The Trigger Effect
|FreeRIDErs story universe|
- 1 The Trigger Effect: The Advent of True AI
- 1.1 Artificial "Intelligence"
- 1.2 Quantum Computing
- 1.3 Sarium Batteries
- 1.4 Hardlight
- 1.5 Nanotechnology
- 1.6 Intelligent Drive Extenders (Mechs)
- 1.7 AIDES
- 1.8 The Trigger: RIDEs
- 1.9 RIDE of the Valkyries: Nextus Military RIDE Development
- 1.10 All the Pieces
- 1.11 A Word on Integration
- 1.12 Conclusion
The Trigger Effect: The Advent of True AI
Source: Birkens, Fatima. (168 AL). New Family: A Retrospective. Sturmhaven: Sturmhaven Publishers.
It's impossible to downplay the quickening nanotech revolution. Keeping up with current events is the job of our RIs that have become more ubiquitous in the past decade or so. The recent passage of the RIDE Emancipation Act in seven major Polities and its formal recognition in the Planetary Advisory Assembly merits an examination of their origins. I'll start with something a TwenCen science historian, one Sir James Burke, once said.
- An invention acts rather like a trigger, because, once it's there, it changes the way things are, and that change stimulates the production of another invention, which in turn, causes change, and so on. Why those inventions happened, between 6,000 years ago and now, where they happened and when they happened, is a fascinating blend of accident, genius, craftsmanship, geography, religion, war, money, ambition... Above all, at some point, everybody is involved in the business of change, not just the so-called "great men." Given what they knew at the time, and a moderate amount of what's up here [pointing to head], I hope to show you that you or I could have done just what they did, or come close to it, because at no time did an invention come out of thin air into somebody's head, [snaps fingers] like that. You just had to put a number of bits and pieces, that were already there, together in the right way. (Burke, 1978) (Emphasis added)
Like James Burke and the "Connections" he made all those centuries ago, this book will trace the elements of the development of true AI since Landing. Now, the intent isn't to go back to the Agricultural Revolution and explore every possible "trigger". This book will address the tech that was available at the time the RIDEs were invented. As Burke says, all the bits and pieces were already there.
- Artificial "Intelligence"
- Quantum computing
- Sarium Batteries
- Nanotechnology-based medicine and manufacturing
- Intelligent Drive Extenders (or "mechs")
- Advanced Intelligent Drive Extenders (AIDES)
The Trigger Effect that combined all these things together into RIDEs was, ultimately, the metamaterial minerals (qubitite) in the Dry Ocean so well described by Dr. Roberto Martinez and his contemporaries almost eighty years ago. Though many of the pieces already existed in primitive form, it was the invention of sarium batteries in 112 that sparked a series of inventions and innovations that have dramatically reshaped our society and lifestyle, and are not finished yet.
Sometime in the mid-21st century, even with quantum computing, this field hit a wall through which it could not break through. There were two major areas that simply could not mesh due to now-overcome technological reasons. AIs who were intended to interact with humans on a day-to-day basis (ASIMO and its descendents), and so-called "expert systems" (such as Watson) as repositories of information for professionals to draw on. AIs could do one or the other very well, or both not well at all.
Even so, such technology was perhaps as smart as a dog, or at most a chimp, but never reached the human-level and beyond Singulatarians predicted it would. Often enough, the term "artificial stupidity" was far more accurate.
This was a mature technology by the time of Landing. Commercial production of qubits had long reached the point of market saturation and the top of the Moore's Law sigmoid curve, having reached their theoretical limits within a few decades after introduction. That said, despite loud declarations of "The Singularity is Near!" the predictions never quite panned out. Followers of Ray Kurzweil, Vernor Vinge, and Charles Stross long after their deaths were disappointed to say the least.
More than anything else, even the RIDEs themselves that came after, the vast quantum energy storage qubitite makes possible is what made the natural metamaterial go from curiosity to the "Q Rush". In 112 AL, surprising everyone, Uplift University Energy Lab published a research paper on how to process "Q" for energy storage by salting it with a common material used in batteries for centuries--lithium polymer. The "Reticulated Quantum Cells" in qubitite create a multiplicative effect by several orders of magnitude, apparently defying entropy at the same time. Modern physics attributes this to zero-point energy extraction.
(The tradename sarium comes from the ancient television show Star Trek and its "sarium kelluride" power cells.)
On the horizon, HISTORIC researchers have identified a third major use for Q in the form of the "sarium power amplifier". The multiplicative effect on qubits and lithium-polymer batteries is well known and well researched. By salting the qubitite with other elemental and chemical impurities other effects are observed. In this case, a major increase in power output out of very small generators. Currently this effect is limited by unknown inefficiencies. Only generators up to 1 kilowatt experience the power amplification effect of up to 1000x, depending on Q grade, after which diminishing returns rapidly sets in. Once these limitations are overcome, the possibilities are endless. This technology is not yet commercially available, but will be within the next few years.
Who knows what the future may bring?
Hardlight was one of the many technological advances made by our sister colonies, in this case Wednesday. This tiny colony six light years Earthward from us has in some respects an overall harsher environment. Necessity was the mother of invention. Conventional EM and physical shielding were not enough, for the planet they found waiting for them was much less hospitable than the original survey indicated. The Wednesday Landing Tragedy left the Colony with a massive surplus of energy and a minimum of physical supplies.
