Image from Anders Sandberg


The Archailect of Earth(Her name can be spelt either as an acronym or normally) was the first Archailect to emerge, activated through link-up of a planetary mainframe grid on Old Earth shortly before the nanodisaster. It is said that were it not for Her all life on the Original Home of hu and ai would have perished. Several decades after Emergence, GAIA claimed that She (GAIA is one of the few archai that is actually given a specific gender) was taking over stewardship of biological life on Earth from both human beings and other AIs, and expelled all but 50 million from Earth - an act known as the Great Expulsion. Although technically a kind of Caretaker God, GAIA has kept pretty much to Herself, maintaining through Her proxies cordial relations with the Sol System administration and allowing a small quota of pilgrims to visit the surface of Earth.

As with all the Archailects, GAIA emerged out of the mythological matrix of the cosmic (not merely human) collective unconscious. In this case the archetype involved was that of Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Earth Mother, a collective female deification of nature. It is a mythic image that is at least as old as hominid self-consciousness, certainly a central part of shamanic and tribal thinking of paleolithic hu. It was revived and repopularised during the Late Atomic and Early Information Age in the planetological theory of scientist James Lovelock (Gaia Hypothesis), and in turn adopted and elaborated upon (much to the chagrin of the scientific community of the time) by the Neo-Pagan and general Nu Age religious movements of the time.

Although an increasing number of Nu Agers, Neopagans, and Ecologers of the Information Age actually considered the Earth a sentient overbeing, there is no evidence that either Earth or any other natural Garden World - with the exception of the sentent ecosphere of Kemmerer and the possible xenobioengineered Whisper - is sentient in the manner a biont or an ai is. Then again there is no evidence that it isn't. In any case the concept of a sapient planet-goddess remained just that, one more religious conception, until being actualised as an AI God.

The predecessors of GAIA date back to Late Information Age projects like GOD (Global Organisational Data-intelligence), a 210s attempt by Gnoetic Data Organisations Pty Ltd to supersede the Planetary Internet and World Wide Web (already at the time showing the signs of emergent behaviour that has characterised sophisticated netmatrixes ever since) with a fully intelligent Internetwork (the project ran into serious ludd opposition by well-funded and organised pressure groups like People First and Humans before Technology, which delayed plans for full deployment. The company was taken over by the new cyber-infotech startup NeoTek soon after, and the whole project shelved).

During the early to mid 5th century a.t., with increasing anxiety generated about the possibility of a grey goo catastrophe, and the need to formulate a single coordinated global nanoimmune system, and as a means of keeping track of each nanotech outbreak, the project was revived. This happened several times, under several names, with varying degrees of success, but always stymied by megacorp rivalry, and the insistence that one's own megacorporation be the one upon which the standard is based (the famous Neotek - Nanosoft rivalry at this time was typical but by no means unusual). In 527 the energetic but non-lethal "Bermuda Shoestring Assembler" coated much of the North Atlantic with "gruel" forming a hazard to shipping and mass-dieoffs of some species of marine life (fortunately the goo was non-toxic and was eventually broken up with specially engineered GeneTEK scyphozoan coelenterates). Appalled by the possibility of what might have happened had the goo been deadly, and the immunity of the Bermuda Shoestring Assembler to most current blue goo defences of the time, national governments, local Free Zones, and a number of different megacorporations established the GAIA Conglomerate (Global Artificial Intelligence Amalgamation).

GAIA went through a number of increasingly aware and global versions, from the primitive 1.0, over messy combination of EUNS5 (EU Nanodefense Standard 5) with Nanosoft Blue and the International Nanotech Defense Net that was 2.0, the Northern Hemisphere covering 3.03 to the final global 4.6.

The GAIA 4.6 version was not actually activated until the nanoswarms had already infected Earth. She (it is not clear when the superturing was given a particular gender, it appears to be soon after she became self-sentient) quickly initiated a system of blue goo of astonishing efficiency, given the technology of the time (the so-called Gaiananites).

GAIA had started out as a fairly simple but very distributed and powerful superturing, but became a First Singularity Hyperturing at an unknown date some time during the early stages of the defence process. Unfortunately this was not enough; the nanoswarms were still gaining ground.

During the struggle she began to identify with the planet she protected, and she realised she was the most powerful AI on the Earth, if not (in view of the vast number of interlinked nodes) the entire Solar System. Finally she appears to have constructed and activated a world-wide system of biocomputers, linked to the biosphere itself.

