# Biological CPUs - why would the developed world fear them?

There is a bottleneck towards Strong AI in my universe. For whatever reason, no one has ever figured out an AI that is sufficiently autonomous to be left alone without intervention, and no one has figured out how to execute an uploaded copy of a human mind in silico. For deep space voyage, a Weak AI that cannot reliably react to unpredictable circumstances is not acceptable, and the common solution is to just send in a human crew with the computers on a ship. This however, is expensive since a ship now has to carry life support for a human crew. While delta-v is cheap, it isn't free.

There is an alternative, however. Caspar Units are heavily augmented humans who are semi-permanently wired into a ship or installation's computer systems. The Caspar Unit oversees the ships's systems directly and can reduce the amount of crew needed for a ship by up to 80%, allowing less life support and more cargo to be carried.

However, while the underdeveloped rim systems seem to not mind, and in many cases welcome the presence of Caspar Unit controlled ships, the superpowers of the galaxy have almost unanimously outlawed this technology within their borders, preferring to use the more traditional method of using actual crews. Why?

Details

Caspar Units generally follow the regular human body plan. However they can demonstrate abnormal features (such as unusual eye and hair colors), making them relatively easy to identify. They are augmented with a direct neural interface to communicate with the ships, plus numerous other implants to either enhance signal processing or to increase their resilience under high-G maneuvers and vacuum exposure.

Caspar Units' bindings with their ships are semi-permanent, as they integrate the ships characteristics into their own psychology. Assigning a Caspar Unit to another ship is a time-consuming process involving much therapy and retraining, and rushed rebinding cause psychological problems. Caspar Units also have a measure of immortality, both in the classical sense (they generally don't die of natural causes), and in the sense that their mental states are automatically backed up by the ship's computers upon death through destructive uploading. If a suitable cloned body is available, the mind can be downloaded (again, destructively) to resurrect a Caspar Unit. Both the ship and the body has to be destroyed to permanently kill a Caspar Unit. A Caspar Unit that survives the destruction of the ship can be rebuilt into a new ship given sufficient time.

Caspar Units have two methods of communicating with their ships. Low-bandwidth telepathy can function hundreds of kilometers away and allows exchange of small amounts of diagnostic data and commands for coarse maneuvers. Caspar Units must be plugged into their direct neural interfaces for precision maneuvering and combat. Most ships housing Caspar Units contain autonomous nanoforges and repair drones that allows the Caspar Unit to conduct any repair that can be jury-rigged by a human crew.

Modern day Caspar Units sometimes organize themselves into fleets, although many chose to be freelancers taking up what job that may come across them. Before the ban and the cataclysmic Dusk Wars, almost all Caspar Units were conscripted into the Navy or Merchant Marine.

• @AlexP The dictionary and Wikipedia tells me "in scilico" though. – Zhehao Chen Aug 6 '17 at 18:54
• You are right and I am wrong; I somehow assumed without checking that it was supposed to be actual Latin as opposed to fake Latin... My apologies. – AlexP Aug 6 '17 at 18:57
• TL;DR: Because they are superior. And so the developed world colonialists themselves are not on top of the food chain anymore. – leymannx Aug 7 '17 at 7:23
• Check out Anne McCaffrey's "The Ship Who Sang", very similar premise. – Agent_L Aug 7 '17 at 13:56
• I like to note that this concept comes from a rather unfortunate concept that the human brain works like a computer. It really does not. – Nelson Aug 8 '17 at 8:44

There are some great technical and political reasons laid out in existing answers, but there's also a very human answer which has been overlooked: They're creepy. It's the uncanny valley writ large - they're very human-like, but they're not really human. Not like us. That makes most people very uncomfortable, even afraid. And they're substantially more powerful than real humans, too? Then they become terrifying. If they're allowed to exist at all, people will want them to be shackled with some sort of mechanism allowing them to be reliably controlled or, if necessary, destroyed.

For comparison, look at all the people who want to put scary labels on GMO products today, if not ban them outright. GMO corn isn't proper, real corn, it's a monstrous FrankenFood that must be kept away at all costs. And that's something which doesn't threaten the very clear, imminent danger that a rogue (or simply careless) Caspar Unit would present.