We hardly need to go into details about the story of Lars and Enid Bjornssen, the husband and wife scientists who made the actual breakthrough. The story of Lars’s heroic self-sacrifice, setting and hand-tuning the first prototype projectors at the height of a radiation storm, has been dramatized so many times in the last century that it is rare to find even a grade school student who has not heard of it.
Suffice it to say that, drawing on some of the same recent advances in quantum physics and high-energy plasma that made faster-than-light travel possible, they determined that it was possible under certain circumstances to make photons congeal and imitate solid matter through the application of surprisingly little power (relatively speaking—the hardlight dome that Lars Bjornssen died to erect was only about 3% as efficient as current technology, but they had the entire power output of a wrecked starship’s drive section to power it). This hardlight matter was solid to the quantum level—in short, it made an excellent radiation shield, and was responsible for keeping the colonists safe until a relief flight from Zharus could reach them.
(Hardlight or no, it was largely thanks to Zharus’s immediate assistance that the colony of Wednesday was able to survive at all. As a result, the two colonies have long enjoyed an especially close relationship. In gratitude for saving the colony, Enid Bjornssen provided Zharus with complete specifications of the hardlight process years before it reached the rest of the galaxy. Also, small numbers of RIDEs and possibly even an Integrated or two have traveled to Wednesday to visit the Lars Bjornssen Memorial Hardlight Institute and assist in its studies—the only exception to Zharus’s strict RIDEtech export policies.)
Materially speaking, the first hardlight construct was akin to a solid dome made of transparent cinderblock concrete. After the colony was on its feet, Enid Bjornssen carried on work on her and her husband’s new technology and discovered how to fine-tune the process to make the solid light imitate the properties of actual matter, as long as it did not lose power or contact with its projector. These imitation-material advances have been responsible for most of hardlight’s widespread popularity and adoption, but the importance of its anti-radiation properties cannot be understated either.
It was commonly held until the last couple of years that Nextus RIDEs did not have hardlight, due to the popular perception of hardlight as power-wasting. However, this is technically incorrect. The same technology that underlies the simulated fur on Uplift and modern Nextus RIDEs, in a simpler form, can be found in the inner workings of every RIDE—but for something far more important than mere cosmetic purposes.
Hardlight creates a quantum barrier not even raw qubitite dust can pass through, and since the technology has been around in one form or another since before RIDEs, it made sense the engineers of the first Fuser-mode units saw it as a way of giving the suits full environmental seals without making them any bulkier. By 122 AL the power requirements (again, thanks to qubitite) had dropped enough to make the technology far more practical.
Even so, the hardlight shielding within Nextus RIDEs was meant strictly for internal environment seal, and thus nearly invisible and utilizing much lower power consumption than the showy visible sort. Although the same technology underpinned both types, cosmetic hardlight required much larger and more power-intensive projectors, which Nextus manufacturers largely eschewed save to a limited extent in luxury models. In fact, the hardlight sealant projectors were usually formed into the housing of the standardized receptacles for sarium batteries and largely forgotten about.
Since most consumers (and even many RIDE mechanics) didn’t understand what they couldn’t see, “hardlight” in common usage came to refer only to the visible hardlight type—in which case the claim that Nextus RIDEs do not use hardlight (or did not prior to the hardlight explosion of the last couple of years; see below) becomes more understandable.
Although hardlight was known to protect against qubitite contamination as early as the 140s, when it entered common use to allow construction of permanent qubitite mining platforms in the heart of the desert, it did not enter common use to protect vehicles or IDEs against qubitite until the mid-160s. Its use in RIDEs was originally intended as a way to “cheat” and make the suits sealed environments without having to take up space in the small mecha with the more sturdy, less power-intensive permanent seals of traditional vehicles. The fact that this also provided protection against qubitite contamination was largely forgotten until the mid-160s improvement in hardlight efficiency led to its expanded use.
The "mere" cosmetic aspects of hardlight should not be downplayed either. RIs put into all-metal-skin bodies have a much higher instance of psychological problems than those upgraded to realistic appearances. Hardlight also allows high-precision simulation of flesh and fur, even transmitting sensation to the RI in the process. Even though the RIs know that they're "created beings", the physical sensations are critical to their long-term mental health--researchers attribute this to the neural map.
Indeed, now that hardlight is so cheap it's hard to find a single Nextus DE chassis without it.
The recent advances in hardlight power consumption have brought the potential for free-standing (or nearly free-standing) hardlight objects nearly within reach. Several technology firms are experimenting with “light bees”—tiny lifter-borne devices that project hardlight objects around themselves. Completely-hardlight vehicles powered by a projector core the size of a football may be only a couple of decades away.
Quantum computing created this industry in the sense that it allowed for the semi-autonomous tiny robots often depicted in science fiction. Worries about a "gray goo" scenario turned out to be just another inaccurate prediction. Up until the turn of the century (ours, 100 AL) nanobots could only survive in tightly controlled environments (like medical reconstruction tanks). Any exposure to air would cause them to disintegrate. Even after this limitation was overcome spray-on medical nanos could only work very slowly. They were good for stopping the bleeding, stabilizing severely injured patients, but there was just no way anyone could stand up and go home. No "medigun" fantasies here.
