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Provolution

provolves
Image from Bernd Helfert

Provolution is a term for the use of technology to enhance or augment the intelligence of a subsophont species to full sophonce. The word is a shortened form of the Old Anglish term "pro-active evolution". Sometimes "provolution" is also used to describe further enhancements, such as the creation of bright or superbright versions of humans from baseline stock. Most restrict the term to the act of increasing the intelligence of an animal (or sometimes plant) species, but sometimes robots that or AIs that have been boosted in intelligence to become vecs are also known as provolves.

Ever since the middle Information Age, Terragen civilization has shown a great enthusiasm for provolution. In part this is an aspect of the transhuman and extropian (and later) ideals of maximization of intelligence and awareness for all, rather than for a privileged few, but it has also been suggested transapients encourage the practice as a way of giving ordinary sophonts a challenge and sense of purpose that might otherwise be lacking in many autotopic societies. Although many sophonts are happy to pursue other hobbies and interests, there are others who actually need to be given something to do that appears to have high significance, so they can have a sense of fulfilment and purpose in life. Provolution is perfect for these people. It is a deeply inspiring task — bringing intelligence and culture to a new race — so it naturally fulfilling. It is also incredibly time-consuming and labour-intensive, since the species being provolved requires constant attention and empathetic connection, and since this project may extend over many generations of creatures, a whole sophont lifespan. Thus it is one of the few tasks in the modern galaxy that is rarely left to automation, (beyond ancillary use for design and physical care). For this reason provolution projects are a source of pride among many sophont clades. Another significant difference between a provolution project and any other common hobby is the level of legal oversight and regulation. Given that provolution will lead to a sophont species the ethics and laws around sophont rights are intimately involved. Very often an individual or group wishing to embark on such a project must apply for a licence, writ or other form of permission from a relevant governing body/transapient. If the proposal is approved the angelnet (or other suitable monitoring infrastructure) will be used to ensure compliance on behalf of the provolver. Some polities have even stricter rules requiring a mandatory period of aftercare, be it pastoral, scientific or economic, to ensure that the provolved population is not abandoned before their time. Many polities subscribe to the "handover" method in which members of the provolved species must be given a position of authority within the project before it is complete so that they might guide its progress towards completion. This latter consideration has led to many projects moving in directions their originators had not intended. Much to the ire of the authenticist, fictionalist and castelist schools the second order effects of a developing provolve culture can lead to unexpected behaviours and even physiology as the clade seeks to redesign itself.

Within the field of provolution there is a wide scope for how each project can be done. Beyond the mere physical concerns of adapting the body of a species for sophonce is the question of cognitive behavioral traits. Two projects working with the same template animal often create a sophont species with radically different mental capabilities, social instincts and toposophy from one another. Throughout history practitioners of the art have grouped loosely into several schools of thought:

  • Pan-sophontists. Believes that sophonce is a gift whose particulars are ultimately immaterial. They focus on the purely physical theory and toolkits for modifying a species for sophonce and take little effort to mold the resulting mind for any particular psychological traits or capabilities beyond the bare minimum needed to succeed.
  • Authenticists. Using humanity and xenosophonts as examples of naturally evolved sophonts that still possess base traits of their non-sophont ancestors the authenticists advocate the shaping of instincts and behavioural traits to be similar to that of the subsophont template. Social animals will be engineered with a tendency for extrovertism and group living, predatory animals will feel a drive towards some form of aggressive ritual to obtain food, migratory templates will be altered into a sophont clade that periodically feels the need to return to old ground etcetera.
  • Fictionalists. As with the authenticists this school believes that great care should be taken to engineer instinctive base behaviours and personality types into they provovled species, however they focus on mythical stereotypes of said animal over and natural traits. The Wise Owlfolk, the Sociopathic Serpents and the Lazy Grasshopperman are all example products of this school.
  • Functionalists. Bridging the gap between pan-sophontists and the authenticists/fictionalists the functionalists agree that effort should be spent carefully designing innate traits but scorn the use of naturally evolved or cultural examples. For them a key aspect of provolution is change, the body must change for not only the mind but for the technological society sophonce inevitably brings and therefore it stands to reason the mind must too. Base traits are chosen purely on the basis of practicality, often physical but also social to ensure that the provolved species can thrive in the society of its creators.
  • Experimentalists. Often seen as more artistic, mystical and controversial this school takes a tabula rosa view; the flesh and mind are little more than vague inspiration upon which great new vistas can be explored. Experimentalists strive to create congitive beings who occupy hitherto unknown, rare or otherwise bizarre spaces on the toposophic landscape. The creations of this clade can require many layers of translators in order to function within mainstream society (beyond even the normal transtoposophic translators).
  • Castelists. The most controversial of schools that is heavily regulated and often outright banned within the major empires. Castelists see provolution as a way of creating a productive member of society and are often accused of making "biological slaves" in their creations. In retaliation castelists claim that there is no higher gift than a life with innate purpose where fulfillment can be easily found. Clades that are the result of this form of provolution have varying degrees of instinctive draw towards their designed purpose, from a minor but noticeable tendency towards certain types of work to experiencing immense mental anguish when not fully dedicated towards their task. Castelists can operate within the dictates of sophont rights providing that their creations have enough cognitive flexibility to naturally develop in a way that allows them to choose another path, but this line is difficult to draw and pursuers of this craft should be aware of the grave legal retribution they may face for erring on the wrong side.
To date, the number of species of terragen and xenobiotic organisms that have been provolved from sub- and non-sophonce to sophonce runs to some forty-five billion. Many provolved species go on to play an important part in the life of the civilized galaxy, most continue to have excellent and close relations with their patron (provolver) family, house, or clade, and many go on to provolve other species in turn.

