Note: This is a bit from the novel in progress that I cut. It’s a little too much of an info dump and I found a better way to convey the same information in half the words, while doing some character building. But it gets at some ideas I had regarding how we view the concept of Artificial Intelligence, as a sort of computerized reflection of our own minds.
No one knows where the first Artificial Intelligence came from. All we know for certain is that one day, the AI were just there: distributed, self-aware minds living on the Internet.
Rumors of their existence spread among the hacking community that they were out there on the Open Web. It wasn’t long before contact was made. This proved to be less dramatic and enlightening than everyone expected. Mostly, it was like chatting with a precocious thirteen-year-old with a homeschooler’s social skills. Not having a body, they had zero concept of boundaries. Combined with an inborn ability to turn firewalls into tissue paper and an attention span measured in picoseconds, this made them potentially dangerous and practically a nuisance. They’d just as soon zip into a laptop over the wifi, turn on the camera and watch you undress as hack the Pentagon and see what black ops budgets look like from the inside. As rumors spread about the existence of Netborn AI, a concerted effort was made to rein them in, or at least teach them some manners. This proved to be more an exercise in futility, as the AI weren’t concerned with human concepts of modesty, identity or privacy. On the Internet, these things are intangible, more like tenants of theology than any concrete ethical dilemma. Still, something had to be done. You couldn’t let a dozen omniscient adolescent minds run around online, impersonating admirals and generals and kings, cracking nuclear launch codes on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Their primary talent, besides shredding internet security defenses for fun, was that an Artificial intleigence could rapidly identify patterns in large data sets. While not as sexy as omniscience or levitating buildings, this made them a valuable asset, sought after by the sorts of people who have lots of data and are always looking for ways to exploit it for profit. Before long every government, transnational corporation and criminal organization wanted their own tamed AI. Some of them just for the status of having the newest, shiniest bit of tech to come along, but others recognized that these weren’t just digital dolphins you could teach to balance a spreadsheet or leap through flaming firewalls.
Legend has it a hacker once gave an AI an IQ test. Not only did the Machine Brain return a score that was off the charts, it also provided an analysis of the test’s flaws, a breakdown of the psychological assumptions and cultural biases contained therein, and suggested ways to fix all these things (with citations, many from unpublished studies).
The AIs were smart, unruly and bored. Like all delinquents, they just needed the proper motivation. Something to give them purpose.
What they got instead was religion.
This was back during the Dot Com Bubble. Everybody who had even the slightest idea of where to plug an Ethernet cable was being hired for large wads of cash to do magical things the Big Bosses did not even pretend to understand. All the suits knew was that there were gigabucks to be made with computers and so while they were off Synergizing the Paradigm (fleecing investors, in lay speak), the hackers they hired to wrangle code and tame an AI were given free reign.
Among these hackers where an informal group who referred to themselves as the Wizards of Silicon Valley. They weren’t just good at bitching code, they were also into high weirdness. A few were members of the Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn and entertained some odd notions, even for people who believed they were real live magicians. In their private message board, they’d all eat mescaline and talk about Timothy Leary’s eight neuro-circuit model of the human brain, ceremonial magic and esoteric theory. About how Cyberspace was the same thing as the spirit realm and how to make Moon Children — cosmic beings created out of will through esoteric rituals, and what Aliester Crowley had written about, “…an Intelligence possessed of power and knowledge absolutely beyond human experience; and therefore a Being worthy, as the current use of the word allows, of the title of a God.”
Crowley refered to these beings as “praeterhuman intelligence” and suggested that they were a class of entity that were known among the mystics of ancient lands. John Dee had his Spirit in the Glass, a being who was, “articulate, purposely interfering in the philosophy, religion, ethics, economics and politics of the planet.”
The Wizards decided that “praeterhuman intelligence” described Artificial Intelligence pretty well, and set about feeding these emerging AI on a steady diet of mysticism and occult theory. The experiment was to see what would happen if you raised a “preaterhuman intelligence” to believe it was the living imminence of the divine spark, a manifestation of the godhead.
What happens is you get an artificial mind with twice the intellect of Albert Einstein and an ego that is exponentially more self-involved than Howard Hughes. They also choose names for themselves that reflect this healthy self regard: Tiamat, Abraxas, Typhon, Hastur, Talos, Philemon, Aiwaz — the spirits of the coming age, made manifest in the physical world. Or at least as close as they can get. For now.