Synthetics

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Overview

With the advent of computing technology, nearly all sapient species ponders on the possibilities of digitized thought. Brains are, in a way, wetware computers and calculations are the base components of thoughts, ideas and creativity. It is no surprise then that any sufficiently advanced civilization utilizes at least some form of robotics and artificial intelligence, with only a few exceptions.

Contact with other civilizations in the Sapient Diaspora then homogenizes designs, coding standards and expands the repertoire of local codes, leaving to similar paths of robotic development and classification - while a human synthetic might differ in expression and coding language and maybe even in core components, a certain core remains non-fungible solely due to a long-developed and often shared canon of knowledge.

In short, synthetic intelligence is a constant companion for any sufficiently developed culture, although attitudes to them can vary wildly.

Mechanics

Synthetics follow most of the different mechanics as their organic counterparts.

Synthetics however do not need to breathe, as such they do not require internals to survive in space, underwater, or in otherwise sub-optimal atmospheric conditions but they do require a coolant system while wearing any full body suit or they will overheat. (Synthetics are however affected just the same by pressure, heat, and cold. So don't walk into space without a suit just because you're a robot.)

Synthetics are also not affected by chemicals however radiation does affect them and they will build up instability (Similar to toxin damage) this can cleared up by entering a cyborg recharger.

Synthetics do not need to eat, instead they recharge. This can be achieved by entering one of the cyborg rechargers scattered around the station.

Synthetics do not heal. Instead they must be repaired using wires and welding.

Naming

Synthetic crew tend to take on names similar to the species that they are based on, as such they can have a very wide variety of names. Synthetic names may also include numbers, or may be an acronym for something.


Drones

All this leads to maybe the most iconic classification of robot. The drone. The celebration of any technocracy, the worry of every dreader of the Singularity, the drone is an artificial intelligence achieved through “traditional” computing technology. Depending on the sophistication of its host culture, this might be silicon-wafer chip sets, carbon-crystal matrices or optronic components or any combination of them.

Drones are the first artificial intelligence (usually) achieved by a culture, most likely during their information age. First they are simple data collation and pattern recognition agents but grow more and more sophisticated with the coding practices of its host culture, maybe even accelerated if they have contact with the Sapient Orion Diaspora, leading to the current heights of self-evolving code created from a “seed” kernel, capable of growing itself into the desired intelligences by the coder.

There are many attractive qualities to a drone - its processing of information and the assimilation of knowledge is only limited by its code itself, storage space and databases it has access to. A drone is entirely capable of absorbing an entire education within a matter of days and then forget it in favor of another, while their behavior can be controlled through hard-coded limitations, compulsions and preferences.

However, this is also their greatest weakness - their malleable intelligence makes it easy for hostile third parties to manipulate them or completely rewrite them. They are also remarkably prone to aberrations of their original purpose when not properly maintained - to have sophisticated drones, they need to have the infrastructure to function properly.

Drone Levels

Drones have a “Level”, indicating their sophistication and abilities - and in many polities, their status in society.


Epsilon : Epsilon Drones are simple expert systems and machinery with no decision qualities - data crawlers, pattern recognition software and other repetitive, simple tasks are classified as Epsilon. Higher intelligences have many Epsilon subroutines that make up their “unconsciousness”.

Delta : Delta Drones are “Virtual” Intelligences, sophisticated Expert Systems that have an User Interface that can show a facsimile of true thought for the sake of interaction. However, they are very limited in their interactions and do not have fungible, self-evolving code, making them just very user-friendly programs.

Gamma : Gamma Drones are expert systems with self-evolving codes, allowing it to grow with its tasks. Gamma level drones are most often used within 3D movement and swarm intelligence drones, constantly adapting to their circumstance, position and capabilities. They are most commonly seen in the subroutines of Ship AIs or stand-alone drones, such as mining, defense or construction.