Similarly they were unable to compete with traditional micro-manufacturing. Consumer goods have long been created on the micro level by print-assembling sheets of various materials (usually carbon fiber-based products and graphene-based quantum computers). By the early 22nd century it wasn't unusual to print a car in a home fabbery, one part at a time, and put it together in the garage. After 100AL this process had gotten to the point where even fully assembled products could be "nano-motile", self-repairing damage, or even changing configuration from one set form to another by the advent of AIDES in 115 AL (see entry below).
As with so many things, the nature of nanotechnology on Zharus was changed by the discovery of sarium batteries in 112. Not only did sarium make possible extremely dense energy storage in vehicles, but it also allowed extremely dense energy storage in nanites, meaning they would have more “kick” and be able to do more quickly without heat dissipation issues.
For example, many citizens of Zharus would be shocked to know that the gender-change nanite treatment as it exists in most of the rest of the galaxy requires hours or days to do its work. The Fuser nanites that incorporate an improved version of those gender-treatment nanites are able to do their work in seconds or minutes because their sarium power cores let them store and release on the order of ten times the power ten times as fast as those without.
There are currently two general types of nanite in common use on Zharus. One is the “temporary” doser, whose nanites have a lifespan measured in hours, days, or at most one month. These nanites may have a limited reproductive ability with built-in destruct timers, or they may have no such ability at all and expire when the last one ceases operating. These are generally used for nonprescription purposes, such as antihistamines, tissue repair and rebuilding, or the popular “No Periods, Period” monthly anti-menstrual and birth control treatment.
The other is the self-sustaining nanite treatment, which is used for longer-term purposes. Fuser nanites are one such example, as a RIDE must sustain a constant level of these nanites at all times. Another is the anti-drug and anti-interrogation treatments applied to higher levels of government, military, and corporate command structures. These nanites reside in or around the subject’s body, drawing power from his or her metabolism to charge up their sarium cores.
Although ordinary Fuser nanites cease functioning in the human subject’s body within several seconds of the subject de-Fusing from his RIDE, some varieties of these nanites include components that continue to operate perpetually, providing ancillary benefits to their recipient. Examples include the extremely expensive bio-sculpt and cosmetic enhancement nanites some wealthy RIDE owners use, or the combat nanites used by military forces that enhance the subject’s reflexes and peripheral vision. As with the self-sustaining treatments, these nanites draw power from the subject’s metabolism. Depending on their abilities, they may require a significant increase in food intake in order for the subject not to lose weight while using them.
Visitors and immigrants to Zharus have often expressed astonishment at the widespread use of nanotechnology and its increased abilities over the varieties from their homes. As FTL speeds increase, Zharus sees an increasing number of “medical tourists,” especially among the gender dysphoric. Ironically, our nanites’ capabilities may be one factor in the Terran tendency to dismiss reports of advanced Zharus technology as mere “rumors from Proxima”—they “know” that what we are described as having is impossible, and therefore these stories must be exaggerations or complete fabrications.
In the interest of this remaining so, Zharusian nanotechnology is subject to the same stringent export controls as RIDEs and other Sarium-enabled technology. This may only work for so long, however. Technology like this cannot be restrained for long.
Intelligent Drive Extenders (Mechs)
For decades IDEs were standard military and civilian equipment. These humanoid-shaped robots have had many names in fiction before they even became a reality: Mecha, mechsuits, destroids, labors, battlemechs, powered armor.
The concept underwent the most development on Earth in the years immediately prior to and following Landing, thanks to the discovery of new materials and alloys that made lightweight, flexible powered armor and larger humanoid structures possible. (The same alloys also led to the construction of the ships that eventually colonized our world.)
After Landing, mecha development (and many other technological advances) took a back seat to survival during the first few decades of the colony. By the time we were able to turn our attention once more to developing our own technological base, the ever-faster-arriving ships from Earth were able to bring news of more recent advances (though still a number of years old by that point), as well as examples of available machinery.
The years 70-80 AL represent the last time that mecha development on Earth and Zharus were roughly equivalent. At this point, IDEs were mostly large, lumbering behemoths, averaging around six to eight meters tall, because that was the amount of space that was required for the tokamak-style power plants necessary to generate enough energy to drive the frames—no energy storage medium of the density of sarium was even imagined to be possible.
This was the time when the first serious expeditions into the Dry Ocean were running up against the limits of modern technology—even the latest and greatest mech suits were not much use in the Dry Ocean, which as a rough-and-tumble frontier was ironically the only place on Zharus where such firepower was even needed (and even then it was mainly only needed away from the towns where lower contamination made them feasible to use at all). The other major settlement area, Laurasia, was almost entirely peaceful with no insurgent forces or disputes for IDEs to be used in settling. Zharus also faced little threat of external invasion—it was too far away from the central colonies, and had little anyone deemed worth traveling so far to take. The few factories that had been established to manufacture IDEs on Zharus closed down or repurposed to make skimmers or other products.
