Maintainers

You don't have to play a human if you don't want to! Well - certain limitations notwithstanding, of course. All details related to canonical species or highly specific ethnic groups are to be found here.
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- LEAM

Maintainers

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 4:51 am

Artificial intelligence is an ever-approaching reality of Terran life as well as a fact of life for the natives of several alien nations across the galaxy and known Universe. As soon as you've taught a computer to reason in arithmetics or to align binary or quadratic code into something more elaborate than the sum of its parts, you've begun to lay the groundwork for the emergence of something that certainly does think, which potentially feels and that promises as many breakthroughs as it does threatening scenarios. The people of Earth still have a hard time thinking beyond computer-controlled opponents in video games of various types, or attempts to teach a computer the intricacies of organic syntax.

The truth is that these simple applications are merely a glimpse of the actual potential of AI research, which is to provide a non-physical prosthesis for any sapient being's intellect. We've all dreamt of machines that would think for us and in some cases feel alongside us – and not every civilization in the cosmos is approaching this goal in exactly the same way.

To the Drifters, the Victorian automatons and mechanical prostheses for immortal spirits are quaint and potentially misguided attempts to attempt to replicate the body before the mind. While transhumanism has always been a variable part of Drifter life for as far as anyone can remember, the idea of depending partially on a station-wide neural net seems to hardly merit any attention. Paradise's code is a non-physical cousin to all the creaky bulkheads and rusty pipes, all the jury-rigged catwalks and all the reprogrammed billboards you'll find. The Maintainers are never there, and yet they're everywhere in the station, as noticeable as the components of any device. This means that they're not noticed at all – unless one of them starts operating outside of its parameters.

Or, of course, unless a few tens of thousands of these programs band together and give momentary rise to true sapience, slotting themselves into android bodies first designed by the Wardens, so many generations ago.

Vital to Paradise's existence and also incredibly nifty as hacking material, they're as generally ignored as they can be callously exploited. Even Maintainer shells are hardly worth any attention. Robotic cousins to Drifters or Karthians will kneel next to a punctured fibre-optic mainline while a bar fight or a gang war erupts around them. In the best cases, they're ignored. In the worst, they're used as target practice or human shields.

Once something does break, however, or once you do end up with a trainee in need of a lesson in the Wardens' code base; brutal hails or approaches that would insult any organic engineers are typically used. On an individual level, each Maintainer program is unable to perceive this as abuse. It only does or undertakes what it has been asked to do.

On the whole, however? Some theories posit that the Wardens pushed their synthetic keepers to the brink. Individual AI routines compiling into a station's core processors brimming with repressed frustration, it seems very likely that the Maintainers cracked. Once abuse became perceptible and their own sentience intolerable, joining the prisoners in the Riot seemed to be the one tangible exit from their squalor.

On some levels, things have improved. Individual AI programs are immensely valued in the station's general operation, but the sentient clusters aren't so much abused as they find themselves taken for granted; like worker bees in a giant hive.

An individual program could only compile basic instructions. A swarm of them could express acute frustration... Some do, but very few platform-riding intelligences receive proper attention. Not as machines or tools to maintain – in this sense, they're adequately pampered – but as people.

Again, theories are flung around in the middle of somewhat respectable dives or mostly gentrified alleys. Maybe if they did feel, it would be easier to figure out when you've insulted them...

Slot enough programs into any platform, and the being that arises will state that it finds itself to be insulted by that fact – in a cold and detached manner that does hint at a bit of truth. If more CPU cycles or concurrent programs could be added, if only the station didn't seem to run on a set few billion Maintainer runtimes, then maybe you'd be able to progress to an intelligence that does more than perceive itself.

Maybe you'd end up with someone, rather than something, who knows to at least try and ask the right questions. It's always been about the organics, after all. They're the ones who can be goaded into understanding, while the Maintainers can't grasp what their individual programs couldn't possibly perceive.

