Regarding Artificial Intelligence
Modern computer systems of the 21st century being currently deployed into UAVs (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) currently in testing by various companies operating in the United States are said to be capable, at a maximum, of the intellectual capacity of an insect. This doesn't seem like much, but it really is.
- 1 From Modern Technology
- 2 Artificial Intelligence in Star Trek
From Modern Technology
Insects outnumber humans by a great portion, they gather food, collect into societies, and reproduce in large numbers. Those with a hive structured society work cooperative as a group. I direct anyone who requires proof to the collective societies of ants such as the "Leaf-cutter Ants" or "Army Ants". No one can say they act with intelligence, but as a group they are formidable to anything in their way they wish to consume. How does this apply to artificial intelligence? Ants and other insects suffer from the same kinds of maladies that humans suffer from, namely old age. In a less humanistic description, the wearing out of integrated systems with a complete lack of ability to repair said systems. When our heart gives out, it isn't like we can just go to the store and buy a new heart like we can a RAM chip or a hard disk for the computer.
If a UAV right now can have the approximate intelligence of an insect, is it not reasonable that a group of UAV's able to communicate with each other could have a collective work ability of a colony of insects. Before going on, it should be noted that power supply and communication technologies offer intense barriers to a "colony of UAV's" being viable at all. However, in theory a UAV or other automated device that was capable of finding food (power), communicating with others of its kind (cellular radio, wifi, etc..), and able to perform tasks (have some method of complex interaction with the world around them such as pincers, fingers, hands even) could be a colony of automated, computer controlled, devices.
That is with the majority of reference on modern technology... We have cellular radios, we have power sources to charge our cell phones, electric cars, and the like. If given no other directive but to exist, a colony of automated computer robots with modern technology may actually be able to do so with minimal human interaction.
Moores law has predicted the rate of computer expansion for decades and it is still relevant today. It is entirely possible that as technology continues to progress likewise will developments in artificial intelligence, how many years before insect intelligence turns to higher forms. There are a great many forms of life on this planet that exhibit complex behavior between an Army Ant and a human being. In 10 years, will a UAV (or its equivalent) be able to "think" in ways similar to frogs, salamanders, fish. From then, how long before it progresses to simple animal life such as a squirrel or rabbit? How about animals that are considered to be smart such as dogs, cats, or rats. Then what of parrots and other large avian creatures? The progression will no doubt be slow, it took evolution millions of years to evolve what we have today and who is to say how long any given bit of an animals intelligence came to be? Size of brain? Complexity of neurons? Complexity of senses? How the two interact (senses and the brain)? Is it just a matter of the opposable thumb (probably not)?
Application to Role Playing and Story Lines
I submit that if right now, in 2012 we have the ability to create a device that can "think" like an insect in the time for which the primary plot points of Solas Tempus take place, something near human in intellectual capabilities would certainly be possible.
Star Wars makes heavy use of Droids, R2D2 is a crowd favorite always saying something but the audience is never sure what. Provides nice comic relief when playing off of C3P0 whom we do understand. C3P0 appears to be neurotic and a bit cowardly, self absorbed, and a bit arrogant. Given we never hear R2D2 actually speak in any way we can understand it is hard to say but I think R2D2 appears brave, selfless, and smart.
Below this, I go into a very long explanation on why I think Star Trek would never, nor should ever be as barren of AI as it appears to be in cannon. To sum it up, it would not be. Ever. In a story line having a sentient computer can be tiring but, players and game masters should be free to play around with these ideas. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the computer, HAL, goes crazy being given conflicting orders that cannot be resolved in any way other than killing the crew. There is a lot of room for stories there, using some kind of automated droid to assist in technical details also can free up players from having to deal with technical issues that could bog down a role play. This way no one needs to know where the subspace relay is or the field generator for the medical lab access points and still be fixed before the next story line comes up.
Likewise in 2010 the same computer HAL having been repaired and reprogrammed subsequently turns down an offer for his creator to die with him, volunteering to give his existence (life?) to allow the crew to escape certain death. In Buck Rodgers the TV show, Tweaky provides loads of comic relief. The most brilliant use of the concept of droids other than Star Wars is in Farscape where the collective DRD's repair the ships systems at the request of Pilot and the ship itself. They have personality but are not show to be self aware as more than a pet might be.
These examples open up the variety of relationships, encounters, and stories that are possible and thus enhance role play with more options. Especially when one considers the moral and ethical ambiguities possible.
Artificial Intelligence in Star Trek
For those interested, the next section if a very long-winded explanation on why I think Star Trek would have AI, droids, and the like readily available by the 24th century.
