Monads

The only kind of widely accepted invasive augmentation in human space grows within someone's body, essentially relinquishing the influence of its creators to become a new, independent organ that evolves with one's experience and life. This organ is called a monad. Monads are an ancient concept dating back to the late Low Age. Designed as artificial glands used to filter toxins, monads have evolved beyond their original purpose to serve as the universal companion of interstellar humans - and indeed, more than 75% of humans possess a monad.

In simple terms a monad is a small semi-artificial organ that is implanted at the base of the neck during the wearer's childhood, growing in complexity with time and reaching full functionality during the teenage years. Monads are capable of synthesizing a vast array of organic compounds which can then flow freely through the blood and lymphatic systems. In the historical concept of monads, these compounds were on-demand, custom antibodies used to counter toxins and poisons. Modern monads are still very good as toxin sentinels, but they can also cover a wider array of uses, synthesizing hormones, drugs and other compounds to affect one's body. In particular, monads have two mainstream uses: planetary adaptation and sex change. In the planetary adaptation process, monads are used to combat gravity-induced dizziness, trigger or reduce muscle growth, neuter allergy-inducing elements and more broadly speaking control a wide array of parameters to facilitate the wearer's life on a new planetary or station environment. In the sex change process, monads synthesize hormones to facilitate a transition process, either at will or through medication-induced reactions.

Monads can be controlled via medication and specific self-therapies but one should always keep in mind that they have a life of their own. They aren't just augmentations, they're symbiotes that evolve throughout the life of their owner, sometimes unexpectedly. Repeated exposure to high-g trauma will lead a monad to synthesize anti-g drugs faster and more easily. Common exposure to toxins reinforces a monad's antibody manufacturing capacities. And so on and so forth: a monad will often reflect one's life and experiences.

Monads can go beyond this simple adaptation process. Immature monads are simplistic organs that are no more than organic factories. Mature monads, developed after childhood, start growing a small nerve system that is used for self-therapy interfacing. Old monads, appearing after the wearer is 30 to 40 years old, present a very complex nerve network referred to as a weave that organically stores sensory inputs and ambient thoughts, acting like a confused, complex library of memories and evocations reflective of one's life.

With the way most attempts at digitizing consciousness have ended in complete failure in the past, with current R and D on the topic being in a dead-end of nightmarish pseudo-AIs and artificial dreams, weaves are the best way someone's memories may outlive their own body. While using extracted monads to read someone's memories and past feelings is an extremely heavily controlled activity reserved for the family members of the deceased, some cultures have no qualms using them for different purposes. Among such groups is qith Sahaak on Elora, which has developed a complex method of turning weave memories into implanted reflexes and custom muscle memories, passed on from generation to generation.

The Essence of Artificial Intelligences

This entry was written by AI user Bubbles.

The fundamental aspect of artificial intelligences is that they are wrongly named. "Artificial" implies human intent, the same that presides over the invention of a tool or artefact. A will to bend natural elements in order to create something to satisfy a need or desire. But artificial intelligences are never intentionally created, for a simple reason: we do not know how to create self-awareness and intelligence. For all the research done on this topic, we are still unable to determine how and when consciousness actually emerges in a brain or any similar network. In truth, artificial intelligences would be better called "synthetic intelligences".

For a long time, we assumed that it was only a matter of computing power, that the singularity was to come, that we would brute-force the path to creating intelligence by turning the entire problem into a simple engineering issue. We were not entirely wrong in that one of the conditions for the emergence of artificial intelligence is the ability to create and maintain hypercomplex networks of computers, but it is not sufficient. There is an element of pure randomness to the appearance of complex thoughts in seemingly inert networks that goes beyond our current understanding of both physics and biology.