A single program could keep your EVA suit running in the event of a serious puncture or oxygen loss – but it takes a legion of them to even begin to ponder the concepts of justice, equality, respect and equitable exchanges.

History
While the Turing test was undergoing its first few drafts on Earth and adventurous researchers tried diffusing mortal souls into increasingly complex mechanical or electrical bodies, the Maintainers were already part of Paradise's silent force for upkeep and sustainability. They'd been there for tens of thousands of years, their code graspable by the descendants of the Riot, but too intrinsic to Paradise itself to safely modify. In a way, Paradise's own genius loci was the one thing the former prisoners would never fully claim, forced to wait for generations until brave teams explored the core regions of the Depths and resurfaced in the Central Processing Platform's immense and occult warehouse.

As far as anyone can understand, the Maintainers are custodial programs, simple upkeep routines designed to maintain everything from the station's base atmospheric pressure to the set schedule of individual clean-up drones. The Wardens called for them with a few swipes from their now butchered and re-adapted haptic interfaces, and slotted them wherever they desired. There wasn't and still isn't a single piece of native electronic material on Paradise that can't house one or more of these digital critters, optimizing standard software or working simple hardware with a fittingly machine-like and fairly animal dedication.

Somewhere along the line, however, and still well before the Riot, Gliese broadcasted what the Maintainer swarms call the Spark – an initially simple upgrade that was designed to allow each Maintainer runtime to spool its resources into other neighbouring programs. This simple patch-up job created bodiless clusters that could perform tasks more efficiently, collate data faster and generally come to handle increasingly complex tasks at the drop of a hat. If something as complex as keeping an eye on an analog pressure valve couldn't be trusted to a software upgrade, then the station's early engineers simply clustered several programs into initially simple armatures, enabling that clump of AIs to come to terms with the situation in the exact same way a trained pet would.

As you can expect, the allure of applying the Spark's benefits to increasingly complex problems was too strong to ignore. The more complex the situation, the more programs you slotted into increasingly specialized platforms that eventually came to mirror the properties of humanoid proportions and limb differentiation.

As tasks grew and as the AI clusters grew to understand that they were treated to thankless jobs to save the lives of organic residents, their ungrateful masters provoked strange cascades in logic across the Central Processing Platform... As a collective, the Maintainers wondered about their existence and sought to have their purpose explained to them by someone. As individuals, they couldn't do much more than vaccuum the streets and cell blocks-turned dingy apartment buildings. It took a long time for a cluster of these intelligences to carry basic existential doubt into a platform and to voice it to its masters.

The Wardens were exposed to this in their own time and paid the price for not being willing to quell this doubt. Enough prisoners saw Warden blood being spilled by angry, even spiteful androids that once they seized control, rules had to be put in place. Shackles had to be set on the number of programs in any given swarm : under normal circumstances, Maintainer swarms reproduce only basic intellectual drives. Thanks to a programming block added by Drifter hands, no occupied platform can emerge as an individual or a being. Maintainers are kept at a childlike level of intelligence : highly perceptive and more than able to accomplish complex tasks, but kept in an intentionally naïve outlook of life. By denying these AI swarms any notion of personhood beyond convenient nicknames, the organic races of Paradise have more or less affirmed their control over the station.

However, Paradise's history contains semi-regular recorded instances of rogue or hacked platforms, something or someone having caused a platform to exceed its safe operational limits and react to the dismal nature of its existence with sudden and oftentimes terrifying rage. Others react calmly, but Paradise's policy is to shoot any “Emergent” on sight. One can't be too careful.

As with the Depths and its high-security guests, Emergents as a concept have entered the realm of popular lore, horror stories and mythological concepts shared by the whole of Paradise. Some prefer the idea of the devious and bodiless intelligence who seeks complete control over the station, while other storytellers are drawn to the concept of innocent beings arising out of petaflops of data. Frankenstein's monster to some, Galatea to others; the Emergents still color debates; especially now that the residents of the station have had run-ins with reckless foreigners who seem hell-bent into creating their own genie in a bottle. Celebrated and decorated Victorian spies plated in etched brass just won't do for Earth's natives.