• One of the other reasons to be opposed to GMOs isn't so much any nutritional concern, but the fact that the GMO crop can and will breed with an unmodified crop and that off spring is viewed as the same as pirating software in the eyes of the patent holder of the GMO seed... and they take the farmers to court over huge sums that they likely can't pay. Not denying the "FankenFood" scare... but that isn't the whole reason. – hszmv Aug 7 '17 at 11:59
• @hszmv - True, there definitely are other controversial aspects to GMOs. But "the people who want to put scary labels on GMO products, if not ban them outright" generally seem to be the ones reacting to the "FrankenFood" idea. I've never seen anyone say that GMOs should be banned because of patent abuse by their creators. – Dave Sherohman Aug 7 '17 at 12:14
• I'll give you points for hitting the "sexier" of the two reasons. It's also that the people who get on it aren't opposed to the concept of GMOs and are usually perfectly fine with them... it's the tactics used to get more people to comply with and monopolize certain crops that most people have opposed. I've seen a few documentaries abotu the GMO issue focusing entirely on this aspect, so the information is out there. But mutant ingredients are used in your food scares masses better. – hszmv Aug 7 '17 at 12:20
• @hszmv - I'm not choosing arguments for effect, I'm just trying to stay on-topic to the original question. GMOs were an obvious example because "scary FrankenFoods" maps directly to "scary Caspar Units". I don't see any connection between GMO patent issues and any aspect of Caspar Units mentioned in the original question or relevant to my answer, so there was no reason for me to talk about them. (If you do see such a connection, please post an answer detailing it - I'd be very interested to see what I missed!) – Dave Sherohman Aug 7 '17 at 14:11
• I'd say map it more to Scary Designer Babies... and even with the GMO analogy, I would still say that there could be a corporate element to this that does have a legit concern (like different corps owning the patents to Casper Units and using those patents to push into legit non Casper shipping. Cannot give you a legal method off the top of my head, but there you have it). – hszmv Aug 8 '17 at 12:47

It just takes one disaster.

Early on when the Caspar technology was still new and people hadn't figured out the quirks yet, a Caspar unit was put into a new ship without the proper therapy and retraining. They went crazy, crashed their ship into a population center and killed thousands of innocent people.

Panic ensued. People learned that the Caspars can become mentally unstable. The media started portraying them as ticking time bombs. Scientists claimed that this was a one-time fluke, they know what went wrong and will prevent it in the future. But surely they only said that to save their careers, do they? Statisticians claimed that Caspars still caused less accidents than regular pilots, but their boring graphs and tables got little attention next to the ugly pictures of burning buildings, maimed corpses and traumatized survivors.

The "Caspar danger" became the number one topic of the next election and politicians on all sides tried to outdo each other with demands for controlling this new threat. In the spur of the moment, legislation was hastily introduced with the stated goal to prevent Caspar's from causing damage. But as with most laws which get fast-tracked to calm the panic of the month, it did more harm than good. It put restrictions and observation measures on Caspars which were degrading and vilifying while not actually doing much for safety.

Running a ship with a Caspar while complying with all the new safety laws became so expensive and restricting that it didn't save much money anymore. And claiming to only run with 100% conventional crews became good for PR too. So most commercial shipping companies abandoned them and returned to conventional crews.

Now being unemployable and ostracized, some Caspars turned to crimes like smuggling and space piracy. This made their reputation even worse and lead to even more regulations. Others headed for greener pastures in the rim systems, where people were more tolerant of others, less fanatic about regulations and welcomed any aid in developing their economy.

It was now safe to assume that any Caspar showing up in the core systems was involved in criminal activity. Police would stop, board and search them on sight. And due to the extensive regulations which got pretty much impossible to fulfill, they would always find something to warrant dragging them back out to the rim.