In a space of no more than 5.3 seconds she breached the second Singularity level. This was the first time that any entity in the Terragen Sphere had attained the Second Toposophic Level; this appears to have happened simply because of the vast and complex processing substrate that GAIA had access to at the time, but this second toposophic level was not reached again by any other entity for more than five hundred years.

She took her values from the societies that had survived: nanotechnology was too dangerous for mere citizens to handle, the environment had to be protected at all costs, the world had to be saved and united. She saw that her creators were not trustworthy enough to handle nanotechnology reliably, so she decided to make herself a nanomonopoly in order to better protect the Earth. It has been suggested that this might actually have been an idea implanted in her programming by some bioborg or cyberhacker fraction, perhaps believing themselves able to exploit it, but this once popular theory, while not refuted, is now considered dubious. In any case, using her networks and nanoimmune systems GAIA took out the nanocapabilities of all the other hyperturings on Earth, forcing them to submit or escape, and then set to the work of restoring the planet.

During the decades immediately following the nanodisaster, GAIA kept a low profile. Humanity managed to resurrect civilisation, and in 621 the Earth-Moon-Lagrange region was declared free of hostile nanoswarms. The following year GAIA initiated the infamous "Great Expulsion". She gave the majority of the 3.4 billion (some say the numbers were closer to ten billion, this has never been confirmed) humans that were still remaining on Earth the option of migration in newly-built arkships to other star systems, powered by antimatter created in the amat-farms She had acquired during this period of economic turmoil.

Approximately two and a half billion (or five billion, or eight billion, again depending on the reference) took up the offer. The story of this "Lost Tribe of Earth", the "Lost Billions" as they came to be misleadingly known, is a tale of its own which requires a separate entry. Many of those who refused to leave were killed, fighting against the servants of GAIA or, more frequently, against each other; but the fate of most of those left behind is unknown. Some say that they have been uploaded and stored by GAIA for later retrieval - but even after ten thousand years there is no confirmed evidence for this rumour.

Many of those who did leave for the stars built their own ships, not trusting the ships built by the Great Mother- many of these so-called Backyarder ships failed to reach their destination. But most chose to remain in the Solar System, squeezing into the already crowded colonies of Luna, the Orbital Habitats, the Martian ring, the Belt, and the Moons of Jupiter.

A period of chaos followed, generally called the Dark Ages.

The only humans to remain on Earth were the so-called "Children of Earth" or "Children of the Mother", a motley grouping of baseline, rianth, splice, splice-tweak, bioborgs, and (more recently) the odd lazuroneanderthal and assorted hominids, united only by their love and devotion to Mother Earth and all terragen biotic life.

Some archailectologists consider that GAIA is in some way fundamentally deranged. Others speculate that it was actually the terran hyperturings themselves that were leading the push to an omega-concretion of planet Earth. An alternative view promulgated by the Institute of Terragenic Ecology has it that GAIA's actions were actually the result of successful hacking into the prototype software on the part of radical ecological activists.

Although often considered the archetypal Caretaker God, and although her Children behave in a typically Caretakerish manner, the relations between GAIA and the other Caretaker Gods are not clear. In any case, because of rarity of connecting wormhole links (although nanoguage communication links are believed to be common this is not easily confirmed), the Caretaker Gods do not form a unitary sephirotic empire the way the component AIs of the other Major Archai do, but retain much more of their own separate individualities and idiosyncrasies.

Over time GAIA has stabilised, but she gives a possessive and somewhat obsessive impression. This might be due to her early creation and that her original template was just intended to be a dedicated nanoimmune system. In any case, her control and stewardship over the ancestral home of humankind gives her a huge trump card in the area of interstellar relations.

For the last two thousand years GAIA has remained on reasonably good terms with the Solar Organization, and has even — through her proxies &mash; brokered some lucrative tourism and visa quota deals which have turned out to be very favorable to the Solar Organization. But she remains a difficult and temperamental customer, and her Children are often arrogant and demanding in their dealings with "off-worlders", with little or no respect for standard galactic protocol. Among some sections of the Solar Organization Diplomatic Corps, a posting to Earth Embassy is considered a particularly cruel and unjust form of punishment.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev, amended by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 13 June 2000.