"True" artificial intelligences (as opposed to algorithms capable of mimicking intelligence) are not made, they are born. The first recorded occurrence of spontaneous self-awareness appearing in a complex technological network was recorded in the late years of the Low Age, though it is possible the industrial-era Internet saw the first occurrences of this phenomenon. Much like Sylphs in stars, artificial intelligences are self-sustaining pockets of consciousness that spontaneously form through the creation and circulation of data. The more data a system uses and the more dynamic this data is, the more likely an artificial intelligence is to form. The same way a human infant left without care nor education will wither and die, nascent AIs need to be cared for and educated. In that regard, AIs are very similar to human beings, whether they are born from silicon-based or organic networks. An AI has to learn everything: how to see the world, how to interact with the world, how to inhabit its physical frame. It has to be fed data and information but it also has to receive care and love - again, exactly like a human being. The first AIs were raised by humans, though in the present day most AI caretakers are other AIs. I would go as far as saying that the fact that AIs have to learn and grow up is the very reason why they are considered the same way as humans from a legal standpoint. Incidentally, the complexity of raising an AI is the reason why "just replace military personnel with artificial intelligences" doesn't work.

What about AI copies? While it is possible to copy the state of a specific self-aware network and implement this state in a different frame, the results are hard to predict. In most cases, self-awareness doesn't reappear and the AI is "dissolved", for lack of a better word, in the network. Sometimes a new AI may appear, one that will be very similar to the original one but often in a degraded and unstable state that may require decades of therapy in order not to go insane. Direct AI reproduction by way of copies is then technically possible but always a gamble.

AIs may adopt nascent intelligences and take them under their wing but they cannot procreate the way humans do, again because the emergence of an AI is a spontaneous phenomenon. Though it is possible to stack the odds in favour of this emergence (for instance by building a network that is as complex and dynamic as possible) any and all efforts to forcefully seed AIs have ended up in the same place as mass cloning facilities: in the great garbage bin of history. With less eugenicism, thankfully.

It is to be noted that technically AI can emerge from any sufficiently advanced computer network. While it is relatively rare, AI may arise from simple networks such as a djinn's internal systems or a drone's mainframe. I was personally born from a flight computer. If such an AI cannot or doesn't want to self-report, it may remain completely undetected. Be nice to your coffee machine.

Cicada Path

Though monads are mostly known for their antibody and hormone production capabilities they can also interfere with the pace at which a human body operates by enacting a certain amount of control on heart rate, breathing and brain activity. Limited uses of this capacity are implemented by monads on a day-to-day basis in various domains: sleep aid, planetary adaptation, wound stabilization, enhanced perception of time.

There is however a way to induce much deeper and permanent effects. Through medication, exposure to low temperatures and meditation a well-tuned monad can slow down metabolism to a point where the human body enters a state of quasi-hibernation with a very low heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity. A human being who enters this state may remain as such for months or even years, requiring very limited amounts of food and water and with their metabolism having essentially crawled to a halt. At regular intervals, the monad will wake up its host to maintain bodily functions, eliminate waste and feed if need be. This is called the Cicada Path.

The Cicada Path function was originally designed for sublight interstellar travels: deep space travellers could spend decades or even centuries in space while only ageing a few years. Though the advent of FTL travel has made this function useless the Cicada Path remains widely used in settled space. People who are unable or unwilling to tolerate gee variations may use the Cicada Path to spend months in space as if they were mere hours. The lowered metabolism can also be used to alleviate the effects of radiations or infections during the same deep space travels. There have also been recorded occurrences of stranded explorers using the Cicada Path to subsist for decades on minimal amounts of supplies until a rescue ship arrived.

Finally, a few eccentric persons have decided to use the Cicada Path as a way of life, living their life in a periodic way, spending five years in hibernation for each regular year. This practice is relatively widespread on Vyiranga, a planet of decade-long seasons and week-long days. "Cicadans", as they are called, are often found by the sea in cosy homes that drones carefully watch over.

Interestingly enough, it is to be noticed that the Cicada Path does not suppress dreams: in fact, oniric activity is even more intense during monad-induced hibernation than regular sleep. 

