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