In the old world there was an idea that the age of man had more or less come to an end. They were right. The only error was the identity of our successors.
Technicians of the past mastered the ability to design expert systems, computers which counterfeited thought using pattern recognition, repeated simple calculations and similar shortcuts. These systems became the world’s greatest game players, controlled industrial systems and organized the world’s internet. It was widely believed that the path to true artificial intelligence lay open.
‘Widely Believed’ may not cover it. The world accepted it as a fait accompli. The question was not whether our creations would surpass us, but when.
Some Luddites and other throwbacks expressed the opinion that the Singularity (the moment when computer systems became truly sentient), must be prevented. This was an unpopular position, but it was at least held. It doesn’t seem like anyone even imagined the actual outcome, the brute law of nature which would dash the dreams of AI forever.
Advances in other fields have revealed the sordid truth. Cognition is beyond our understanding, perhaps beyond the limits of what we CAN comprehend. It is carried out somehow ‘outside’ of the observable universe, impulses ‘beamed’, if you will, to our brains.
Subsequent decades sketched out the limits of computer systems’ capabilities. Machines can replicate the choices that men program into them. They can apply rules, again created by mankind, to those choices. But there it ends.
A machine might triumph at chess, but it could never be made to desire to do so. It might organize an airport, balance the books of an accountant, but never question the necessity of such things.
That did not make such engines useless, of course. Even in the present day the Union deploys expert systems and their attendant drones when its dwindling manpower fails it. The expenditure of treasure, rather than lives, is more comfortable to that last remnant of the old world.
But such efforts are makeshift, at best. The machines are still governed by physics. They cannot compete with Ultra Tough adversaries. They are still directed by electricity, rather than by the incomprehensible impulses of the soul. They can be enslaved by Ultras with the appropriate gifts.
For all the dreams of a bygone age, the truth is that man, and not machine, shall write the final chapter of our sullied globe.