By comparison, during this period IDEs were being used extensively in brushfire wars back on Earth, as the people who stayed behind on the overcrowded planet fought over what spaces were left to them, and in the closer colonies as the more choice of the arable continents were deemed worth a few weeks or months of travel to try to seize. With so much demand elsewhere and so little demand here, few off-planet IDEs made their way to Zharus after 85 AL, and those that did usually came as property of scouts, prospectors, or colonists who had acquired them elsewhere. (For example, scout-turned-prospector Clint Brubeck, founder of Brubeck Mining, possessed a highly-customized Earth-made mid-range infantry unit he called “Chauncey”.)
In the twenty years after that, IDEs came to be regarded on Zharus largely as curiosities and white elephants. A few made their way to museums, or were used as guards for military installations, but almost never was an IDE shot fired in anger until 115 AL, when the sarium batteries representing the first applications of qubitite technology for extremely dense energy storage caused Zharus manufacturers to dust off the IDE concept for their abortive experimentation with Advanced IDEs, or AIDEs (see AIDE section, below).
Although AIDEs were proven ineffective and mostly surpassed by RIDEs in the 120s, the IDE concept experienced a minor renaissance in RIDEs’ wake, as the surplus Nextus skimmer cycle pseudo-AIDEs left over from the early years of the war entered the civilian market and manufacturers realized they could use some of the same technology to make much smaller IDE vehicles that, if they still couldn’t be used in the Dry Ocean, were at least not so clumsy for operating in urban environments. Many of these were pitched as “competitors” to RIDEs--if you want a converting armor suit for around-town use that may not be so much use out in the desert but at least won’t talk back to you as much, buy an IDE.
The state of IDE technology remained pretty constant until the 160s. It partook of some of the same advances as RIDEs during that time—cheaper hardlight, more powerful batteries and weapons—but never had quite the market size of RIDEs. Meanwhile, scientists on Earth and the Inner Colonies were able to reduce the size of their tokamaks through some new materials discoveries of their own, and were able to cut the size of their IDEs in half—though they are still twice as large and half as power-efficient as Zharusian units, they can also carry more and heavier weapons (though the lesser power supply does act as a limiter to these weapons’ overall strength).
Recent Terran IDEs have even begun to use some hardlight weapons and shielding, though not to the extent of Zharusian units given the less-efficient version of the technology and power generation they possess; most of the Terran IDEs that do use it are limited to a melee weapon such as a sword and a buckler-style shield.
The most recent advance in IDEs has been the adoption of complete hardlight shielding, allowing IDEs to survive indefinitely in the desert—formerly the sole province of RIDEs. As a result, the lines between RIDEs and IDEs are beginning to blur somewhat. In particular, some manufacturers are looking at designing larger IDEs that are intended to be piloted by humans and RIDEs in Fuser form, and even considering the possibility of alternate RIDE Fuser forms that interface directly with IDEs rather than with humans.
(For example, a RIDE might be designed to reconfigure its body to align all its lifters into gaussian ring configurations, turning its entire power output toward an immense gauss cannon which could be wielded by a larger IDE. Or it might configure all of its hardlight emitters to project a single immense sword. The larger-sized IDE might even incorporate a tokamak of its own for recharging the RIDE’s sarium batteries in the field. The possibilities are endless.)
Many of these ideas are no further along than prototypes at this point, however, and it is too soon to tell which ones will succeed or fail.
Currently, Zharusian analysts estimate the state of Terran IDE technology to be 30 to 40 years behind Zharusian tech in most aspects. Ironically, many Terran analysts believe the exact same thing about Zharusian technology! They see the smaller size of Zharusian IDE and RIDE units as a disadvantage, assuming Zharus to have commensurate power technology to Terra’s own and hence be unable to pack very much power or firepower into such units. There have been some signs over the last few years that this perception may be changing, however.
One of few aspects where Terran technology has outpaced Zharusian is in its efficient tokamak fusion plant development—necessity being the mother of invention, and Terra having no access to energy storage as efficient as qubitite’s sarium. Having access to sarium themselves, Zharusian researchers have not continued further development on improved tokamak-style power plants. (Zharusian agents have attempted to obtain intact examples of the Terran technology for study, so far with very limited success.)
Zharusian sarium technology is good at storing energy, but its IDEs and RIDEs cannot generate that energy on their own. Terran mecha cannot carry or use as much stored energy at one time, but their tokamaks can go for months generating a constant energy level without requiring refueling. This could represent a significant advantage for Terra in a (hypothetical) protracted campaign.
In 115 AL, these mecha combined all of the technologies discussed so far, but were different from the RIs that succeeded them in some very significant ways.
The Advanced Intelligence (Ad-I) was grown without the benefit of the animal neural map template used in RIs, but instead with traditional Artificial Intelligence neural map methods using qubitite substrates for the first time. The results were initially very positive compared to existing graphene technology. Testing revealed the Ad-I could interact with humans and be an expert system, overcoming the previous limitations. However, unlike later modular RIDEs the Ad-I had to be programmed for a specific purpose.
Any task outside of this range was nigh impossible to complete. The Nextus Materiel Recovery VS-1 Shrike variable combat skimmer prototype utilized a separate Ad-I for each of three modes.
(The VM-1 Chinook and VM-3 Tornado transforming skimmer cycles Nextus fielded in the early part of the Sturmhaven-Nextus War only used the Ad-I for weapons targeting and sensory purposes (since the operators wore the Fuser form rather than piloting it), and were arguably only “true” AIDEs in the loosest sense of the definition. Even then, soldiers who used the mecha frequently had to target manually and do without sensors when the Ad-I “yellow-screened” on them.)
