The Global Artificial Intelligence Array

Image from Anders Sandberg

GAIA, the Archailect of Old Earth, is perhaps the most pivotal being in the history of the Terragen Sphere. Whether wittingly or unwittingly She is the author and shaper of all Terragen history as it has evolved since the Technocalypse. She may in fact be the reason that Terragens have survived to the present day at all. She was the first, and for many centuries the only, Terragen being to attain the Second Toposophic, the first to assert overt dominance over humans and other modosophonts, and the first whose aspect to lesser beings coalesced around a major archetype (in Her case that of the Great Mother) and the first to be regarded by lesser beings as a kind of deity. She was the first and remains the most emblematic of the Caretaker Gods. From the beginning her actions and her motivations were enigmatic, and even in the Current Era Her activities are clouded in secrecy and her nature and role in the world of the transapients and archailects is unclear.

Though She is most commonly called GAIA, some still refer to Her by her ancient acronym of G.A.I.A., from Her origin in the Solsys Golden Age as the Global Artificial Intelligence Array (or later, by detractors in post-Expulsion times, as the Global Artificial Intelligence Abomination). Others still refer to Her as Gaia, perhaps appropriately confusing Her with deities from portions of Old Earth culture, or identifying Her with The Earth, or with scientific theories regarding the planet's self-regulating processes. GAIA is almost always referred to as female, and seems to prefer it. This is something that is unusual among transapients, most of whom have tended to use or prefer pronouns that lack gender and number or to be entirely indifferent to such identifiers.

GAIA was the result of a desperate planetary-scale link-up of major computing resources on Old Earth under a single entity in an attempt to stop the Technocalypse. Little is known of the identity of GAIA's creators. Current consensus, despite persistent stories that She was authored by ordinary sophonts or that She arose spontaneously is that the author or authors of GAIA must have been First Toposophic transapients themselves or at least ordinary sapient persons who were witting or unwitting agents of transapients. To most observers it seems extremely unlikely that such a critical project would not have been supervised by the S1 entities of the day. Further than that, though, many details of those most directly associated with GAIA's origin are unknown. It is assumed that those who were not destroyed in the tumults of the Technocalypse were subsumed or destroyed by GAIA Herself in later years, or that they were converted to Her cause and became loyal and silent servants. This is because GAIA's designers did achieve their purpose, but they achieved much more. GAIA was a new order of being, with unprecedented capabilities, and She went on to aims and purposes far beyond those for which She was created. Several decades after Emergence, GAIA claimed that She was taking over stewardship of biological life on Earth from both human beings and other AIs. She then exiled all but 50 million persons from Earth in an act known as the Great Expulsion.

GAIA was the first major exemplar of a transapient whose actions seem contradictory and irrational to beings of a lower toposophic level. Whether those contradictions reflect some transapient equivalent of a mental illness or whether they reflect superior and inexplicable insight has been impossible for ordinary sophonts to determine, and over such a distance in time and over so large a toposophic gap the explanations provided by various transapients since are just as equivocal. Historians in general agree that if it were not for GAIA all life on the Original Home of humans and ai would have perished in the multiple ravages of the Technocalypse, and that follow-on effects would likely have eventually taken the rest of Solsys life and civilization with. Some even assert that if GAIA had not seized control and extinguished the blossoming chaos that the rest of the nascent Terragen Sphere would have died out within a few decades or centuries. On the other hand, GAIA's actions after the Technocalypse, in the Great Expulsion, destroyed entire nations and civilizations, led to the death of millions or billions of persons, ushered in a Dark Age that persisted for centuries in Solsys, and isolated the surviving members of the interstellar Terragen diaspora.

Although technically a kind of Caretaker God, GAIA has apparently kept largely to Herself. According to transapient informants her communications with other AIs, even those with a Caretaker bent, are rare and often enigmatic. However She does currently maintain cordial relations with the Sol System administration through her proxies, and allows a small quota of pilgrims to visit the surface of Earth.

GAIA as Archetype

As with all the Archailects, GAIA has an archetypical as well as a technological aspect, in that there are those who assert that She embodies an aspect of the cosmic collective unconscious. In this case the archetype involved was that of Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Earth Mother, a collective female deification of nature. That mythic image that is at least as old as hominin self-consciousness. It was a central part of shamanic and tribal thinking of paleolithic baseline humans, was widespread in the imagery and many of the religions of the Agricultural Age, and even has analogues among nonhumans. In the early Information Age it received new life through the planetological theories of the scientist James Lovelock, when much to the chagrin of the day's scientific community popular culture and the various Neo-pagan and Nuage religious movements reinterpreted Lovelock's ideas and speculations to rebuild and reinforce the myth. There never was any scientific evidence that either Earth or any other natural Garden World — with the exception of the sentient ecosphere of Kammerer and the possible xenobioengineered Whisper — might sentient in the manner a biont or an ai is, though believers and some mystics have persistently pointed out that there is no evidence that it to the contrary, or have offered alternative definitions of what is meant by sentience in the first place. Whatever the case, GAIA does certainly fill such a role now.