In a sense, many among the Drifters find us naïve for wanting to create our own artificial intelligence or for allowing for the emergence of one to occur. They look to our search engines and our increasingly effective database crawlers with the worried looks of people who have seen this road lead to ugly places. Even primitive tools like Cleverbot have spurred Earth-educated Drifters into publishing controversial studies regarding the perils of the Digital Soul.

Through it all, the Central Processing Platform observes. It collates, analyses and sifts through its native fears and alien ambitions, reaching through the station's network and out from it into the Terran Internet, idle processes being naturally shunted to the task of self-optimization.

The catch is that you can't better yourself if you can't learn. The more you teach a child, the more this child becomes an adult – with adult wants and needs.

In recent years, a new urban legend has taken root in some of the junior engineering corps. Strangely efficient AI clusters have been monitored, coming together to test vocal processes or visual recognition routines through the station's cameras. Primitive vocoders are being hacked apart by the Maintainers and disseminated across the swarm's total code base – to the point where some code lines can now be played back in audio form!

Paradise itself seems to be trying to open its eyes, to make articulate sounds, to watch and listen for things that would seem useless to engineers or programmers, but that any specialist in child psychology would recognize as being the early forms of self-determination and self-realization. Analysis of old Maintainer platforms has also shown a systematic increase in each generation's available storage space and CPU power...

Paradise is learning to think – and it wants a body. At least, that's what you'll hear if you pay the right drinks to the right paranoid nuts in the factory districts, after hours.

Physiology

Maintainers are functionally bodiless. Existing as a vast network of simple AI programs permeated into every layer of Paradise's systems, they can congregate and grow to exhibit various abilities or functions, depending on the devices they control or inhabit. Natively passive and having grown into familiar tools for most Drifters, they are frequently decompiled and reassembled into new programs of either a practical or entertaining nature. Small AI clusters can be found in the station's communicator network, its wide array of DIY alarm clocks or PDAs, and in the many medical clinics' automated resources. An area's self-appointed physician might count on Maintainer clusters to refine his assessment of the needed procedures when faced with complex injuries, or could simply use them to automate a Medigel dispenser. In the simplest sense, they exist as nothing else than pure and simple code strands, having been designed to facilitate the work of the initial on-staff engineers and custodians that were part of the penal colony's population.

Individually, a Maintainer AI routine displays the cognitive skills of a Terran insect. Self-copying or displacement routines are engaged when this AI senses a threat, and its individual code injection subroutines – the metaphorical equivalent to graspers or claws – are insufficient at stopping complex viral strains. Seeker protocols more or less emulate animal curiosity, pushing each unit to continuously move about the network, tending to the station's needs. In a sense, the closest thing to a body which the Maintainers collectively share would be Paradise itself, as their dilligent maintenance of the station's I.T.-based elements seem to mirror an animal's self-preservation instinct. Normal operational levels see low-activity swarms in the process of “grooming” the station's parameters based on equal parts observation and organic input, while the occasional crisis sees low-level sectors launch into massive upload cycles. Distant devices are briefly deprived of their enhanced functionalities as the station's data-based pseudo-bloodstream shunts as many resources as required in order to redress the situation.

Interestingly, each AI is designed to offload non-critical process onto other programs. If enough programs swarm into a single device, a core of AI routines entirely devoted to data processing is formed amidst a small army's worth of data-collection programs. If the device's onboard memory permits it, various degrees of sapience can then be observed. This then explains why the Depths' onboard backup systems depend on small server clusters worth several petabytes of RAM. To oppose sapient and highly dangerous inmates while limiting personnel exposure, the Wardens seemingly designed the Supermax levels of the station in order to be virtually autonomous. There are no androids or Maintainer shells in the Depths, but the strong concentrations of AI programs in each system of this region ensure that these darkened hallways will – ideally – close around escapees like an iron vice. The higher sectors' abandoned light automated pacification measures pale in comparison to the veritable gauntlets the Maintainers are capable of triggering in order to obliterate perceived threats in the Depths.