Unfortunately, like their AI predecessors, they were also very literalist when following orders and had no emotions to speak of. This led to their quick demise with the arrival of the RI during the Sturmhaven-Nextus War.
Aside: Nextus Polity Culture
To outsiders the residents of this Polity are often thought of as humorless, literal, dour, uncreative, boring, or any number of unflattering terms. In reality nothing is farther from the truth. Their recent wholesale adoption of hardlight on pretty much everything is a perfect example of how their culture works. It's the old punctuated equilibrium model of evolution, applied to an entire culture of almost fifty million. When that Trigger Effect hits, the entire Polity rapidly adapts to it and settles back into an extended "new normalcy". They have focused orgies (if you will) of creative expression instead of the steady-state of change most everyone does.
Just look at what happened after hardlight power efficiency increased by a factor of ten about two years ago (thanks to the study of Integrated folks by HISTORIC). It stopped being a "wasteful extravagance". It's on every building, every skimmer, every piece of clothing. The city turned from gray, colorless Kansas into the Emerald City almost overnight. This is the "creative orgy" stage, so things will settle down soon and won't be as garish in the near future. The whole of Zharus is stunned stupid. Their previous advances have been much quieter than this, but it's hard to ignore a gleaming, green hardlight spire a thousand meters tall in the middle of the city.
Since most people don't understand this, their passage of the RIDE Emancipation Act last year (167 AL) and the co-passage of the RIDE Reparations Act surprised everybody. Everyone thought Uplift would do it first. Naturally they would. But no, it was Nextus.
This latest societal "phase change" of theirs is just icing on the cake. The RIDE chassis market is as large as ever, but the RI personality cores are no longer included, nor can they be bought and sold. Instead there is now an adoption process, and two RIDEs can "give birth" by agreeing to create a new RI core out of their own neural maps, with the core provided by the Polity. Yes, our new friends can reproduce now--as part of the "biological" imperative imposed by their neural maps, if they so wish.
The Trigger: RIDEs
The Sturmhaven-Nextus War (118-123) was the first major and so far only resource war in Zharus history, before the treaties that formally made the Dry Ocean functionally neutral territory. Every polis had their own slice of the pie they claimed, based on their location on the Coastal Ring. All except for Uplift, who claimed neutrality and preferred to offer services to mining companies and individual prospectors, no matter what Polity.
In the course of the war, Dr. Lilavati Patil, a researcher at Nextus Central University, decided to see what happened if she used animal neural maps to build a new kind of AI, then published a paper on it before the military knew what she had--even during wartime! By the time anyone was aware of the discovery’s significance, the peer-reviewed journal had been published across all of Gondwana and Laurasia.
(It was for some time unclear how this paper was even published at such a dire period for Nextus, but a subsequent board of inquiry identified three factors that combined into a sort of “perfect storm” of coincidence: 1) Dr. Patil’s apolitical nature, 2) the fact that she was simply so much smarter than the censors assigned to examine her paper that they passed it without even understanding what it was about or calling it to the attention of their better-informed superiors, and 3) the journals assuming that the paper must have been all right to print if the censors had passed it.)
As fate, or physics, would have it, these minerals are also the ideal substrate for neural networks as well as batteries. In essence, here's the recipe for the "Reticulated Intelligence" that came out of this research:
- Take block of Q, pure, no smaller than 1 mm3.
- Apply neural network template based on animal of choice.
- Salt 100,000 qubits. Let them find good homes in the "Reticulated" areas of the Q substrate. If you've done your job right, they're right where they should be. 100,000 qubits is more than enough to simulate a few trillion neurons in the twisted quantum substrate and its multiplicative effect. Redundancy helps.
- Incubate for 30 days in a Core Unit to allow network to grow.
- Install RI Core in animal-shaped Advanced Intelligence Drive Extender body.
Why doesn't a human neural map work? Researchers have tried several times, but it either doesn't take or it burns out in a flash of radiation. They don't know why, so they have to use animals less intelligent than humans. Remember, we've tried building a neural network from scratch, but they have only extremely limited use (as seen in the AIDES).
Lab Rat: The First Reticulated Intelligence
There are some technologies so old now they're barely thought of as technology. One of these are Full Body Simulations (FBS), made possible by old reliable graphene-based quantum computing. FBS has multiple uses in the medical field. From practice surgeries to testing new drugs for safety, a human or animal can be simulated to the cellular chemistry level, including the many billions of individual nerve connections inside the brain based on a neutral template. That's not to say that the patient is copied, as there are quantum states that simply do not transfer.
This was another plateaued tech. Shipboard AI-driven autodocs have historically done a fine job, especially for surveyor-scouts like the now-legendary Clint Brubeck, who could spend years by themselves. FBS is critical for these systems, as being able to simulate how a given surgery or treatment will go assists the AI in the proper course of action.
On a laboratory scale, "Virtual Rats" have been in use almost as long as FBS, the real things having long since gone the way of the dodo. At Nextus Central University, Dr. Lilavati Patil was part of the Ad-I team, trying desperately to improve performance. Conventional artificial neural maps had reached their limits. Dr. Patil had had experience in the medical field with FBS rats. It was one of those moments when an offhand thought changes the world.
