The robot-filled world predicted for centuries is becoming a reality. In the 26th century, robots serve in every major industry and in every stellar nation, performing programmed tasks of various levels of complexity from rote actions to advanced technical work.
The science of robotics has grown ever since its origins in the 20th century. The reason for robot production appears clear. Robots do work that human beings can't do. The human body, like other organic sentient beings, is limited and even weak. Pistons and gyros can apply more force in a smaller area than an organic muscle that tires and weakens. Robots can also work in environments that would endanger human life. No one questions the use of drones in situations where the risk is high. Humans can't tolerate extreme temperature, gravity, or pressure for very long, and radiation can cripple the human body. But such obstacles can be overcome by robots, without any of the moral quandaries of cybertechnology or applied genetic manipulation.
Robots also do work that humans don't want to do. Work that's repetitive, dull, or located within the loneliest outposts of space can be reliably executed by a sub-sentient robot. Without feeling, emotion, or serf-awareness, the average robot has no distaste for tasks that would drive most sentient species to boredom or even insanity. They perform in completely servile roles without complaint. Common robot models include bodyguard, colonizer, drone, mechanic, miner, and robot tank.
Developments in interstellar technology have been pointing to changes in human-robot relations for many years. In 2318, the first true artificial intelligence went online. Prior to that point, many computer systems could fool a human into believing they were sentient, but their reactive networks actually did little more than respond to stimuli with such blazing speed that they could delude most of the public-that is, they passed because of human weakness, rather than because of true sentience. After the development of crystal lattice processors that both stored and processed data-much like the neurons of the human brain-the machines began to talk back. Soon enough the early AIs were asking the interesting questions of metaphysics. Borealin philosophers had a field day dissecting the implications and quizzing the new machines about their model of the universe.
Artificial intelligence is all the rage. At first, an AI filled rooms upon rooms, dozens of square meters. The first Al occupied the equivalent of four city blocks, although much of that space was open to give the AIs builders access to data crystals. Development over the last two centuries has reduced the cumbersome crystal lattice structures somewhat, but the smallest AIs must still be housed within the computer banks of starships, space stations, and ground installations. Therefore, the technology of the day cannot effectively miniaturize an AI program to fit within the confines of a humanoid body. Many of these artificial intelligences can and do control robots of their own-via remote controls commonly called memory harnesses. A bot under the control of a parent Al doesn't have the processing power of its parent when operating alone, but usually the bot and the Al stay in direct radio contact whenever possible.
Only a few years after the birth of the first Al, a revolution autonomous robots changed the way that they would operate and be perceived. According to computer theoreticians and literati, it isn't artificial intelligence. But it's not a strictly linear program-driven matrix either. The Dillon lattice pseudo-AI unit is the means by which most robots function. They aren't fully sentient, but they are intelligent, able to make complex decisions on their own. They have no emotions and no ability to comprehend human emotional responses. As for truly independent robots, controlled by free intelligences, they remain still a goal, not a fact. Research continues throughout the Stellar Ring, especially in the StarMech Collective, famous for use of robots in all aspects of its society.
The full implications of artificial intelligence remain unexplored. Once a matter of theoretical debate, the issue is growing more immediate, and each culture struggles to find an answer. At first, robots were simply property, but they were soon given special status under the law. Malicious attack on a robot is classified as property damage, but if a robot's memory or processor cores are damaged, charges of homicide can be levied.
Many historians believe the shift in attitude toward robots and AIs during the last hundred years is a result of contact with the mechalus. With mechalus working alongside roboticists, it was easier for everyone to accept broader robot rights. The precedent was established in the Rigunmor Star Consortium in the Guilder Van Huys murder case, when robots first testified as witnesses in court by performing memory downloads. The Orion League, StarMech Collective, and Insight soon followed suit, granting robots the right to act as witnesses in court cases, as well as for wills and other legal documents.
Increasingly intelligent and independent robots may some- day be accepted as full citizens, at least in progressive nations such as the Orion League, Insight, and the Borealis Republic. There, robots are already gaining civil rights and must be treated as full citizens in many respects. They may own property, run businesses, and access public places; emancipated robots must even pay taxes. But even in the most liberal stellar nations, free robots are rare. In the rest of space, emancipated robots don't exist. They simply must accept orders from their creators-or risk depowering and reprogramming.