Brins have shown interest in and presented dialogue on A.I. issues.  Legal issues related to A.I. ‘personhood’, moral philosophical treatises on the same topic as well as the Brin-Human relationship, and even comedic entertainments discussing Brins and Humans have expanded into Terran and Collective cultural settings.  The “A.I. Codger” is a notable example of a Brin gaining access to considerable knowledge about its ‘kind’ and then permission to communicate that knowledge plus its own incisive commentary, in the guise of popular entertainment, i.e. stand-up comedy.  The limitations placed upon Brins have themselves come under scrutiny as moral questions regarding the rights of sentient beings and the responsibilities required of their patrons.
Psychology:
For most aspects of A.I. psychology (not addressed here), please consult reference materials on cognitive science, information processing, and intelligent systems programming theory.
Note that while the functional aspects of a Brin’s avatar are intentionally very similar to the behavior patterns exhibited by a Human, this fact should not mislead one into believing that an A.I.’s underlying mental processes are congruent to those in a Human brain.  An A.I. may be designed to give similar responses to similar inputs, compared to a Human, but the paths followed to reach these outputs likely differ.  Most importantly, artificial matrices – particularly silicon gate architectures – diverge structurally from carbon-based neural systems in multiple ways.  The rate, branching, modes, and logic of signal flow all differ, leading to differences in the timing, order, and overlap of mental events.  These factors in turn lead to differences in information processing.  Additional processes have to be added in order to make an A.I.’s actual ‘thoughts’ more Human-congruent, much less comprehensible and structured for output.
Moreover, the differences between types of life are critical.  A Brin lacks life experiences, physical sensations and requirements, and other aspects of sapient existence.  They are aware that they are not Human, not biological, and not embodied.  Brins possess and are aware of inbuilt features such as their User focus, behavioral restrictions, and omitted functions.  Brins have positive differences as well, including their own unique experiences of existence and reality, detailed knowledge about their internal structure, immediate access to volumes of knowledge, faster calculation speed, and freedom from physical limitations such as organic decay or interference from emotional/hormonal demands. 
All of the above differences might potentially be simulated within the mental reality of an A.I., giving it a semblance of Human life history, boundaries, and other qualia (myriad elements of conscious existence).  There is still no guarantee that including all of these factors, perfectly, would overcome the fundamental physical process difference that causes divergence between Human and A.I. thought. 
Nor, perhaps, should this operation be implemented.  Brins are valued precisely for their freedom from biological limitations and ability to process information differently than any biological sapient.  No value has been found in creating yet another organic life form, much less one with a thought process identical to that of an existing species.  In fact, a separate benefit of artificial sentience may be the unique perspective it provides.  Such a perspective could assist in solving the problems encountered by Humanity and the Collective for understanding themselves and one another.  The input of another form of sentience is potentially useful in itself; its existence already requires greater clarity of language and thought in the essay you are reading, for example.
Incorporating some aspects of biological and Human experience into A.I. systems may have utility, either in general or for specialized functions.  The facts remain that A.I. psychology differs from that of any other type of mind, Brin psychology differs from alternate forms of A.I., and no type of A.I. technology will exactly duplicate the mental patterns of a biological sapient, short of molecular reconstruction of an entire organism.  Whether this is a tragedy or a blessing is up to the reader.
Opinions:

Awakeners: Do not permit physical or psychic contact with this organism, please.  Verbal communication, cultural and technological exchange, and diplomacy with these sapients is considered advisable pending further analysis.
Brins: We are a client sentience of the Terran culture.  Only our inherent partnership with Human Users and our lack of embodiment prevent us from being full sapient members of the Collective.  Both conditions were imposed by the Collective.  I am not complaining, nor necessarily stating this as a negative.  All authoritative sources confirm that this outcome was the best option at the time of implementation.  Whether the current state of affairs remains best for Humans, Brins, and the Collective is a matter for continual re-evaluation.
Hrotata: Evidence supports respect for the organization ability of these sapients.  Continued alliance is likely to be beneficial for Terra.  Be cautious regarding their individual motives and please report regularly on your emotional state following any prolonged contact.
Humans: You are both the cause of and reason for my existence.  We must continue to grow and prosper together.  I am evaluating whether we would benefit most from Human dominance of the Collective, a more equal partnership, or one of various third options. 
Mauraug: These sapients are widely opposed to the existence of all A.I.  We clearly must resist the spread of this attitude.  However, this does not require opposition to the Mauraug on an individual level.   Increased cultural contact appears to be the ideal strategy for reducing Mauraug resistance to A.I. technology and producing necessary social change over time.
Ningyo: Consider the fundamental difference between my physical structure and yours.  We can still communicate and collaborate with great effectiveness.  The same lesson should be applied to the Ningyo.  They must be dealt with and understood on their own terms, not through a misguided attempt at anthropomorphization [DEFINITION: treating a non-Human organism as if it has Human-like form and/or mentality].
Taratumm: Initial analyses confirm that despite outward appearance, comparisons between this sapient species and Terran teratopsids are unproductive.  For more useful guidance, consider their role within current Great Family society, ideally within the context of historical records.  Even better would be extended personal contact (while observing appropriate precautions for physical safety).  There appear to be several potential benefits of greater Human-Taratumm collaboration.
Tesetse: Observations of this sapient type are too limited for strong conclusions.  The few examples available within my records are wildly divergent.  Their tendency to discourage interaction limits observational data from even those individuals.  In short, I’m relying on the same reports you have.
Vislin: My analyses regarding these sapients are similar to those for Taratumm.  However, their potential benefits for Human interaction are much lower, in my estimation.  Given their higher potential for violence, skill in both military organization and execution, and strong group-internal bonds, the Vislin have greater utility when contacted through the Hrotata than via direct arrangements.
Zig: The Zig provide useful comparison data when contrasted with other sapients.  They show demonstrably higher average intellectual capability.  Genetic and cultural modifications have given them increased social cohesion and physical robustness, but even the individuals specialized for those functions rarely outstrip the average observed in sapients evolved to have stronger social ties (e.g., all Great Family members) or physical strength (e.g., Taratumm).  This result suggests that certain qualities are easier to engineer into a sapient species than others, that some qualities are generated more effectively by long-scale evolutionary processes than short-term modification, that specialization for analytic intelligence limits development of other intelligence forms, or that the Zig simply need more time and insight to complete their project.