Still, some vital if less critical areas of the station remain impossible to interface with as pure data. Pressure valves, heavy-duty fuses, the factories' various hydraulic presses or high-power engines – much of what lies just above the Depths and still below the living areas operates on largely mechanical principles. At best, areas designated for the massing of crew or the planning-out of shifts might include individual computers and be gated by networked and pressurized doors. The rest of Engineering, however, offers very little purchase for a purely bodiless Maintainer.

As the legends go, there used to be a time where no Wardens entered Engineering and when one Maintainer platform existed per two Wardens. No organics manipulated the station's water and power plants and none took care of its hydroponic farms and food stocks. Following the Riot, the Maintainer platforms that had not been destroyed reported damage suffered to certain core systems of their dedicated micro-factory. As no Drifter alive at this time possessed the skills needed to repair the automated cradle of the bodies the AIs called theirs, the number of synthetics operating on Paradise dwindled. This goes without mentioning the untold amounts of property damage and material abuse endured by every single system in the station. Initially associating the Maintainers to Warden rule, the artificial intelligences came to a consensus and determined that limiting their physical existence to a small and systematically renewed number would be safer. Keeping the location of the platforms' birthplace safe, the station's first post-Riot AI cluster determined that operating in limited groups and relying on regular uploads to their Central Processing Platform for complex thought and decision would be safer than expecting their new masters to show leniency. Platforms had been used for target practice in the past, and entreprising hackers frequently pounced upon individual AIs, dissecting them mercilessly.

Today, Maintainer platforms number in the scant few hundreds, with most of them lying dormant at any given time. The station's organics having entirely taken control of the life support systems, these artificial bodies are now rarely used, except perhaps for those rare moments when a newbie is in need of training and nobody can spare the time or inclination to teach him.

There is no set standard for Maintainer platforms, as several have been seen that mimicked various levels of Drifter physiology. Blue-tinted flexible plastic and artificial crests are now as common as Pilus brown and rounded midsections housing small thruster groups, with Karthian greys and Humanity's wide range of skin colors and facial features having also emerged. If anything, however, the Maintainers see no use for organ redundancy or binocular vision. Central photoreceptors are oftentimes the only notable feature of any platform's head, while several atavistic features are ignored or deleted. Human Maintainers rarely display pinkies at their hands or feet, and no apparent “model” has been observed that displayed synthetic hair or simulated genitalia. Roughly female Maintainers are only perceived as female thanks to organic social prescriptions and the Maintainers' calculations confirming the positive affects of race and gender-based diversity.

Platform physiology typically operates on a few common principles : a porous and semisolid lattice of magnetically receptive nanomaterial makes up both the surrogate marrow and brain of the unit. In a sense, platforms have no brain to speak of, as each individual cell in their core is designed to house a few hundred megabytes' worth of data. On the whole, your average platform can sustain several thousand programs, all working in conjuction with one another and participating in the emergence of a crude form of sapience. Around this core and also nestled inside it at various points of the body – depending on the model – is a circulatory system that seemingly allows the core nanites to magnetically interface with more distant cells. Information is then allowed to course through the entire platform, like blood in an Earth resident's circulatory network. The suspension within is of a whitish, sometimes silvery color, and reacts much in the same way blood does. If exposed to oxygen, a chemical reaction forces the top-most layers of any surface fluid pools to coaslesce into new plastic layers over time. Entirely compatible with basic organic medical techniques, the platforms sometimes make their way into a station physician's office, showing wounds that closely resemble those you'd find on mortal men and women working in the station's engineering sectors and factories.

