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.

  • Albertosaurus sapiens  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Large dinosaur provolve.
  • Allosaurus (animal)  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Large (8 to 14 meters; weight 1.5 to 5 tonnes) Old Earth Jurassic carnivorous dinosaur
  • Alseid  - Text by Tony Jones
    The first successful sophont plant provolves.
  • Ao Lai  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Ao Lai (Gamma Leporis A and B) contains two Klemperer rosettes of artificial planets, and hosts a rich complex of civilisations under the umbrella of the Institute for Primate Provolution.
  • Aroostai  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Avianoid provolve species based on the Terran ostrich.
  • Aruan, Clade  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Provolved snail clade; one of the smallest sapient biont clades, and a notable example of Frankenstein Syndrome.
  • Autoevolution - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Evolution directed by intelligent beings instead of natural selection.
    Autoevolutionist: Someone who regards autoevolution as desirable; the opposite of a biological fundamentalist.
  • Baseline  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    In the context of gengineering and provolution, a human (or other biont) that has not been genomically modified from its original natural condition. Pure baselines are extremely rare; most sophonts classed as "baseline" are actually nearbaselines that are very similar in phenotype and genotype to the original H. sapiens sapiens.
  • Biontogenics - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    The science and art of creating biont clades, usually from scratch. Such bionts do not necessarily have to look unusual, they may be typical nearbaseline in appearance for example.
  • Biontogenist - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Term given to sophonts - usually transapients but may be superbright/superturing - who create for business, pleasure, or other motives entire biont clades. Biontogenists may be biological ((nano/synano-)bioborg), cyborg, ai, or even virtuals (assuming the latter have the appropriate physical interfaces).
  • Bitenic Al - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Ex-corporate hyperturing ai that during the First Federation period were involved in a number of controversial provolution experiments, the most successful being the Bitenic Squid Superclade.
  • Bitenic Squid  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Squid provolve clade that gives cephalopods a bad reputation.
  • Blue Whale  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Balaenoptera musculus musculus - the largest animal that lived on Old Earth, the baseline blue whale was, like all the Mysticeti, a gentle plankton feeder that fed on krill and small fish and attained a length of over 30 meters and a weights of around 150,000 kg. They were hunted to extinction by the whaling nations during the Atomic and early Information Age. A wealth of evidence suggests that the species has been lazurogened by GAIA, certainly there must have been baseline blue whales to serve as a template for the provolve species.
  • Bradychronic Plant Provolves  - Text by Bill Glover
    Plant provolves who perceive time more slowly than do typical Terragens.
  • Calebs (Talking Dogs)  - Text by Mike Parisi
    It was perhaps inevitable that the first species domesticated by humans would also be the subject of some of the earliest attempts to increase intelligence in a non-human species.
  • Conchoid  - Text by John B
    Originally designed as a pet for some clades of cephalopod provolves, and designed primarily for aquatic environments.
  • Eja, Clade  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    A clade of provolved bonobos, famous for their skill as empaths.
  • Enhanced Dolphins  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    DolphinProvolves 2
    Image from Arik
    Large and important dolphin provolve clade.
  • Everypath - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Secular keterist splice-tweak culture, together with Fredholm regarded as masters of genetic provolution.
  • Federal Institute of Provolution, The  - Text by Liam Jones
    Institute created in the Vesta Convention of 937 AT with the specific aim of protecting the rights of provolved clades.
  • Frankenstein Syndrome  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Many of the uninformed believe the story of Frankenstein to be historical. Scholars have in fact identified it as a cautionary tale from the late Industrial Age on Old Earth: created sophonts, particularly those who are unhappy, may come to despise their creators and even seek to destroy them.
  • GEvidian  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Late Federation and early Empires Age hyperturing maverick gengineer and lazurogenicist, responsible for the creation of many dinosaur provolve clades.
  • Huginn and Muninn  - Text by Mark Ryherd
    Provolved Corvids with interdependent mental specializations.
  • Institute for Primate Provolution  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    An ancient and widespread organization devoted to provolution of all primate clades, and preservation of all of the original primate species of Old Earth.
  • Khowagong  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Large aquatic animals not unlike a Terragen sea slug crossed with a dugong, native to the Pelagic planet Tamarinde (Phoebus Prefecture, Solar Dominion).
  • Kriavuks  - Text by Michael Walton
    Sapient war-dogs.
  • Malacologists of New Duibbiyat  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A lightly to moderately rianthed nearbaseline association of malacophiles who lived in several of the New Duibbiyat habitats during late ComEmp and early Re-Evaluation periods.
  • Mawas, Clade  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    A clade of provolved orang-utans.
  • Neo-Pigs  - Text by Tony Jones with updates by bibliophile20
    Important and influential porcine provolve species.
  • Ngagi, Clade  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Clade of provolved gorillas.
  • Pan-Sophontism  - Text by Tony Jones
    Provolve movement that says that as it is possible for subsapient life to be raised up to sophonce, it is only ethical that they should be.
  • Provolution Timeline  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Significant dates in the history of efforts to raise non-human species to full sentience and sophonce.
  • Provolved Reef squid  - Text by Kirran Lochhead Strang
    Provolved Reef Squids.
  • PsySquid  - Text by Mark Ryherd
    PsySquids (Paratodarodes spp.) a gengineered superclade of species descending from Todarodes pacificus, which produce tailored psychoactive ink
  • Putorians, Neputons, and Nanputons  - Text by Tony Jones
    Provolved ferret clades.
  • Rat Barrel, The  - Text by Peter Kisner; updated by Steve Bowers
    Originally an Interplanetary Age genetics research station, known as the Barrel, located at the Earth/Sun L4 position, far from any regulatory interference. The most common species of Rat Provolve, Rattus sapiens, was produced here in 410 AT, as well as many other species. Now a centre of hedonic drug manufacture.
  • Rat Provolves  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Rats of several species with artificially enhanced intelligence.
  • Sapient Hyenas  - Text by Liam Jones
    Crocuta Crocuta Sapiens
  • Sapientbonobos and Sapientchimpanzees  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Steve Bowers
    Chimp and bonobo races raised to sophonce, and sometimes beyond.
  • Tavi, Clade  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Provolve/splice group of terragen mammalian stock. Genetic analysis shows that the clade is derived primarily from the meerkats of Old Earth, but with significant additions of genetic material from other species
Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev; term invented by John M. Dollan
some modifications by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 19 December 2001.

Additional Information