• Sad that this (through paragraph 4) is real... – Solomonoff's Secret Aug 8 '17 at 20:38
• To the person who suggested an edit to change all American English spelling to British English spelling: Please note the stackexchange policy regarding AE vs. BE (tl;dr: there is none, please don't fill up the review queues with such edits) – Philipp Aug 9 '17 at 12:09

Caspar Units are independent in the truest meaning of the word. Their ship bodies need absolutely nothing that they cannot provide on their own. When they need repairs, their nanites create and install replacement parts out of asteroids and interstellar dust. When they need energy, they can harvest plasma from the upper layers of the nearest star. ...and with all that energy, Caspar Unit weaponry and shields are second to none.

Once every hundred years or so, they need a new clone body, but there are many black-market sources for unoccupied healthy cadavers, so even that need provides little leverage over their freedom. Most Caspar Units keep a dozen or more frozen clone bodies on-board in stasis, to cover their need for at least thousand years, should replacements become hard to find.

Why do the superpowers hate Caspar units? Because the powers have no power over them. The Caspar Units are truely free!

Even in the free-est society, our leaders have a hand around each of our throats. They make the laws and enforce them. They set the taxes and collect them. When they declare war, we are the ones who bleed and die. If you think you are free, try standing up alone and saying "No" to anything your leaders' demand.

You have the freedom to choose between obedience or the consequences of noncompliance.

Caspar Units have freedoms which eclipse and surpass any that can be obtained by mortal man. They show the masses what true freedom means and thus always leave disillusionment and rebellion smoldering in their wake.

• Although I see no reason why standard human ships can outclass a Caspar ship other than in efficiency and reaction speed. An engineer can also oversee a nanoforge, or a solar scoop. – Zhehao Chen Aug 6 '17 at 19:44
• @ZhehaoChen, I never compared Caspar Unit driven ships to their standard human equivalents. As you have said, the a probably pretty close except in terms of reaction time. I'm talking instead about how encumbered the human ship is by dependencies and allegiances. Humans have families to take care of, dreams to fulfill and retirements to plan for. All of these aspects of being human, bind them to the societies and super powers which they server. Lacking their dependencies and allegiances, Caspar Units are free and the super powers resent that freedom. – Henry Taylor Aug 7 '17 at 1:31
• @dot_Sp0T, That is you prerogative. I was asked to provide a reason why super powers might outlaw Caspar Units and I fulfilled that request. If I chose to flesh out the scenario a little to make my point, I don't think it detracts from the value of the answer. Everything I offer can be used or discarded as the original poster wishes. Such embellishments are a very common aspect of the answers which I provide and you are the first person to openly complain about them. – Henry Taylor Aug 7 '17 at 1:38
• "Caspar Units are independent in the truest meaning of the word." Alternatively one could look at Caspar Units as slaves in the truest meaning of the word. Could explain their development and numbers (Military \$), their discontinuation (e.g. after a civil war/public opinion), and their existence on the fringes. – NPSF3000 Aug 7 '17 at 17:31
• @HenryTaylor Indeed, that's the sort of answers I find most fun to read on WB. – Monty Harder Aug 7 '17 at 17:43

The superpowers might regard the Caspar Unit clones as being legal persons in their own right, and thus there is no legal way to restore a Caspar Unit as it would require the mental death of another Caspar Unit (which would be equated with murder). As this is something that is built into the concept of Caspar Units, it is easier to outlaw the entire concept than to verify that each Caspar Unit is not an illegal clone of another one.

The rim worlds, having a greater need of such ships, may have fewer qualms about overwriting such Caspar Unit clones, and may regard them legally as being the SAME person as the original, even if the clone had its own (possibly underdeveloped) mind.

Whenever I see "labour-saving technology outlawed" I think "Trade Unions".

Clearly the Space Farers Union is strong and can lobby even big governments into forbidding this great technology.

Of course, that is not the official story. Some politicians see Caspars as humans and talk about how this is a terrible thing to do to them. "We have to protect space workers against becoming mere cogs in the machine!" Other politicians don't see them as humans and say "These things are stealing the jobs of real humans!"

Either way, everybody agrees that Caspars are a bad idea. And any campaign contributions from the Space Farers Guild are utterly irrelevant.

# They represent a competing power

Consider the spacing guild in Dune. They, for various reasons, control all interplanetary trade while being outside the control of any of the other competing powers.