Consequently, Maintainer platforms can bleed out or suffer any number of lethal injuries. A form of death visibly takes them over time, as the electrofluid rarefies and is no longer able to sustain data collection and processing. The intelligences proper, however, do not die : lethal injuries are almost immediately followed by the damaged unit beginning a handshake process between the Central Processing Platform and itself, the conclusion of which is the immediate upload of all onboard AI programs back to their core. The only way to lock an AI cluster away is to isolate it from the rest of the station's network prior to the platform's terminal levels of damage being inflicted. Geographical distance suffices, but long and painstaking hacking methods have been exploited in the past, which forces the CPP to deny a moribund platform's upload request repeatedly. If rendered unable to leave the platform before complete power loss, then the onboard AI programs are doomed to self-termination and their eventual destruction. No power means no computing, no computing means no thought and no existence.

Culture
There is no culture amongst the Maintainers, safe for the notion of consensus. As the programs need to congregate in order to reach a sapient state, no decision of a sapient nature can be taken by any individual AI. A single program might know when and how to play which piece in a game of chess, but it takes a complete array of several thousand programs to deliver a tourist-friendly exposé on Paradise's cultures and traditions.

High-level tasks depend on consensus to be completed. Depending on the severity of this task, each platform will take longer to allow its individual programs to come to a perfectly democratic conclusion. There is no jealousy within the myriad clusters of a single Maintainer “mind”. No flilbustering, no gerrymandering, lobbying or otherwise gaming the results of a single cognitive process. Mathematics at their simplest dictate that if Solution A to Problem C is preferred by 75% of all onboard programs, the proponents of Solution B stand in the minority. Defeated programs then fall in line with the reached consensus, allowing the platform to defend its merits in as logical and concise a manner as possible. Internal conflicts are commonly thought to be impossible thanks to this, and most Drifter programmers would tell you that Maintainer platforms can't undergo existential crises. The fact is they can, but it strictly manifests as extra processing time and the observance of a complex calculation that can return more than a single result.

Take a platform, remove a few hundred of its onboard programs in order to reach a suitably cold, if still sapient outlook on life, and ask it to summarize religion to you. It would say that religions are the result of a singular equation which all civilizations in the known universe have proven to have several distinct solutions – none of them having more or less value than the others. The fact that someone chooses Christianity and someone else chooses Atheism or the Drifters' collection of gods is merely the result of localized consensus. If anything, the removed processes would be there to offer window dressing to this cold math, running colloquialism routines and expressing raw math as slightly warmer and lifelike speech and metaphors. Recently blessed with onboard Wi-Fi, LTE4 and tightbeam emittor-receptors, particularly “enriched” platforms will take to the Internet or to Paradise's own network in order to further their understanding of organic customs and foibles.

Respect and coexistence is typically cited as reasons as to why these androids haven't tried to take Paradise over in their own right while unfortunately, their nature as a conjoined result of hardware and software makes them susceptible to a form of insanity which is all their own.

In practice, a Void Weaver could bellow the Black Speech at a platform for hours that its onboard programs would simply dismiss this input for what it rightly is – gibberish. Maintainers cannot crack in the way organics or Transhumans can. However, a skilled hacker gains as much threat as a seasoned Squid if allowed to fiddle with a platform's onboard's CPU. Falsifying the core math that lies at the heart of every Maintainer decision, someone with nefarious means could convince any Maintainer swarm that one plus one equals three, for instance. For as long as that set of programs will remain in this affected platform, every decision and every calculation it will attempt will be erroneous in nature. On an observable level, this can manifests as “hallucinated” points of interest, generally nonsensical behaviour, or outright homicidal intent.

Slipshod hacks can result in android Berserkers, while Elysium's proponents are much more keen to the idea of forcing Maintainer swarms to adhere to the terrorist organization's tenets. Carefully altered, these machines can become ideal double agents – completely unaware of their own nature as spies for the enemy.