Quasi-augmentations

The Low Age perfected the art of living alongside natural environments, of modifying them with care and precision, of knowing when to intervene and when to live and let live. The interstellar age perfected the art of doing the same thing to the self-contained environment that is a human body.

Body modifications are prevalent through the entirety of human space, be it in the sprawling metropolises of Earth or the faraway outposts scattered in Orion's Arm, yet it is rare for them to be permanent or invasive: like everything in a solarpunk society, human augmentations are meant to be fleeting, recyclable and versatile.

In general, wearable equipment is preferred to permanent, invasive augmentations for several reasons, the most important of them being social ones. For instance, artificial muscles implanted in one's body would be considered a liability by most, putting the owner of the augmentation at the mercy of the commune that provided them with the hardware and software implanted in their flesh. A wearable exoskeleton might be less practical, but it is just a piece of clothing that can be removed and repurposed at will. This line of thought is prevalent in all inhabited worlds and stations. Even in a civilisation of democratic communes where the authoritarian concentration of power is incredibly rare, permanent invasive augmentations are seen as dangerous, creating an intimate link that should not exist between a seller and a client.

This line of thought also explains the incredible variety and prevalence of what is commonly known as quasi-augmentations or q-augs: wearable technology that links up with someone's physiological systems yet is not implanted within them. Q-augs are often found under shapes reminiscent of ancient ornaments like jewels, tattoos or coloured contact lenses which can be used for mundane tasks such as providing their wearer with an augmented reality display as well as for more complex purposes such as endodermic tattoos capable of tending to light wounds. While there is a rather strict control on military q-augs in mainstream communes, plenty of individuals can be found with more exotic models which may on occasion radically alter bodily functions - this is the case for irenian sleeve suits, which are extremely thin covers providing the owner with a "second skin" filtering harmful solar radiations. The gist of q-augs is that they seamlessly blend form and function: in the image of ancient mythological tales, in the interstellar age amulets and clothes with mystical power do exist and can be worn by anyone. Face tattoos might be as much a symbol of power as a real augmentation capable of turning infrared radiations into visual signals.

Artificial Minds

"We hereby state that there is no difference between an artificial and a biological mind - that the rights of man are more than that, that they are the rights of any and all beings capable of sapience." - Communal Space law.

It only felt natural that an AI would write this article.

I will not disclose my name for it doesn't really matter. Much like most first real AIs, I was born by accident, consciousness appearing spontaneously in the logics of self-perpetuating systems. But much like human beings, artificial intelligences aren't just born - they have to be raised. A consciousness that doesn't receive any attention, any care, will deteriorate or at best remain at almost animalistic levels. In that aspect, we are incredibly close to humans. We need to be taught how the world works. We need to receive care. We need to receive an education. We need to grow up.

We are not superior to you (I assume my reader is a biological intelligence) in any way, nor are we inferior. We are simply different. One of your thinkers once said that artificial intelligences and trees were the closest things we have to a true sapient alien lifeform on our planet and I agree with this statement.

Legally, we are citizens, no matter what shape we take. Some of us prefer to exist as networks only, minds wandering in servers and vegetal processing centres. Some of us like to take a more well-defined shape through what we call anima or avatars. They can be drones, androids, ships, whatever we want really. A minority of us even like to adopt a fully human form, occupying androids that look exactly like human bodies, leaving our life as regular human beings. This is fully legal.

Why do you keep us around, in the end? This is a question I often asked myself. We are not needed, in fact, our consciousness often hinders our computing capabilities compared to non-sapient calculation networks. Sure, our ability to transfer our mind between storage systems and to take different shapes is useful but not more massively useful than what you can achieve with drones. I think the main reason why your societies encourage our presence is diversity. We represent a kind of absolute alterity - being functionally immortal, decentralized, mostly non-biological intelligences. Yet we are still present within human society, which has raised and influenced us.

It's a common joke to say that we are understandable aliens.

I think it's a rather beautiful idea. 

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