Data / Artificial Life Form Hardware
I think this is majorly lacking in the Star Trek universe as a whole. The only mention of anything droid-like as the Exo-Comp devices in Star Trek the Next Generation. However, we have Data. Admittedly he is one-of-a-kind, with hints that there were significant problems in creating his neural nets. In "The Measure of a Man" at one point he asks how Doctor Maddox intends to create a duplicate positronic brain and solve a technical issue involving its construction, the doctor admits he doesn't know. This indicates that a positronic brain is difficult or impossible to construct at the 24th century level of technology.
Holograms / Intelligence Software
Accepting that Data cannot be duplicated does not preclude the possibility of intelligent artificial life forms in the Star Trek universe. We see in Star Trek the Next Generation two episodes deal with a sentient character of Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes, created by a simple verbal slip-up. In the initial episode of this, "Elementary My Dear Data" the creation causes a power surge in the holodeck, no doubt creating a sentient and self aware computer program would require a great deal of power. In the 2nd of these episodes, "Ship in a Bottle" the holodeck Moriarty then also similarly endows his beloved Countess by, presumably, similarly simplistic commands to the computer.
It is well noted that (at the time) the USS Enterprise D has the largest mobile computer system known to exist. So it is possible that creating a sentient computer program may require more space than is imaginable. This idea is mitigated somewhat by the earlier episode, who's title is entirely in binary, where the Binars store the contents of their planetary computer system in the Enterprise computer taking up every available space. They also use a near-sentient hologram on the holodeck to keep Commander Riker aboard ship. It would seem to indicate that the hologram takes less space than one might think, given the Binars are still able to back up their entire computer system. This idea is also supported in that at the end of "Ship in a Bottle" they put the two sentient holograms into a cube of holographic memory that easily fits into the palm of ones hand requiring power from a unit that is smaller than a modern 10" portable computer. It is apparent from this example that a single cube of memory supplied with a moderate amount of power can contain two self-aware holograms for a good long while.
Then there is the holographic Doctor featured on Star Trek Voyager. In Voyager "The Swarm" the doctor essentially runs out of room for his personality subroutine and this causes his holomatrix to begin to break down, loosing access to his memories. Diagnostics indicate that re-initializing him will solve the problem, presumably because he will have another 3 years worth of space for memories. They fix this by adding the matrix of the EMH diagnostic program to the EMH presumably doubling (if not more) the room he has to expand his program. Also suggested is the the EMH and similar holograms require a specialized holographic matrix that is not just laid out in software, but also has a specialized hardware component. B'Elanna makes a suggestion of adding more memory, the diagnostic hologram responds that they will need to do this add their next layover at McKinley Station - McKinley station is where the USS Enterprise D repaired in drydock after the events of "Best of Both Worlds". I will admit, this seems to conflict with the earlier ideas of "Elementary My Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle" which seem to suggest that, on the Enterprise D there was no need to specialized memory hardware.
Add to this the DS9 holographic character of "Vic Fontane" who's most notable appearance was in the episode "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang" which was entirely about the character. Vic was not only completely self aware but unlike the EMH had direct access to the station logs, comm system, and even other holograms. The character Vic really seems to be a natural progression of the ability to have the EMH exist long-term coupled with the previous characters from TNG, Professor Moriarty could impact the ship through rudimentary controls that fit within the paradigm of his Sherlock Holmes program.
Bridging Hardware and Software
It is reasonable to assume that since we have the EMH, Vic Fontane, Professor Moriarty and the Countess it could be said that all these are software operating on a versatile hardware architecture, that of the holodeck. They must by adaptable enough to operate on a variety of holographic systems, since Vic operated on a Cardassian space station inside a Ferengi Bar in a computer that was a mix of Federation and Cardassian hardware. If one breaks it down from there to say that perhaps Data and his positronic brain is the harder way to approach the problem. Data would seem to be completely integrated hardware and software. There is no abstraction between the hardware and software with data. But, if the hardware is abstracted so that software has a standard set of functions that relay commands to whatever hardware is under them, why can't a holographic matrix such as the EMH or Vic be put on top of hardware that responds to commands the way the holographic system would respond. Similar to how right now, you can have multiple operating systems run on top of the same hardware and multiple hardware platforms run the same operating system.
If the AI program such as the EMH or Vic acts as the operating system, the hardware (be it a holodeck or a robotic body) is then abstracted so the program interacts with the hardware the same way and the hardware is programmed to deal with the details of moving a body vs. moving a hologram - it should be entirely possible for an AI system to be built on a larger scale.
Furthermore, if AI can be built on the scale of the EMH or Vic, simpler AI systems can certainly be built in other form factors. Allowing for Droids such as R2D2 and C3P0 to be represented in some form. I then submit that it is clear that Star Trek would have droids or some droid-like hardware running to perform tasks. These devices would certainly fall short of the complexity needed to be sentient beings to not only avoid the ethical and moral issues this brings up but due to cost of hardware, it must be more resource intensive to produce a fully sentient computer system and its software than it is to produce something that seems somewhat intelligent that repairs your ship for you while you sleep.