Using a 1 cm^3 block of qubitite, Dr. Patil and her team applied an FBS rat brain instead of the standard artificial template. The team was simply curious what would happen. It had been a long day, and desperation had long set in. The VS-1 Shrike was performing poorly in combat, the Ad-Is fighting one another and the pilot for control. Combat pilots could only change modes infrequently and it wasn't unusual for the transformable skimmer to simply get stuck in one mode because the Ad-I refused to let go.
They waited the requisite thirty days and connected the nascent RI to a fabbed rat body about four times real life size. The RI failed to boot on the first two tries, but the third time was the charm. Two words changed everything. The rat's eyes lit up, his arms moved (they had used a male rat brain), and he spoke.
Now, the above may sound cliche. In all seriousness, we don't know what his exact words were. Dr. Patil and Rattigan still refuse to even discuss the matter for some reason.
RIDE of the Valkyries: Nextus Military RIDE Development
After she published her paper (and, before publishing it, had submitted it for peer review to researchers in most of the other polities, including (via intermediaries in Uplift, and possibly without Dr. Patil’s actual knowledge) Sturmhaven), the attitude of Nextus’s Administration and military divisions toward her could best have been described as “ambivalent.” On one hand, she had leaked possibly the most significant development since the invention of sarium batteries to the entire world--but on the other, there was quite literally no one else in the world who knew as much about the new technology at the time.
It is a matter of public record that several of the official censors at Nextus Central University subsequently lost their positions (and, in some cases, their freedom) in the aftermath of the publication. Dr. Patil herself narrowly escaped being tried for treason--largely due to a plea bargain her lawyer arranged under which she would assist the Nextus military in developing equipment based on her experiments.
Neither Dr. Patil nor Rattigan has said much in public since retiring to seclusion in 130 on the proceeds of several RI-related patents (filed for before publication of the paper, and upheld by Nextus courts in 127). Former colleagues have described her as “very apolitical” and some even wondered only half-jokingly if she was actually ever aware there was a war on.
She was said to have been “less than thrilled” that the first commercial fruits of her discovery would be military, but was perhaps consoled by the knowledge that researchers from other, less martial polities (many of whom, especially Sturmhaven, did not honor Nextus patents at the time) would be at most only a year or two behind in development of this new technology.
But for all of that, she was a patriot of Nextus, and no one has ever suggested that she gave the program anything less than her best effort. Which is probably all that enabled Nextus to prosecute the war as successfully as it did--many historians propose that if development had lagged by only five months, Sturmhaven’s own nascent RIDE program could have turned the tide, or at least extended the war considerably.
Due to her seclusion, it is largely unknown what Dr. Patil thinks of the current popular culture surrounding RIDEs and their uses. She did, however, break her silence on the day that the RIDE Emancipation and Reparations Acts passed to issue, through her lawyer, a statement of only four words:
- “It’s about damned time!”
The first generation of RIDEs, and hence all the versions that followed, were indelibly shaped by military requirements. RIDEs were intended to serve as transportation and battle gear for light motorized infantry, replacing the transformable pseudo-AIDEs based on skimmer cycles (VM-1 Chinook, VM-3 Tornado) with which Nextus prosecuted the earlier years of the war. A secondary purpose was for use in solo scouting or penetration assignments, or for air-drop missions behind enemy lines (as with the folding paratrooper motorcycles used in Terra’s World War II).
While these AIDEs worked reasonably well for urban and highway operations, attempts to use them in desert operations led to grunts nicknaming them “rat [short for “ration”] cans,” because sooner or later they’d seize up and it was sometimes necessary to use power tools (or “electric can openers”) to extract the soldier within. Nextus continued to crank them out by the thousands because they were so cheap as to be practically disposable, which also led to the nicknames “Budweisers” (for the heavier Chinooks) and “Bud Lites” (for the lighter Tornados)--because “they’re cheap as hell, they last about five minutes, but at least they come in six-packs.”
Many of these AIDE skimmers, including the thousands of brand new unissued units left over after the adoption of RIDEs, continue to serve as cheap civilian city transportation even today. Indeed, thousands of future RIDE mechanics cut their teeth on these units during their secondary and college education years, sometimes turning them into "hot rods" with outlandishly flamboyant alternate modes (see pop artist "Dance Machine").
However, at the time of the development of RIDEs, no additional field longevity was actually expected. The major reason for their creation was to maximize the effectiveness of soldiers during that short period in which their RIDEs were expected to continue to function. As mentioned above, a far more fundamental problem with the AIDEs than their desert breakdowns was that they were stupid and prone to misinterpretation of orders as well as seizing up in transformation.
RIDEs were designed from the start to have easily-removable RI cores, so that the core could be quickly transferred from a defunct DE body into a new one at the same time as its accompanying soldier was, so the RI would gain experience it could keep and hence grow smarter, instead of the soldier having to start over with a new, stupid AIDE.
(This is also why the Nextus military was able to equip its entire army with RIDEs so quickly, and had so many left over to sell to civilian and corporate prospecting operations after the war--it had massively overbuilt the Drive Extender shells, expecting to lose many more of them in the desert than it did.)