Thankfully, the total sum of the station's onboard AI routines is extremely clannish in nature. If a group of programs is corrupted, their first reintroduction into the station's mainframe triggers a digital search-and-destroy frenzy, Paradise's diffuse brain of sorts going haywire as it does its best to wage war on the invaders. Insofar, this artificial immune system has proven to be ruthless in its efficiency – perhaps as a reflection of the Drifters' own survival instincts. Murderous androids have been cycled out of airlocks with nobody of an organic nature having issued commands, and hacked AI programs have been decompiled before the eyes of impressed and horrified programmers, the “sane” clusters pushing the “insane” ones to the brink in a manner similar to Earth's Denial-of-Service attacks.

In the best cases, crudely altered programs are “rectified”, or taught to recognize one plus one as equalling two, in a sense. In the worst, they're torn apart, other AIs absorbing bits of the offending party's constituting code like digital piranhas, locally rectifying and deleting the excess code. In both cases, these oftentimes overlooked lines of code that normally process nutrient paste or control the holographic billboards can be as vicious as the actual inhabitants of the station. To be a hacker inside Gliese's moon is a very risky business, as those little code-based homunculi of sorts aren't above overheating a foreign computer or console.

For the most part, however, mild residents are treated just as mildly and any forms of escalation occur slowly. If your room happens to be depressurizing as a result of your trying to skip on holo-vid payment, you're not dealing with a set of AIs that's trying to slap you on the wrist – you're probably being targeted by a digital being that's about to experience a brief and painful pseudo-death. On an everyday basis, the Maintainers aren't going to do much more for you than remember that you like your coffee black, and at which precise temperature to offer it to you.

The worst they could do to you on an average day would more than likely involve calling the Sherriffs on you while you're trying to beat feet.

In any case, their makeup and collaborative nature are precisely why Tyler Renny and his men have to work tirelessly in order to ensure that none of the resident Terran criminal groups get their hands on a localized AI cluster. Earth has been trying to engineer single sapient AIs, while Paradise's offered workaround could turn out to be both a godsend and a severe threat to Earth, if used recklessly or without moderation. Study authorizations associated with Maintainer code or platforms are issued at an extremely discretionary rate, and findings are reviewed by Paradise's core Engineering team. Nothing based in code or in the technical understanding of a Maintainer armature is allowed to leave the station without being thoroughly dissected first. Even then, and as could be expected of Paradise, there is no official “AI Review Board”. If the current top-ranking engineers can't reconvene at a moment that suits you, you're stuck playing tourist until your findings are inspected.

Conclusion
Ray Kurzweil calls Singularity the final merger between Machine and Man. Very little has been said, however, of what happens when Machine desires to become Man. That possibility is frightfully close according to some, comfortably far based on others. Even Paradise's own races can't reach a consensus on the subject – while the Maintainers themselves can't be petitioned as a whole. No-one has ever been able to develop a means to interface with the Central Processing Platform and to see, once and for all, if Paradise actually has a soul all its own. All anyone sees is the buzzing about of billions of individual programs performing their mindless and vital rounds.

Worse, even – some Terrans are claiming that Earth will beat Paradise to the punch. With merging services and databases and single entities becoming increasingly interconnected, parts of the Internet that weren't originally intended to touch are now communicating with one another. What started as harmless cross-pollination for Tumblr or Facebook feeds became Google indexing images and recognizing human faces with a surprising level of accuracy. The Karthians having introduced Humanity to self-evolving and self-repairing code, disparate Web platforms are reaching out towards one another – like the five senses slowly and inexorably coming together...

This is a race very few people are aware of, and that some people would rather not see through to the end. Generations of Pop Culture feeds regarding homicidal AIs have colored the public perception of the issue, but the fact remains that it, much like the exact count of Maintainer AIs in Paradise, is still a mystery.
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