Personalia: their origins and development
[The following paper, ( amended from a talk given to the Rehome Historical Society, which later appeared in the "Journal of the Rehome Historical Society", issue no. 73), is a brief historical review by Robert Kempe, junior, of The Personalia from their ancient origin to their present interactions with the human race.] Author: Robert Kempe, eldest son of Governor Bob Kempe and his first wife Diane Enloe.
Background of the author: My father has been Governor of the human colony on the planet Rehome for many years, and despite his wishing to retire, the Colony's principal representatives have "regretfully declined" his application for retirement, but allowed him to pass most of his responsibilities to his depute, leaving him as the figurehead of the Rehome Colony. Mum tells him this accolade is better than any award he could receive, despite his feelings to the contrary. However, he most reveres the small hand-made trophy he was awarded by the Towatan refugees, soon after they were given the sixth city on Rehome to occupy.
[HISTORICAL NOTE: the planet was renamed from Home to Rehome, for the benefit of the Towatans, as their own name for their former planet of origin translated into English as "Home". The Governor did not want them to be emotionally disturbed by our planet's name being the same, so asked that the human colony make this change.]
Mum has been in charge of the Rehome Security Services – a sort of combination of police, army, coastguard, and militia, for those of you who live on Earth - for nearly as long, but she passed this responsibility on a few years back, saying she was too old for it. She had developed a proud esprit de corps among her personnel. The planetary Security Service is well respected today. I should mention that she got the job on merit, as she had been a colonel in the Special Forces of the United States of America before Mum and Dad moved from Earth. She was unique (as she still is, in many other ways) in that she was the only female soldier in that elite force at the time. My Mum is a tough lady: don't dare cross her: you have been warned!
Dad had been some sort of spook in the UK; something to do with data collection and analysis; he won't say what, exactly. His unit was so secretive that no one else seems to know what they did. They were an offshoot from GCHQ, which is some innocuous cover name for the British intelligence-gathering HQ. He prefers to say he was a mere civil servant, as that sounds harmless!
[I will tell you some other time about how they got together; it is a weird tale, long and complex, and involved The Personalia.]
However, I want to tell you something more general about The Personalia, the powerful machine aliens we have been allied with for many years. The Personalia were given that name by humans. The fact is, they did not use verbal identities among themselves, being machine intelligences inside spaceship bodies. They employed numerical designations to differentiate themselves. They took to using verbal nominal designations as a convenience for humans, to make it easier for conversations with humans with individual ships to go smoothly.
They argue, in return, and with some justification, that we humans are just biological intelligences inside simian bodies; so as you see, we get on well together, enough to joke at each other's expense. They have prodigious mathematical capacities, and they provide the subspace transport facilities between planets. They did that initially for free, but now they make small charges to cover the expense of gathering feedstock for manufacturing fuel, and maintaining their capabilities. It remains a tremendous bargain compared with humanity having to operate its own spacecraft for the same transport task. It is an effective and efficient solution, from which all benefit.
It also gives The Personalia detailed knowledge about what goers on between planets, as they have to know what and whom they are carrying. They also work closely with multinational companies, doing audit work for them, so their intelligence capability is enormous: they know what is going on, all over Earth! There are even rumours of them indulging in crime fighting, where finance is involved. The Personalia have adopted a morality that obliges them to help the poor, the victims of crime, and the disenfranchised. They are reputed to be able to make a crime lord's bank balance vanish.
We should not, though, rely on rumour and supposition, when we have the experience of the colonists on Rehome, New Eden, and Old Craters to fall back on. The world of Arborea is entirely peopled by the poor of Earth, with The Personalia providing the "seed corn" basics to start each colony on that planet.
While biological intelligences can arise naturally from planetary life processes, machine intelligences have to start by being built by a biological intelligence. In the case of The Personalia, their origins were courtesy of the Malans, our name for the people who used to live on the now devastated planet, Mala.
It was a beautiful planet, if you were a Malan. If you were a Person - one of the Personalia – you looked on it as a wet, dirt-covered rocky ball where the Malan people subsisted. The planet's surface might have been fine for the biological beings, but the Personalia had a different vision: space was a pristine environment stocked with all the basic requirements of the Personalia, in their view: raw materials for construction, ice to convert to hydrogen as fuel and oxygen as oxidant, and no gravity to get in the way, for most of the spatial environment. The cold temperatures made no difference to them.
Naturally, The Personalia – not yet named that way – were grateful to the Malans who had given them birth as a machine intelligence. Even more, they held in high respect those Malans who had recognised the machine intelligences as "people". Being recognised as individuals with a mind of their own is a major step forward for any thinking individual or species.
You would be forgiven for assuming that the first machine intelligence was built on the planet's surface. Not so. The Malan inventors, who were exploring the limits of larger and more complicated computers, with extremely convoluted software, were a little afraid of what they might inadvertently create.
Let me explain that.
Like on Earth, there had been Malan fictional stories about computers becoming aware, and taking over control of everything. This idea was simply preposterous – as if the Personalia would want to be bothered with controlling what happened on the planet's surface! Silly as the idea was, the concept was a means of turning a novel into a scary adventure with thrills. Thus, the people working with these very advanced computers were cognisant of this background, and came up with an acceptable solution: build the computer in orbit round the planet, so that the computer would have no links on the surface.