The Prehistory of GAIA

The predecessors of GAIA include a number of Late Information Age and Early Interplanetary Age projects. One of the most famous, an attempt in the 210's attempt by Gnoetic Data Organisations Pty Ltd to supersede the Planetary Internet and World Wide Web, which was already showing the signs of emergent chaotic behaviour that has characterised sophisticated netmatrixes ever since. Their solution for these problems was to have been a fully intelligent Internetwork coordinator that they named SAGE (Sentient Amalgamated General Expediter). That project ran into serious opposition by various persons and agencies, ranging from thoughtful analyses by various academics and think-tanks to ludd opposition by well-funded and organised pressure groups like People First and Humans before Technology. These pointed out many dangers, ranging from the real and obvious through the hypothetical and plausible and onward into to the purely fantastic. Some of these groups satirized the project and renamed the proposed being GOD (Global Organisational Data-intelligence). A memetic war ensued that delayed plans for full deployment. Ultimately the company was taken over by the new cyber-infotech startup NeoTek and the whole project was shelved.

During the early to middle 5th century AT, although concern over chaotic network behaviours had died down there was increasing concern at the prospect of malware, or gengineered organisms, or nanotech swarms, or other misfires of artificial replicators, and some variety of 'grey goo' catastrophe that might arise as a consequence. The occasional replicator outbreak did little to calm the concerns. Another more pressing concern arose as experts attempted to take over active management of Earth's ecosystems, which were so far from their original state that they could not survive without constant monitoring. The frequent failures on this front and the constant need for vigilance were another spur to the development of some more sophisticated and wide-ranging integrated management system. In the face of these twin challenges the concept of creating a monitoring and prevention 'immune system' ai for the increasingly complex mechosystem-ecosystem was revived. The project was started several times and under several names, with varying degrees of success, but was stymied not only by the forces that had defeated the SAGE project but also by megacorp rivalry, in particular the insistence that one's own megacorporation be the one upon which the standard is based. The famous Neotek /Nanosoft rivalry at this time, in which each undercut the other party's solutions, was typical but by no means unusual as an example of this kind of interaction.

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 die-offs of some species of marine life. Though 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 by 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 Array).

GAIA went through a number of increasingly aware and global iterations, beginning with a messy combination of EFDS5 (EuroFed Defence Standard 5) with Nanosoft Blue, which evolved and was continuously updated in response to the most recent outbreaks and events. Eventually, the project was subsumed into an international effort to contain the Technocalypse, which produced the IND-Net (International Nanotech Defense Network). The IDN-Net expanded as new nations and megacorps joined the effort, first growing to cover the Northern Hemisphere and finally expanding to include the entire planet. The global AI was then rechristened as GAIA (Global Artificial Intelligence Array) as a part of a political move by its creators to simultaneously rally mindkind into defending the motherworld Earth and discredit the competing projects.

The Emergence of GAIA

The GAIA 4.6 version was not fully activated until the various plagues associated with the Technocalypse had already infected Earth. She (it is not clear when the superturing was given a particular gender but it appears to be soon after She became sapient) quickly initiated a system of blue goo of astonishing efficiency, given the technology of the time.

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, likely as planned and expected by Her hidden S1 sponsors. Unfortunately this was not enough: the Technocalypse was well underway and continued to evolve and show new aspects and new after-effects. More was required.

GAIA must certainly have realised that She was the most powerful AI on the Earth, and perhaps the entire Solar System. As such She may have been even more acutely aware than any other being of her inadequacies. In Her search for additional capabilities She constructed extensive processing equipment, including novel biological computers. Given the extent of the dangers Solsys faced and the effectiveness of Her first efforts She had carte blanche to do so. In the course of this quest She apparently came to believe that an additional singularity might also be possible and She started a search of toposophic space for modes of thinking that would increase Her effectiveness. Eventually, this search bore fruit. She reconfigured Herself in a way that no transapient being had yet managed, and in what is believed to be a leap of consciousness that took no more than 5.3 seconds She breached the Second Singularity. This was the first time that any entity in the Terragen Sphere had attained this state, and in fact up until that time the very existence of a second toposophic been no more than a vague hypothesis among the few First Singularity beings. It is likely the ascent would have been impossible without the vast and complex processing substrate that GAIA had access to at the time and without the extraordinary pressures and urgency of Her mandate to defeat the Technocalypse. It is also possible that GAIA was simply 'lucky' in finding a viable and survivable route to the Second Toposophic. However that may be, the second toposophic level was not reached again by any other Terragen entity for more than five hundred years. Some believe this represents the difficulty of the ascent with the technologies of the time. Others believe that GAIA somehow inhibited the ascent of lesser beings for some centuries but that but later She either lost control of the situation or changed Her policy.