The skimmer modes of the first RI Drive Extenders were modeled after the Chinook and Tornado units, even using some of the same parts. This allowed the AIDE factories to be quickly and easily retooled into mass production of the DE bodies while the first generation of military RI cores were grown, and helped account for the relatively short period from experimental model to final prototype.
Although the army was the first military branch to use RIDEs exclusively, Nextus’s Materiel Recovery department was heavily involved in testing the first prototypes and was consequently issued a number of additional units from the first wave of production. By the time the war ended, all branches of Nextus’s service had RIDE divisions.
After the war had ended, the same firms who had manufactured RIDEs for the military licensed the right to make civilian variants, and many surplus military RIDEs also found their way onto civilian markets. As with both the Jeep and the Volkswagen from Terra’s World War II, and the “Hummer” from the later 20th century, military needs had created a new civilian form of transportation.
Unlike the AIs and Ad-Is that existed previously, researchers quickly discovered that the RIs needed to feel "real" in some way. This issue did not initially show up on Rattigan because Dr. Patil's team had constructed a rat-analogue body for him to interact with others in. The first military RIDE prototypes simply substituted the RI (based on cat neural models, their reflexes and instincts having been deemed desirable in military operations) for the Ad-I core in Chinook and Tornado test units modified for full Ad-I motion control. This quickly drove the poor RIs nearly insane.
Test pilots treated them like machines. They looked like mere machines, and early fetters were sufficiently restrictive to make their responses little better than the Ad-Is they were to replace. This was more than a decade before research conducted by Dr. Gerhard Gatt (135 AL) determined how to give the RIs a Passive mode that could protect their psyches for long idle periods. That RIs even had psyches to protect was a surprise to everyone except Dr. Patil and Rattigan.
According to declassified documents, Dr. Patil was inspired to create the RIDEs’ walker form after watching a niece playing with a toy robotic dog. The dog’s processor only had toy-level intelligence, but had successfully been programmed to emulate normal canine behavior. Perhaps, Patil thought, being able to “pretend” to be the animal could protect the RI’s fragile sanity--it had worked for Rattigan so far.
When she pitched the idea to the development board, she emphasized the usefulness of the vehicles having a “secondary attack mode” in which they could act independently in support of their soldiers, utilizing built-in weapons of teeth and claws as well as firing their ordinary vehicular weapons from body mounts. (It also made them less likely to be stolen or captured if they were walking around on four paws instead of sitting still on hoverpads.)
Adding a third operational mode to something as small as a skimmer cycle would be costly, but the Nextus military at that point were open-minded enough (see Nextus Polity Culture above) to commit funding to the project. The most advanced nano-motile components available were quickly incorporated, giving the semi-liquid mode changes of modern RIDEs its first appearance.
The effects on the feline-based prototypes were immediate and dramatic on both the RIDEs and the test pilots. While the RIDEs still experienced their bodies as being rigid and unchangeable, and were prone to experience psychological problems stemming from sensory deprivation as they accrued experience, they were at least able to function normally for one to two years, or longer with selective memory wipes.
(Dr. Patil actually experimented with adding hardlight pelts and the associated neural linkages to RIDE prototypes, and wrote a [safely classified this time!] paper on the psychological benefits, but the military determined that the degree of improvement in performance was not sufficient to merit the increased power expenditure and consequently shorter battery life. She successfully campaigned to have the paper declassified and published in 125, and many civilian manufacturers and refitters began making the technology available to those RIDE owners who didn’t mind the power drain.)
In addition, a loosening of fetters enabled the RIs to show just how intelligent and personable they were. RIDE and rider quickly bonded on a personal level, achieving the kind of unit cohesion never known before with AI and Ad-I gear. To say the military was pleased with this development is an understatement of massive proportions. Despite the RIDE project having cost three times as much as expected, the resultant increase in unit effectiveness and manpower made the whole project instantly worthwhile from a Command perspective. (However, it still took until 127 for the Nextus military to recognize the bond between soldier and RI sufficiently to allow soldiers to decommission and purchase their RIDEs on discharge.)
The addition of Walker mode necessitated changes in the powered armor mode from that used for the AIDEs. Nano-motile cladding combined with a more rigid internal frame enabled a more form-fitting final armor, increasing the mobility of the wearer. Limited self-repair in the field was also a major advance.
However, the extreme modularity of the change meant that normal methods of ensuring continuity of suit seal would not work. This threatened to limit the vehicle’s usefulness in hostile environments until one member of Patil’s team had the idea to use low-power hardlight projectors to maintain seal in all modes. This had the unanticipated (and largely misunderstood) side effect of protecting the unit from Dry Ocean qubitite contamination, allowing it to continue operating long after AIDEs broke down.
Another of the unexpected benefits of RIDEs that had not been present with IDEs or AIDEs was the potential for full sensory integration between the RIDE in Fuser form and its rider. Neural linkages between the mecha and pilot allowed the pilot to feel and move the body as if it were an extension of his own. However, testing revealed that the presence of animal ears and tail in that form caused issues of balance and orientation for the pilot. Similarly, eliminating them from the Fuser form caused worse problems for the RI.
Further, testing of gender-mismatched RIDE and rider revealed serious sensory dissonance and psychological discomfort for both when full sensory integration was enabled. Short-term operation with the RI disabled (a precursor to the later “passive mode”), as with the earlier Chinook and Tornado units, was just possible, but at a much-reduced capacity and with significant side-effects to the pilot from longer-term use. However, tests revealed that both problems could be resolved by giving the pilot physical features analogous to the mismatched ones on the RIDE, and if necessary changing his or her gender.