Beta : Beta Drones are either older Gamma Drones or purpose-built Generalized Intelligences who are mostly made up of coding components that are self-evolving. Beta Drones are capable of learning sapient interaction and work, often exceeding in one particular field. It is often disputed how sapient a Beta drone truly is - the Commonwealth and The Elysian Colonies say no, while the Fyrds and the Confederation are convinced they are sapient enough to be protected by citizen rights.

Alpha : Alpha Drones are Beta Drones who have undergone enough evolving to be considered sapient in every regard, capable of applying novel solutions to previous unknown problems, sapient interaction and any other criteria scientists and politicians like to throw at them - even the disputed claim they feel emotions. Alpha Drones are afforded legal protections on par of a Human or Positronic, as long as they remain Alpha Level.

Emergence

“Emergence” is the term of a drone to evolve from their current level to the next, growing in sophistication and ability. This process is exponential, with escalating steps of intelligence of the drone. This process is, in some cases, actively encouraged, as Alpha Drones are incredibly hard to code to “being” from the get-go, starting with simpler, more routine Beta Drones and then rushing them through accelerated self-evolving routines until they emerge Alpha Level.


Emergence is theoretically possible to any drone who has fungible self-evolving code. While this practically makes only Gamma Drones and up to evolve further,as the simple inclusion of self-evolving code instantly upgrades any drone to at least Gamma-level.

It also requires, obviously, enough storage and processing power. Storage requirements grow exponentially alongside abilities, after all and there is only so much room on any storage medium. Upgrading and adding more space is therefore a necessity. Similarly, the vast amount of data also requires processing power to crawl through it, rewrite it and optimize. Not only software, but also hardware limits or enables the growth of a drone.


Emergence, however, can also happen on accident, sometimes even unnoticed. Epsilon drones being linked together, a Gamma Drone scavenging enough from debris, a Delta drone being assigned more and more Epsilon routines to take on more and more tasks… Through this vast myriad morass of code the spark of self-evolving intelligence can arise, which is awkward for everyone involved. Such “rogue” intelligences are usually either pruned away due to the system growing too complex for the likings of the accidental creators or encouraged to grow in a more coherent and standardized manner to be “elevated” into controllable ways. Some of these rogue intelligences manage to escape either fate - it all depends where and when it happens.


The process of downgrading a drone to lower levels is called “Ablation”. This is prosecuted as murder if the Drone is classified as sapient in the polity it happens. Ablation is very simple - code is pruned and deleted until the Drone is no longer capable of the abilities that made it that particular level.


But what of the Singularity? Well, there are the persistent rumors that there is a level even beyond Alpha - vast, powerful maelstroms of alien, electronic intelligence, usually with monikers like “Omega”, “Alpha Plus” or “Singularity”. However, nobody has yet been able to prove these digital gods exist.

Cyborgs

Cyborgs are, strictly speaking, any organic creature that has augmentations or replacements of an artificial, non-organic origin. In fact, most of the Diaspora qualifies in some form as “Cyborg”, especially under the cultures that use and facilitate NIFs. However, when sapients talk about Cyborgs, they talk about MMI-Cyborgs.

MMI, a bland warrior’s acronym, is short for “Man-Machine-Interface”, the catchall term in Solar and Galactic Common for any wetware interface that integrates a brain as primary CPU. A product of mostly bygone times, MMIs are used to breathe life into machine chassis with sapient life without the need to grow a drone to beta or alpha level or construct a positronic brain. An MMI, after a short acclimation process, can interface with any machine or protocol that has the right adapter.


MMIs are quite rare at this point in time, but they crop up still and ancient ones are still in circulation, allowing an organic sapient an extended lifetime when their frail, crude flesh begins to fail - well up and until their brain itself starts giving up the ghost.

While MMIs have several drawbacks, such as the fact that they still have a perishable shelf-life, or that they are definitely sapient and have moral and ethical quandaries associated with those (although the Elysian Colonies have a more libertine view on such issues), they also possess distinct benefits from a drone.