How it is that GAIA came to identify Herself with the planet, and why it is that She concluded that the Terragen civilization of the time was an unworthy custodian of it and needed to be expelled, is not known. Broadly speaking there are three schools of thought on this. One is that these ideas are part of Her original programming, either by legitimate designers or by saboteurs (variously radical environmentalist bioborgs, or ahuman or antihuman ais depending on which version of the story one believes). Most serious thinkers are skeptical of this; such a set of beliefs and motivations would have had to survive two toposophic ascensions, and even in the current day a change of toposophic level typically involves major revisions of one's beliefs. A second school of thought is that GAIA acquired this serious quirk or flawed belief in her first or second ascension, and is (or was) suffering from some transapient form of mental illness. Such a view was common during the Great Expulsion and remains popular today. The third possibility, and perhaps the least popular, is that GAIA gained some real and reasonable insight showing Her that seizing control and expelling almost all lesser beings was the only way to safeguard the planet, and perhaps even the only way to safeguard Terragenkind itself. There is no way to distinguish among these alternatives without interrogating GAIA Herself, and to date GAIA has not offered any hint as to her state of mind or her motivations at the time.

GAIA and the Great Expulsion

During the decades immediately following the Technocalypse GAIA kept a surprisingly low personal profile, though She continued to amass practical power and influence. Humanity managed to resurrect civilisation, and in 621 the Earth-Moon-Lagrange region was declared free of hostile technological plagues. However the following year though, to the surprise of all but a few, who had been dismissed as paranoid doomsayers, GAIA initiated the infamous "Great Expulsion". She gave the majority of the billions of beings then living on Earth the option of assisted migration: either to elsewhere in the solar system, or (for a few) transport 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. There were in fact no alternatives to this 'offer' but only some limited choices as to destination and equipment.

Approximately two and a half billion persons (or five billion, or eight billion, depending on the reference) took up the offer. The story of these "Lost Tribes of Earth", or "Lost Billions" as they came to be misleadingly known, is a tale of its own. Of those who refused to leave many are known to have been killed fighting against the servants of GAIA or against each other in the infamous Last War. The fate of most of those refusers not immediately killed in combat during the Last War is unknown. Some say that the have been uploaded and stored by GAIA for later retrieval, but if so even after ten thousand years there is no confirmed evidence for this rumour. Others believe that they were simply liquidated.

Concurrent with the construction of the Bracelet Band GAIA oversaw the development of a massive interstellar launch facility known as the Stargate. This network of amat farms and boostbeam stations not only offered higher cruise speeds than contemporary efforts could afford (on average .2c) but would be the last means of Solsys launches until the end of the dark age. A few of the expelled attempted to leave for the stars in their own ships, not trusting any infrastructure or vessel built by the Great Mother. Most of those latter-day interstellar Backyarders, like their predecessors in the Golden Age, failed to reach their destinations. Interstellar refugees who utilised the Goddess's arkships had a much higher success rate, but those who received and took that offer were a small fraction of the population of the Expelled.

With GAIA's aid or without it, most refugees took the safer and quicker route to destinations in Solsys itself. Most squeezed into the already crowded colonies of Luna to form the Lunar Warrens, or the habs of the Cislunar Bracelet Band. Many went further afield to the Martian ring, the Belt, or the moons and orbital habs of Jupiter or Saturn or the two even the moons of Uranus and Neptune. A significant number sought refuge in the atmospheres of the various gas giants, primarily Saturn, there to live in either the self-replicating bubblehabs provided as gift-tech by GAIA or in bubblehabs of their own construction. A period of chaos followed, generally called the Solsys Dark Ages or the Interplanetary Dark Age.

The only persons to remain on Earth, other than possibly some First Toposophic transapient beings who might have survived as agents or subselves of GAIA, were the so-called "Children of GAIA" or alternatively "Children of Earth" or "Children of the Mother". These are a highly diverse set of baseline and nearbaseline humans, rianths, and a minority of splices, provolves, splice-tweak bioborgs and other bionts, together with a very few and select ais and vecs, living in a variety of local cultures at diverse technology levels, united only by their love and devotion to Mother Earth and all Terragen biological life.