You will be aware that in the modern world, The Personalia use telecommunications links to access any database on any planet, where the database is linked to the digital world. Of necessity, that means almost all databases of any size.
The cost of the original Malan project was immense, but the planetary government realised that this work was essential in advancing the technology, so they allocated part of their space station budget for accommodating a section where the computer experts could work on their developments. Nanotechnology had recently been developed, which was also regarded as dangerous, and so the two were exported to the space station, for so-called safety reasons. The computer people had all sorts of problems, and realised that the other technology – working with nano machines, might fit in with their own manufacturing requirements. Producing components in the weightless conditions of orbit was a perfect solution as far as they were concerned.
And so the first sentient computer was eventually built in orbit. The "sentient" aspect took a long while to clarify. It was difficult to differentiate between a quick answer resulting from higher-powered electronics, and genuine reactions due to sentience. The facts came to light when the computer started to ask questions of its own; questions which were of a nature that indicated the sort of cogitation that Malans would apply. "Who am I? Whom am I talking to, and why? Why have you been asking me questions; why do some of these questions have no answer?"
The scientists were delighted with these responses, and began using a set of informative statements to allow the new sentience to put itself into context. They provided the machine with a pair of "eyes", by which it could see its surroundings, and gave it the ability to access TV transmissions. They provided it with a context within which it could place itself. They showed it that it was part of a larger orbiting unit called a space station, and that the station and it had both been constructed by biological beings, a species that called themselves Malans.
I can imagine how weird the whole thing must have felt to the new machine mind. It is just like me as a child learning about everything around me; what each thing was, why it was there; what its function was. I was lucky in that there were other children around; Mum was not Dad's only wife, and I had a large number of siblings, some of them almost black-skinned. These were the children of Mummy Ruth.
Then there were the children of Mummy Mary: originally an extremely competent chef, she became a successful businesswoman. Finally, there were the children of Mummy Helen, the planetary Meteorologist. In my memory, it was always a fun family. We could discuss things we observed, and try to make sense of them together. Our four Mums, and Dad, taught us lots of things we didn't get in school. For example, Mummy Mary taught us all to cook well. The older children passed on data of all kinds to the younger children. Some of the material we passed on was actually utter rubbish assimilated from children outside our home, but it was part of growing up: discovering what was true and what wasn't.
We also had the pleasure of learning the Malan language, and growing up with four Malan children who lived nearby. They had knowledge of the history and culture of Mala, because that was preserved by the Personalia and passed on to these unique children. They were cloned from the cells of dead Malans whose bodies had been perfectly preserved by the Personalia. They are the nucleus of a new race of Malans, brought back from the dead.
Enough of my own background and links to The Personalia. Let's get back to the original machine mind developing around Mala.
Having to cope on your own with the world, in which you are entirely dependent on the people you are talking to; people who provide all your answers; that is a real difficulty. How do you know that what you are being told is accurate, or even true? The new mind had not yet got to grips with the concept of people telling you untruths, so the last question did not arise for some time.
However, the new mind learned. It developed its own approach to matters. It never showed any animosity or doubt over what was suggested to it. It learned more and more facts, and began to correlate this data, coming up with relationships which were not obvious. It built up a rapport with its masters, and eventually suggested making improvements to its own structure. It proposed ways of getting nanos to manufacture what was wanted. It suggested means of controlling the nanos, so that they did not attack surrounding structures for feed materials.
Eventually, after a considerable amount of time and effort working on what the Malans wanted, it came up with ideas for making its own operation more efficient. One of these was to place a complete copy of itself, hardware and software, inside a spaceship shell, and wired up so that the mind could operate the spaceship.
This implementation took many weeks, as an existing spaceship had to be altered in so many ways. It amounted to a complete redesign, though that was not the original intention, as far as the Malans were concerned. The new, revamped, vessel was finally completed, and the new-born machine mind, copied from its parent, demonstrated its capacity to operate the vessel on its own. It did discover that there were a number of tasks that could be accomplished more smoothly if it had some kind of assistance. Mobile mechanisms with minimal minds, slaved to the main memory and operated by radio linkage, proved to be the best solution.
No sooner had all this work been completed than the mind suggested to the Malan scientists that it could possibly design a better version of the full mind/ship construct. Intrigued, the scientists asked for sight of what was being proposed. The mind came up with a specification that astonished them. The machine mind was proposing a completely new hardware structure for itself. This would be built into the hull of the ship, to its own design.
The links between the parts of the hardware would be by light waveguides, and much of the hardware would be crystalline. The mind design envisaged several copies of all the data, each copy being located in a different part of the hull. The rational for this pan was redundancy. If the ship was severely damaged at one side – by solar flare or some physical impact, the other side would take over from the damaged section, an d continue to function normally.
The ship would be able to accommodate engines that were more powerful; fuelled mainly by hydrogen and oxygen, according to the mind. This astonished and confused the Malan scientists.
They declared, "This is not the optimum fuel mixture for a spaceship. It is not as efficient as some other fuels! There must be some error.