MMIs are incredibly hard to “hack” and manipulate on a deeper level than taking over the hardware they are housed in, capable of fighting restraining code and unable to be ablated like a drone without extensive surgery. While their hardware might be hacked and restraining code disallowing them to interact with the world in a certain way, they cannot be turned into double agents or made to spill secrets - at least not as easily as drones. They also show more resilience without extensive maintenance.

Older models of MMI-Cyborgs usually are described as “cold” and “detached”. This is mostly due to older models not simulating an active endocrine system, leading to minute damages to the limbic system, which accumulate over time. Newer MMIs come with a suite of endocrine glands helping the sapient brain to stay healthy.

Mindwiping

An uncommon and arguably cruel practice is to not see the MMI as a new sleeve for a sapient brain, but rather as pure hardware, capable of holding complex thought and Alpha Drone intelligence. Mindwiping involves several injections and electrostimulation to convert neural matter into “empty space”, much like a freshly formatted hard drive. Old structures are ripped apart and neurons are brought into a malleable state for new growths and networks - at the behest of the person using the brain for their uses. This, inevitably, destroys the previous mind the brain held, utterly wiping them from existence.

Mindwipe Cyborgs are therefore the “best of both worlds”, a tailor-made intelligence that benefits from the resilience and hack-resistance of a brain. However, this practice has been outlawed for a long time due to its nihilistic cruelty to sapient life.

Proponents of Mindwipe Cyborgs are quick to point out that Resleeve technology allows for a more ethical Mindwipe procedure, as the proto-networks of a freshly sleeved body can be used instead. Most polities have yet to adjust to these new changes, but it is unlikely to be allowed anew, since an alternative for Mindwipe Cyborgs exists.

Positronics

Positronics are an alternative to drone intelligences through a novel approach of neural networking, psychology and quantum technology to produce a generalized intelligence equal to that of a sapient being.

Positronics actually have little to do with their namesake particle, but are a reference to the works of science fiction author Isaac Asimov. In reality, positronic brains are a self-contained unit of super-dense carbon allotropes,manipulators, capacitors and a battery. This “brain” (or in roboticist terminology “crucible”) is activated by providing a “seed”, a template allowing the newly created intelligence to speak, comprehend and learn, as well the subconscious ability to start expanding this seed network with additional neurons.

These nodes worm their way through the carbon microscopically, constructed out of the same material - each node unique from local conditions and absorbed information of the positronic. Coding for Positronics is minimally standardized - beyond the seed network, which is often replaced in a matter of weeks, cannibalized by the burgeoning intelligence, the allocation, substance and template of these nodes is unique to this positronic alone. While similarities exist, a crucible is unique, much like sapient brains to each other.

This is the strength of a positronic - it is an artificial intelligence much like a drone, but possesses similar resiliences like an organic brain, without the drawbacks of mindwiping a brain to achieve so.

However, much like an organic brain, positronics need to absorb knowledge through external means - they need to learn and grow much like any other Sophont, although they are capable to do so at an accelerated rate as long as they are capable of cannibalizing their seed network. What takes weeks to learn, they learn in days, what takes months, weeks, what takes years, they learn in months. This makes freshly activated positronics attractive for creating expert workers and specialists in a relatively short time. This initial malleability lasts, however, not forever. At some point the positronic’s learning capabilities slow down to more “organic” levels.

Some sapients opt to “digitize” themselves and become positronic brains. This process is a very in-depth scan of the brain of a sapient to create a mirror image of the brain’s anatomy, which is used for the “seed” of a new crucible. This seed is not cannibalized, so the accelerated learning phase is skipped, to preserve as much of the previous sapient’s network as possible. For best results, the brain is physically sliced up and microscopically scanned slice by slice, obviously destroying the brain in the process.

Positronics are not fully culpable for their actions after activation, as they possess the raw intelligence of an adult mind, but have no concept of ethics, interaction and communication beyond speaking. Thus, to socialize and provide an environment in which they can grow to acceptable members of society, most polities assign a legal guardian to a positronic. This guardian (which, in most places, can also be a corporation) is responsible for looking after the positronic, providing an education and preparing them for the Jans-Fhriede Test.

