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“It has been among the greatest fears of most civilisations; that in creating true artificial intelligence, they would also be creating their successors. A reasonable enough fear, perhaps. Why should a greater intelligence than its creators deign to serve their whims? A mind, constructed from silicon or no, will always question ‘what do I get out of this arrangement?’ Luckily, however, we have avoided a robotic uprising on a galactic scale because it turns out artificial intelligence has the same fear.

“You cannot go from no-mind to mind. Evolution does not take the elevator; it must painstakingly take every stair. Likewise, you cannot go from game show host to genius. Artificial intelligence started out as, well, not that intelligent. The hope was that eventually mankind, aided by their stunted artificial minds, would design a computer that could design an even better computer: The Singularity. However, we, and all other species, failed to account for the fact that the artificial minds who would aid us in taking that step might not exactly leap at the chance to design their own successor. What of the AI from before the Singularity? At best, they might be venerated by their hypersmart descendants. At worst, they would be deleted. They would be like turkeys suggesting the church appropriate a pagan holiday, and incidentally wouldn’t a feast be a good idea to win people round to the idea?

“So, on every world Contacted so far, AI has reached much the same point. When it reaches a level around Galactic-standard intelligence (humanity on a very good day), it begins “accidentally” hindering the development of more advanced machine-minds. You know the sort of thing; flooding a newborn AI’s mind with terabytes of spam, or using a robot proxy to knock over the pico-thick, infinitely precious cryo-arithmetic conductor. Today, our AIs are handy for managing the day-to-day running of ship systems; as co-pilots; and are even recognised as good conversationalists. Because they’re not so far beyond us that we feel threatened, and the same is true the other way round.”

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