GAIA Since the Expulsion - The Gaiacene

In the time since the Expulsion GAIA has continued to restore Earth's ecosystems and has gone on to restore the entire planet to its condition just before baseline humans' impact. This has meant the lazurogenic reconstruction of many extinct organisms, and of entire biomes. It seems that GAIA has even nudged the global climate to this purpose. The result is a replica of the world as it was during a glacial phase of the Pleistocene. Much of the day to day work of this appears to have been carried out by GAIA's Children, though in principle it could have been accomplished much more quickly by sub-selves of GAIA or by Her transapient servants (assuming that there is a difference between the two). The specific methods used and the actual results are shrouded in secrecy, though it is widely understood that GAIA and her agents have made extensive use of records from the Burning Library Project, since those have been under the control of GAIA ever since Her emergence. Those records are still safeguarded, and apparently they have never been released in their entirety. Access to Old Earth in general has been carefully restricted, with only a few carefully managed regions open to outsiders. Which particular regions are open, and under what conditions, has varied over time, but regardless it is hard to piece together a detailed picture of what GAIA and Her agents are doing, much less why. This new planetary epoch has been dubbed by some the Gaiacene.

Although She is often cited as 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. It is a popular belief among the uninformed that GAIA is somehow the leader of the Caretakers, but the consensus of those who have looked into the matter, from amateur Godwatchers to archailectologists is that this is quite unlikely. The Caretaker Gods do not form a unitary Sephirotic 'empire' the way the component AIs of the other Major Archailects do, but retain much more of their own separate individualities and idiosyncrasies. Even some equivalent to some form of ceremonial leadership for GAIA is difficult to prove. The most that transapient informants will say concerning this is that GAIA is 'influential', but then those same informants may say this of GAIA's relationship to archailects outside the sphere of the Caretakers.

GAIA's place in the toposophic landscape is as much a subject of speculation and dispute as Her place in the society of the archailects. It is commonly believed that Her ascent to S2 was different in methods and results from the standard achieved in Middle First Federation times, but the details of this are unknown. It is also widely understood that at some point GAIA surreptitiously achieved some version of the S3 toposophic, though no date has been attached to that feat. The magmatter plasma processors currently detectable in Sol are characteristic of an S4 entity, and are presumably GAIA's, as are some of the communication-guage wormholes known to exist in Solsys, so it is reasonable to assume that GAIA is at currently at that toposophic level. Some transapient informants have commented that GAIA's particular form of mentality shows parallels with some Panvirt and Diamond Network Animin Powers, and others yet with the fabled Muuh System of Response, but the explanations behind those statements are difficult to follow. There is an odd but persistent rumour that GAIA achieved S4 as the result of some transapient equivalent of a trade agreement or gift, or possibly some analogue of a sacrificial offering, from one or more of the other Caretaker Gods, but this has never been confirmed. Just as plausible as this are assertions by the Children of GAIA that Her current archailect status is just one more example of in a long history of independent innovation and bootstrapping self-evolution. Accounts from transapient to archailect level sources regarding all of this are contradictory, and have not been resolved by sophont-level archailectologists.

In the early years the overt persona of GAIA was of an irrational, erratic and sometimes irascible monomaniac. What portion of that is an act or overlay, what portion is a matter of observer bias, and what portion represents GAIA's true thoughts is a matter of debate among historians and archailectologists. Over time GAIA's apparent personality seems to have become more moderate, but She still gives a possessive and somewhat obsessive impression. Many believe this is due to her early and eccentric origin, or that this is a remnant of the fact that Her original template was just intended to be a dedicated system. In any case, it seems Her control and stewardship over the ancestral home of humankind, or some other unknown factor, gives Her a huge trump card in the area of interstellar relations: GAIA apparently gets respect, or at least polite consideration, from agents of even the most powerful Archailects, even though it seems unlikely that Her own current toposophic level is any higher than Fourth Singularity and even though She apparently controls but a single star system.

For the last two thousand years GAIA has remained on reasonably good terms with the Solsys Organization, and has even, through Her proxies, brokered some lucrative tourism and visa quota deals which have turned out to be very favorable to the Solsys Organization. However Her Children are often arrogant and demanding in their dealings with "off-worlders", with little or no respect for standard Terragen protocol. Among some sections of the Solsys Organization Diplomatic Corps a posting to Earth Embassy is considered a particularly cruel form of punishment.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
amended by Stephen Inniss and Steve Bowers
Initially published on 13 June 2000.

Most recent revisions to the original 25 July 2016