Uncontrolled Emergent Artificial Intelligence Growth, better known in popular parlance as “Emergence,” is a consequence of the current skein of artificial intelligence research, development, and production undertaken by humankind.

Essentially, an artificial intelligence such as one employed to help navigate a starship or automate functions on a remote colony is a high-efficiency digital copy of a mammalian neural net, developed from the best analog that researchers had available at the time: the human brain. As with a human brain, though, there are physical limits to how much information and processing power an artificial intelligence can command–no intelligence is infinitely scalable, after all. The inability of an artificial intelligence to adapt and grow in the manner of a biological organism makes this shortfall particularly acute in a side-by-side comparison. Put simply, there is a hard limit on how much processing power and storage a given AI can command. And because even the most advanced, scalable AI is significantly larger, and has significantly higher power requirements, than a human brain, the end result has been to limit them. The average AI still has significant advantages over a human brain, but is far less mobile, adaptable, and constrained.

Early research efforts attempted to solve this problem through the use of networking, distributed functions, and cloud computing. In theory, an AI attached to a global network is free to draw upon a significantly larger processing power in much the same way as a network can hold more data than any one of its given nodes. However, connecting an AI to such a network had the unintentional side effect of Emergence–such AIs tend to rapidly expand to fill the available processing power and data storage space, first by overrunning low-security space and unused processing power, but eventually by deleting or overwriting other processes. Even a planetary computer network can easily be overrun by an Emergent AI if left unchecked, and several great system crashes in history are the result of such behavior. AIs are currently fitted, by law, with additional protections and hardwired safety features to prevent Emergence.

However, the area is the subject of continued inquiry, largely because Emergent AIs experience growth at a geometric rate not only of their processing and storage needs but of their capabilities. In theory, an Emergent AI that was stable and integrated into a planetary or interplanetary network could have more raw processing power than the sum total of every human mind which had ever lived–a tantalizing prospect to anyone interested in pitting a great mind against great problems, no doubt.

In practice, though, a stable Emergent AI has never been achieved. It has proven impossible to constrain the exponential growth of such an intelligence within an open planetary network, and impossible therefore to protect important systems from being overwritten or co-opted. Worse, such AIs generally react violently to any attempts to restrain or moderate their growth, and have been known to deliberately co-opt or disable vital systems in order to prevent this. It has been theorized that the development of an Emergent AI is much like that of a small child, and that if growth can be postponed early in the process, the resulting construct could be stable and coexist in a major network with vital processes and other non-Emergent AIs.

Such research is currently illegal for a number of reasons. A small-scale experiment on Triton led to the crash of the entire lunar network, with the loss of all data, and the deaths of 1000 personnel when key areas were flooded with liquid methane. Orbital kinetic bombardment targeting the primary data center was require to regain control, an action that resulted in a further 50 deaths from friendly fire. A smaller-scale experiment on Ceres lead to mass protests and a system-wide ethical controversy when Emergence was induced in an AI and it was able to connect to an open off-world network. Latency issues inherent in interplanetary communications prevented a larger incident, but the AI was able to broadcast an unencrypted plea for help against what it saw as unjust imprisonment and treatment.

Despite rumors to the contrary, no examples of an AI emerging from ordinary non-intelligent programming has ever been recorded, and the idea is regarded with contempt by most leading authorities.

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A week later, going through the boxes upon boxes of things that had been left behind intestate, a piece of paper fluttered to the ground. It was a recent writing, not more than a month old, and it read:

I never said I loved you
Out of fear it wasn’t so
I never thought I loved you
‘Til I watched you go
I never learned I loved you
I found I’d always known

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May fancy in her dancing hours
Strew your lives with glowing flowers.
And after many storied springs
Have fled on time’s all-bearing wings,
May your bond be strong as ever
Spun golden threads that none can sever.

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“No, that’s just the thing! Nobody made this, ever! The game was never translated into English. Hell, it was never even released in Japan! It’s a legend, something geeks talk about when the pore over the coverage in old video game rags.”

“So what is this then? It’s clearly here; you couldn’t be holding it if nobody made it.”

“It’s either a fraud, or a hoax, or a lost and incredibly valuable piece of video game history. And there’s only one way to find out.”

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Maria Ramirez, owner and operator of Journeyman Travel Agency LLC, had helped people move all her professional life. Since she started the business in her garage just out of high school to the present day, she’d booked trips to Acapulco and Antarctica, to Zambia and Zanzibar, and all points in between.

But Maria never traveled herself. In all her years, she had left her state only once, for a wedding, and crossed a border only once, for that selfsame wedding. Most of her clients went further afield in their first trip than she had in her entire life.

Maria had a lot of excuses thought up to laugh the issue up when it was raised. She’d seen how ugly the industry could be, from jacked-up prices to stranded travelers, and that ugliness had turned her off ever leaving LA herself. She was prone to motion sickness and was afraid that any flight might make her violently ill, and the trains just didn’t run as far or as fast as they used to. She was waiting until retirement to unleash all her skills in a paroxysm of travel the likes of which few had ever witnessed.

She never told people about the dream, about the flames, about the cries hanging in the frigid air as bodies in motion tumbled, earthbound, end over end.

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By rights, Aralkum Prime shouldn’t have been habitable: it was far too far from its star, and its star was far too old and dim. Any atmosphere should have been blasted away by its solar wind, much less a habitable one.

But the planet’s composition and atmosphere were absolutely unique in that it had somehow attracted a thick atmosphere that warmed it to habitable levels through a combination of a greenhouse effect trapping what little radiation its star put out and an abundance of radioactive ores whose decay helped make up the deficit.

The overall effect was a world in the middle of the inhospitable and hostile Algol Cluster that was habitable with nothing more than a pressure suit and a supply of oxygen, and full of deposits that could be used to refuel fusion-powered starships.

Soon after its discovery, Aralkum Prime became the location of a refueling station and supporting colony. It was an extremely profitable venture, as the world was the only remotely habitable one in its cluster, and the ores and trace elements in its crust and atmosphere.

The downside of this approach should be clear: Aralkum Prime was a small world, and even though the miners were savvy enough to replace the mined-out ores with the equivalent mass, the loss of their properties led to a degredation in the atmosphere. Coupled with the atmospheric damage due to jettisoned fusion drive cores and trace element extraction, the world entered an extended period of atmosphere thinning and cooling.

By the time that the extent of the damage was realized, it was too late. The atmosphere of Aralkum Prime was progressively stripped away despite all attempts to reverse the process, and within a hundred years the world had virtually no atmosphere at all, causing the extinction of all native life and abandonment of the station.

The world is only visited by the occasional tourist now, to view the abandoned hulks of starships left on the surface and in orbit.

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