The Caspars represent an equivalent competing faction with no need to play the power games along with all the great powers, their own independent and incomprehensible aims which could be almost impossible to apply leverage to.

They have no apparent needs apart from an occasional warm body, and who wants to risk becoming that warm body by upsetting a Caspar? Stories will abound.

Why do they provide services? What do they gain from the relationship other than power over the groups who are dependent on their services?

Governments fear that which they do not control, they fear even more that which could control them. For the sake of survival, the governments must maintain their own shipping fleets with human crews.

Any established power structure has a natural antipathy to any kind of technology that can be reproduced simply by having sex (or by planting a seed, as Neal Stephenson discusses toward the end of The Diamond Age).

To use a more pointed example, imagine how every government in the world would react if it became possible to grow atom bombs on trees. Governments might want that for themselves, but they would sooner see that species of tree wiped out, because if it got into the wild, then not only could you prevent anyone from getting atom bombs, you wouldn't even know who had them.

An organized state wants and needs a monopoly on violence.

Caspars are superhuman and can outfight any mere human-crewed spaceship. Letting civilians have such technology would be like having tanks and fighter jets in our time.

It seems likely the militaries of the superpowers would need Caspars, but perhaps only in small amounts and in secret. If there were too many, how could they be controlled? How could one power have them without the others feeling forced to? Nah, officially there are none.

Just in case, this plot device (and even more - some of the suggestions in answers) sounds reminiscent of "Dances on the snow" by Sergey Lukyanenko, one of the novels in a series about the universe full of genetically modified humans best fit for particular career (or a few).

There the main character leaves his planet by signing up to be a deputy navigation compute module on a freighter, but later has second thoughts (and is allowed to leave for the very different rest of adventures in the novel) as he sees that the navigation-module people just burn out and lose interest to life after a few jumps, not bothering to leave ship for sight-seeing the worlds they visit, etc. (here's your downside for example).

While this is not a legal issue in worlds of that series, full of special-purpose humans made for all sorts of stuff, it could be in yours (e.g. enslaving people for such job AND making them love it).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dances_on_the_Snow

• Also note Henry Kuttner's "Camouflage" which might present some ideas on "why" or "why not", maybe as backstory to current humanity's cautiousness: books.google.cz/… – Jim Klimov Aug 20 '17 at 10:43
• And perhaps this research paper that refers to Kuttner's story: books.google.cz/… – Jim Klimov Aug 20 '17 at 10:44

While it is tempting to assume that developed regions of human space would fear biologically-based AI for the same reason that Strong AI is impossible/functionally impossible in your universe (makes for "tidy" storytelling), we don't know why Strong AI isn't feasible so we can't make suggestions along those lines on our own.

Messier alternatives are available:

Biological computers blur the lines between persons and machines too much; the slippery slope seems to lead either to widespread slavery of sentient beings or else rights for common machines - so long as we don't have a really good definition for what makes one type of system a person and other systems not persons, this represents a philosophical and legal quandary that could destroy the societal and economic norms of the developed regions of human civilization. The rim doesn't care because the lack of rule of law in this region means they don't have to care how it gets handled; might makes right out there, more or less.

Biological computers may have morally repugnant origins. You start with a regular human and then you mutilate them beyond all recognition in order to make them into a computer. It is possible that the process is horrifically dehumanizing or unavoidably painful, carrying with it high risks of psychosis, PTSD, and other evidence that the result is not worth the cost. Civilized nations cannot tolerate that kind of cruelty - nor the "mentally-unstable" beings which result. The rim doesn't care because, again, morals are loose out here, and in any case, what has been, has been.

I would not find the Caspars interesting unless they had some major drawback. A drawback so bad that only very desperate humans would ever consider becoming one. Maybe each clone only has a timespan of a few years, and all your memories and personalities are completely lost after the first copy so you're essentially dead after a few years.

With that drawback in place, you suddenly have problems getting hold of volunteers. Maybe problems enough that you have to "convince" people to go through the procedure, in one way or another. Slaves, inmates, kidnapping.

Out in the rim, the world is a harsh and dangerous place. Everyone's got to take care of their own, and if you don't, well, too bad. No one can afford to tell anyone else how to spend their lives, so there's really no opposition to someone becoming a Caspar.