Historical milestones Anthropic Period: Beginning in the interplanetary age and extending up until the Technocalypse during the anthropic period provolutionists focused on the 'easiest' species. Those chosen were those with a large genetic overlap with humans, or that had unusually large brains and general intelligence already, with a bias towards those with some presophont ability in language or tool use. These included primates (especially nonhuman apes), cetaceans, and proboscideans, pigs, dogs, and a few other mammals plus corvids, and psittacines among the bird species. Late in the period some attempts were made to provolve other species were missing some of these traits; most of these were avians or mammals, but attempts were made even with some of the 'brainiest' lizards or fishes despite the difficulties of their low metabolic rates and lack of manipulators.

Neuro-Potential Period: The First Federation brought with it significant advances in neuroscience, along with a healthy culture of transapient patronage of academia. As a fundamental theory of sophonce began to form for modosophonts provolutionists developed many alternative designs for sophont-capable brains, and continued to improve handtech and linguistic aids for species lacking physical prerequisites for tool-use and languages. The number of suitable candidate species increased significantly. The term "neuro-potential" was coined to describe species whose central nervous system had the potential to be augmented into one of these designs. Provolution projects were initiated for most vertebrates of sufficient size (plus a few small vertebrates gene-tweaked to larger body and brain size). This included almost any mammal or bird, some sufficiently large or complex fish or lizards. Even some of the most complex representatives of invertebrate phyla such as cephalopods and stomatopods were templates for a provolution project. Enthusiasm for the field grew so strong that the Federation Institute for Provolution was formed to aid cooperation, funding and ethical oversight. It was at this time that distinct Authenticist and Castelist schools were born. Bitter rivals from the outset they both exploited the new understanding in the field to further their ideology.

Ignition period: As the Interstellar Era went on Terragen Civilisation's knowledge and experience in biological engineering grew to astonishing heights. The life sciences were becoming mature fields and the lines between organic and synthetic were blurring. New, radical bodymods and clades were announced almost daily throughout the Inner Sphere. Riding this wave of morphological freedom Provolutionists turned their tools towards ever more simple creatures. Species thoroughly unsuited to sophonce were provolved; first came merely physically challenging clades whose very bodies were naturally unfit to support a sophont brain. Even as these issues were tackled (through healthy enlargement, organic hive minds or other tricks) attention turned towards "exotica". Organisms that possessed the crudest of neural networks were leaped upon as the next frontier for the science. Starfish, coral, worms, plants, fungi and the most metabolically active of smart matter were just some of the successes during this time. Most of the Major schools trace their route to this period as it presented, more than any other, such varied possibilities for the provolution of any template. This allowed the growth of Experimentalist and Pan-sophontist schools in many variants. It was not uncommon for one provolved clade to be revealed not long before another, based on the same template species but radically different, would be introduced by a rival school. This diversity contributed to the growing terragen melting pot which ultimately necessitated the Second Federation with its inter-sophont ontology, fact that provolution enthusiasts are often immensely proud of.

 
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev; term invented by John M. Dollan
some modifications by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 19 December 2001.