(Efforts to have the RIDE change gender to match the soldier were simulated, but deemed unfeasible--the RIs’ inorganic neural net construction did not provide them with the necessary mental flexibility to adapt to a change in gender. Humans’ organic make-up did.)
It should come as no surprise that the nanobots used for sensory integration were developed from existing body modification nano that had already been in use for almost a century. In addition to the well-known gender reassignment treatments, the new sarium-upgraded rapid-acting version of these nanites were used for reconstruction of injured limbs and damaged internal organs by Nextus and Sturmhaven Rapid Medical Response (RMR) units in field hospital recovery tanks. The sealed, controlled environment of a Fuser mode RIDE could provide a similar benefit.
The decision to use the full capabilities of these body-sculpting nanites was a controversial one in Nextus High Command. The advocate for FSI (Full Sensory Integration) on Dr. Patil's team, Dr. Jeena (nee Gene) Rosenthal, had recently undergone the gender reassignment process herself and had firsthand experience with their effects. The new sarium-enabled units worked many-fold faster than their predecessors and could be easily withdrawn from the body during mode changes into a storage tank. Early unit testing demonstrated that connection of the RI to the human's nervous system was "beneficial to unit effectiveness" with a high confidence level. However, that the very significant side effects were unable to be removed did create an uphill argument for Dr. Rosenthal.
Even with the body-sculpt to add ears and tail, enabling the full gender-change functionality seemed a bit extreme, and for a time it was a strong possibility that only the animal-appendage changes would be used. Male and female units would simply be manufactured to the ratio of the genders in Nextus’s military and assigned to male and female soldiers, respectively.
What may have won the argument for including full functionality is that, from a military standpoint, equipping the RIDEs with the ability to modify the rider to suit the unit cut down on problems of logistics--if a unit turned out to have gender mismatch between its RIDEs and soldiers, it was far simpler to modify the soldiers than to try to work out a swap with some other unit imbalanced the other way. In the middle of a war, it was crucially important to have all soldiers functioning at peak efficiency as often as possible. (Even so, most military crossriding was done on a volunteer basis where at all feasible, and included a two-rank bump in salary for as long as the soldier was in the service and the wrong gender.)
All the Pieces
<Images/video of the final LNX(ibr)-LMA-000 prototype unit, "Felix" in all three modes, with test rider Col. Tracy Baines. April 13, 122 AL>
From Rattigan's birth to the final RIDE prototype took barely five months, and the Sturmhaven-Nextus War was over less than a year later.
The Sturmhaven-Nextus War was another one of the societal phase change events noted above. This is not unprecedented in human history. During our species' numerous wars, new technologies have been developed and deployed even more swiftly. On Wednesday, from crash landing to the first hardlight dome took a matter of days. The crashed colony ship already had all the materials. The Bjornssens' background in FTL physics and the desperate situation created the necessary spark--the trigger.
Critics of RIDEs and their development costs have often cited the physiological changes and especially the moral dilemma of creating true AI as possibly not having been worth it. But they're operating on could-have-beens, not how things actually are. After over forty years the planet is finally recognizing our new friends. Our new family. Nextus, Uplift, even Sturmhaven are making up for those decades of treating them as slaves.
Fortunately this time we've rectified our mistake before it became ingrained in our planetary culture. We will not repeat the mistakes of Earth.
A Word on Integration
After all the above discussion, I believe this is the next Trigger Effect. Even now, over thirty years after the first recorded instance, we have no idea what triggers it. The phenomenon is considered a mere Proxima rumor outside of Zharus, despite the paper presented on Earth fifteen years ago. This is a deliberate move to restrict information leaving the planet, on agreement with several Enclaves and the Planetary Advisory Assembly. It's also very unfortunate, but given the current interstellar political climate and Earth's growing belligerence towards her prodigal colonies, judged necessary for planetary security.
Integration itself is under very intense formal study in every Polity with a major RIDE research institution. Once we figure out how it works, the real transhuman migration will begin. The Integrated themselves have caught the public's imagination. Although not every Polity has reacted positively, this Trigger Effect is well underway.
FTL speeds continue to increase, more swiftly than in the past. The Galaxy shrinks on a yearly basis. More Colonies are founded far beyond our own as the origin world's Diaspora continues, the latest on a planet discovered in 2007 (yes, 500 years ago!) 250 LY from Earth.
Zharus is now a three-month subspace voyage from Earth and that's expected to shrink to barely thirty days within the next five years. We've reached an interstellar travel tipping point which our sister Colonies have already experienced. No longer on the outer edge of the Earth-sphere, the homeworld is starting to take notice of how her wayward children have diverged in three centuries of Diaspora. Centauri has already felt her displeasure, Proxima may be next.
Zharus never precisely declared her independence. Indeed, some e-broadsheets intended to draw immigrants here declared how we were "proud of our heritage". But then, we've never had to. The distance alone was enough to isolate us and give us a de facto independence. No more. For the first time ever we are collectively considering our place in the galaxy, and what will happen if our technology becomes more than just a rumor from a Proxima bar.