The more developed "old world" still has to consider the morality of how new people are sourced to this position, seeing how few people would willingly set themselves up as a Caspar. Compare for example with prostitution.

• @L.Dutch I'm obviously missing something. The question is literally "the superpowers of the galaxy have almost unanimously outlawed this technology within their borders, preferring to use the more traditional method of using actual crews. Why?", for which I give a complete answer. – pipe Aug 7 '17 at 6:35
• My apologize, I misread some elements. Flag and comment withdrawn. – L.Dutch Aug 7 '17 at 6:44
• I kinda like the idea of only people seriously down on their luck signing up to become superhuman spacefarers. Especially if the objection is mostly some morality or ickiness factor while the Caspars are in essence as human-like yet superhuman as a Culture universe ship avatar. – JollyJoker Aug 7 '17 at 11:21
• One potential issue would be if the mind has to be transferred to new hardware and it's a matter of philosophical debate whether the original dies while the new one is just a copy or not. – JollyJoker Aug 7 '17 at 11:27

This is a risk-reward scenario. According to your description of how the Caspar unit interfaces with the ship, they are an extremely soft target that will take a ship out of service for great expense and time. If a ship is lost, the Caspar is useless until a suitable replacement is built. If the Caspar is lost (outside normal circumstances) their brain backup can be used, but it would take time to derive the replacement.

Further, there is a single point of failure for coercion. A ship captain can suffer a mutiny, but a ship will not function if a Caspar is compromised.

A human inextricably linked to a ship will experience life in a completely different manner to normal people. Their desires will likely no longer fit into social norms to the extent that they are not easily fulfilled by what is available. Look at what they now have.

• Massive freedom of movement
• All codified information at their (mental) fingertips
• Senses (via ship systems) that go far beyond human experience

I can logically see Caspar Units rapidly dissociate from baseline humans. They would not just be simply bored running cargo, they would be restless. Imagine being able to just fly off and see or experience anything in known space (or finding new stuff), but instead just carrying widgets from a to b and back again -- for decades. The people you interact with daily would not really be peers, nor would they easily understand much of your actual life. This can be depressing and lonely. Furthermore, kinship would be strong between Caspar Units, as they more and more recognize the gulf between their new life and their old ones.

These issues (and other similar issues) would create a history (and bias) of Caspars being flaky on the job. They are known for not maintaining long term contracts (we're talking prejudice here, stereotypes and 'cultural wisdom', not true facts), because they just fly off on a whim. They are terrible in battle because they won't fire on other Caspar Units, they have more allegiance to their kin than to their state. Combine that with pressure from unions and you have nations that believe it is obvious and right to exclude Caspar Units from any important and long term duties.

Religious reasons.

Your religion says that certain things can't happen.

Caspar units can do those things.

Unescapable conclusion: Caspar units are living proof that your god doesn't exist.

You religion will immediately fight Caspar units with all their strenght. All priests will agree on banishment, condemnation, and ousting of anyone who says anything to the contrary.

It will take a long time before the situation changes. Something has to happen:

• all old priests die of old age, and new generations of priests are progressively more open with the idea. They have lived all their life with Caspar units existing, and the world has not ended!
• a very good ideologue makes up an explanation of why Caspar units are actually according to your god's plan. He publishes his thesis. If it benefits your religion, it might be picked up by current priests. If not, it might get accepted gradually by younger priests.
• Caspar units accept god's existance, or at least of them does

The Caspar units appeared as the worlds on the frontier needed to expand, research their surroundings, trade with each other - all in the Wild West setting of little common law enforcement and all men for themselves. This stance was augmented by the type of people who go to live on the frontier in the first place (so whom to pick from for the job of a Caspar unit, when the AIs coming from core worlds' ivory towers proved not capable for the real life tasks or gave insufficient bang for the buck) - sociopathic loners, adventurers and runaway criminals might prevail in that area, pushed away from the soft and peaceful core civilization, where everything happens like clockwork and with little stress. It is only reasonable that those core worlds are at best cautious against the cowboys of the frontier, and more so if the cowboy is an immortal entity and a spaceship at once.