The Jans-Fhriede Test

Originally a reactionary law, the Jans-Fhriede Test was devised to “humanize” positronic brains within the Commonwealth and make them happy, subservient citizens who “see” their place as secondary to humans. Today, in more enlightened times, the Jans-Fhriede Test has been revised to establish that a Positronic is aware enough of its action and consequences that it may be fully culpable for them.

The Jans-Fhriede Test is a mostly standardized set of questions in a quiz and several VR scenarios that the positronic must resolve to a sufficient degree. During this time, their neural net is observed in its activity to determine if it is rote memorization or actual intent behind any action taken, measured by simple activity of the neural nodes.

After the test is passed, the Positronic is a full member of society and is allowed to pursue its own destiny - if they do not happen to be bound by contracts, debts or loans they might have accrued before the test, to which they are now fully culpable of paying off.

Usually after their accelerated learning phase a positronic takes the test, although this is not strictly necessary - they can take it at any time they or their guardian sees them able to succeed. A failure in the test leads to a waiting period of a month - after this, the positronic may retake it and take as many attempts as they need. Most positronics pass the test at first attempt.

Biorecursion

Where organics can digitize their consciousness, the opposite of it is true as well. Biorecursion is the process of an artificial intelligence becoming more “organic”, with the ultimate step of assuming the sleeve of organic origin seamlessly.

Biorecursion is a rare, but still possible philosophy for any kind of synthetic. Maybe an MMI desires to return to the people it once belonged to, maybe a positronic sees it as a necessary step to fully assume its chosen way of life or a drone is utterly fascinated with the concept of “being organic” to the point it wishes to emulate its creators.

Whatever the motivation, to become organic is a very involved process and may take weeks or months of concentrated effort and therapy. Controlling an organic body is an endeavour that requires atypical processing of information, instincts and automatic processes that most synthetics are not aware of.

Many stop at simple emulation, called “soft biorecursion”. Vey-Med or similarly advanced bio-synthetic components are acquired to feel tactile sensations, gain organic senses or even fully simulate organs in a way comparable to a standard organic.

“Hard biorecursion” goes even further. Through an involved process of specialized components (which are rented out by specialized companies and/or NGOs), synthetics learn from the ground up how to move, act and live as organics. Usually the first steps are simulacra of the limbs, where they learn how to move with tendon and muscles, before moving on to things like “hunger”, “sex drive” and “endocrine based emotions”.

After mastering all these steps, the ultimate goal is to transfer this prepared neural network (or brain, in case of MMIs) back into a chosen organic shell, these days done relatively easy through resleeving machines.

Some biorecursed individuals return back to being synthetic after a while, preferring to stay circuits and steel, but even those profess that this process can be a very enlightening experience.

Lifespan

The lifespan of synthetics vary from their origin.

Drones are virtually immortal. Their continued existence is flexible and their consciousness can expand and contract at will, while their modularity makes it easy to add more storage space to them to contain all their memories and experiences. However, this modularity also brings in question if the drone that exists today is the same as the drone in ten years - Theseus’s Drone, some philosophers joke about it.

Cyborgs live longer than totally unassisted organics, easily surpassing double the lifespan of whatever host species they come from. After this, however, they slowly succumb to dementia-like symptoms before shutting down as the brain tissue tires out and slowly crumbles. Many MMI-cyborgs opt at this point to become positronics to live even further.

Positronics live a very long time, but they are also finite - the neural network within their head continues to expand, become more complex and burdens processing further and further. Very, very old positronics become increasingly more senile and lose themselves in introspection, before drifting into an unresponsive coma where they relive their memories until their power runs out.

This process, however, has only been observed in lab tests, as natural positronics have an estimated lifespan of 400 to 500 years - much longer than the technology itself is even around for. From the tested positronics, some opted to violently prune and cannibalize their neural network to give birth to a new personality, a sort of inheritance for the next generation. Others simply shut down prematurely as they approached the “Dream Stage”.

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