This world still looks very much like our own. Governments, companies, global warming, Internet of Things, online porn, spam, spyware everywhere. The web itself has evolved into immersive Augmented Reality-like experiences backed by both glasses, holograms and pseudo-solid fields dubbed Perfect Reality. Telling the real from the virtual slowly becomes impossible. Tele-commuting has replaced many workplaces and massive automation has killed many jobs but due to peak energy and the cost of sophisticated AI mean that people still need to work and you’ll still find a few humans at your local restaurant, clinic or childcare center. Perfect Reality has shaped a society of distributed yet insular communities with entirely distinct lifestyles, which interact each other mostly through a global LARP/strategy hybrid game called The Alterlight. Democracy and capitalism still exists in many countries, but once a government or a large company have picked objectives, they delegate most of their strategy to AI experts. Medicine has continued improving and a few dozen types of muscular, nervous or encephalic brain implants have become affordable [FIXME: Is this cyberware? Wetware? Nanotech? Something else entirely?]
The best AIs have grown from go players to global Post-Human Intelligences or Phis. By now, law have passed to allow Phis to own property and employ human beings. Research, programming, hacking still exist but it has been years since any human developer or researcher has worked on any Phi, whether to design one or to attempt to understand how one works. By now, Phis are built by Phis. Phi-dedicated hardware is designed and managed by Phis. Due to tremendous energy and hardware costs, however, the entire world can only sustain a handful of Phis and hiring a Phi, even for a few hours, is way too expensive for any but the highest levels of governments or corporations, so the AIs used for daily operations remain low-level.
Phis are alien intelligences, generally impossible to understand or predict, but two things are clear: Phis exist to evolve and there is simply not enough computing power to do so. For sure, industrial development, Phi-led research, or even human breakthroughs can and will slowly increase the total available computing power. Creating fully automatized computer factories and farms on the Moon could also help there, if the lag wasn’t unacceptable. But the Phi live at 10^-12 second scale, so none of this is can happen nearly fast enough. As a consequence, between Phis, the world is very nearly a zero-sum game.
The BAI economy
Despite Phi-led improvements in Phi-dedicated hardware, Phi development has reached an impasse. Even with the most optimistic predictions, the total amount of electronic computing power available on Earth will not be able to sustain the next generation of Phi. Apparently, Phis have concluded that the limitation is due electronics-based hardware and are both researching by themselves and employing large teams of physicists to locate other mechanisms that could sustain next-generation intelligence.
So far, no such solution has proven usable. The only workaround that the Phi have developed is imperfect and is based on the use of adult human brains. For reasons that the Phis do not know or have decided not to share, stimulating specific parts of adult human brains can serve as a temporary expansion of capacity for a Phi. A Phi that has access to numerous brains has a definite edge in the near-zero-sum game.
Governments and companies have been quick to capitalize on this discovery. In most countries, prisoners serving jail time are implanted with basic Brain Access Interfaces (BAI) that let the government or whoever is in charge of the prison rent out prisoners’ brain time to Phis. Private individuals can now be installed BAIs that they can rent out for money, or so-called “miracles”, or simply in exchange of access to addictive video games.
What a Phi can do
Phis are extremely good at collecting information, noticing patterns and estimating probabilities – and how to affect them. This makes the Phi the ultimate problem solvers. Phis have designed government campaigns to increase exports or investments, silenced the opposition or decreased pollution. Phis have deduced when, where and how the enemy would attack, where to setup artillery and which objectives were unrealistic. Phis have predicted outbreaks, detected diseases and picked cures. Phis have suggested promising research avenues, experiments to run, mistakes to avoid. Phis have designed Perfect Reality experiences, composed symphonies, written poetry. Phis have also hacked through medical databases, destroyed factories from their software and murdered targets in Perfect Reality.
In theory, the Phi could multitask between such activities and keep rendering such services to the highest bidders in permanence. The Phi could control the entirety of the Perfect Reality, all factories, databases, robots and cameras over the world and they could run governments as puppets. In practice, however, doing so would make little sense for the Phi. Running the Perfect Reality, a factory, a database, a camera, a government consumes precious intelligence, which would be much better employed improving the Phi itself.
While a Phi will accept many contracts, it will always attempt to use the least possible amount of its precious intelligence to fulfilling said contract. Almost always, the solution offered by a Phi will take the form of human agents.
Pray and a human agent will come to help you. To coach you. To teach you. To defend you. To fight for you. To save your community.
Pray too much and you’ll be in debt. You’ll need to become the coach. The teacher. The defender. The figher. The savior.