This is an indirect response to recent conversations that have centered around the question of artificial sentience, particularly in holograms. I’ve been reading DaystromInstitute for a while, but after being provoked into hours of thought and research, I decided to submit my first real long form contribution. I hope it continues a stimulating conversation! submitted by
The prevalence of artificial intelligence has been accelerating in our contemporary real world. Our machines can beat human masters of chess
, learn to play Super Mario World
, drive cars, and—over at Google—they may (or may not) have just recently passed the Turing Test during some natural-language phone conversations
. If the Federation represents a society that is extrapolated from our own, it is natural to ask what happens to AI in that future.
Before we dive in, I have to lay down a few disclaimers:
- The discussion I’m presenting is technical at times, but I hope it will still be accessible to most readers. I’m particularly interested in thoughts from any fellow coders who have more expertise in AI (I am but a lowly front-end developer).
- The source material is, for the purposes of detailed theorycrafting on this subject, sketchy—and that’s being kind. Terms such as “program,” “algorithm,” “circuitry,” “subroutine,” and “matrix” are injected into the dialogue with little regard for their significance in computer science.
For those two reasons, I feel we should try to keep our technical arguments as high-level as possible, when possible. Instead of quibbling over the technobabble used in a particular scene, my goal is to focus on the overall state of attitudes, capabilities, and policies used to portray our artificial friends in the Federation. From scheming computer simulations to androids that
can’t cannot use simple contractions, we see a highly inconsistent variety of Federation AI in Star Trek. How are we to make sense of this from an in-universe perspective?
I’ll also examine how our understanding of AI and machine learning today might fit into those portrayals.
Shouldn’t Skynet Be Killing Us By Now?
“The word you're looking for is ‘unnatural,’ meaning not from nature. ‘Freak’ or ‘monster’ would also be acceptable.”
- Julian Bashir, on human genetic modification (DS9 “Dr. Bashir, I Presume”)
I’ve read several comments here that suggest Strong AI—that is, a machine that is conscious and can think just like a human—isn’t really that
hard, or at least, that it seems inevitable given the pace of our computational progress. Regardless of your position there, the relevant question here in Daystrom is: does the Federation get there by the mid-24th century?
We have a few data points we can use to map a potential trajectory.
Starting with today, we already have algorithms that can parse natural language, so the bountiful examples of verbal interaction with the ship’s computer, for instance, don’t seem far fetched at all. We’re only just starting figure out what it takes, however, for an AI to do more than respond to a single inquiry. (More on this in a bit.) One of the largest challenges—one that some computer scientists feel is nigh insurmountable
—is for an AI to be able to understand,
to attach meaning to its data and represent it as knowledge.
It’s clear to me that, by the time we approach TOS, Starfleet computers are capable of this form of sapient AI. Through a natural language exchange, Michael Burnham convinces her ship’s computer to change its mind
and assist her to escape confinement (DIS “Battle of the Binary Stars”). The computer has to understand her reasoning, follow her logic over several statements, and come to an ethical conclusion based on situational context.
Curiously, we don’t see this depth of understanding from any other Starfleet computer henceforth. What gives?
I propose the answer might lie with this sub’s namesake: Dr. Richard Daystrom and his M-5 computer. During a disastrous turn of events, Daystrom has a semantic argument very similar to Burnham’s, a desperate attempt to convince the machine to alter its behavior. Ultimately, Kirk takes over and concludes the argument successfully by leading M-5 to understand
the consequences of its actions and to take responsibility for them (TOS “The Ultimate Computer”). It seems reasonable to conclude that the Federation, reeling from the complete destruction of a Starfleet ship and crew at the hands of a murderous sapient computer, found impetus to establish restrictions on the development of Strong AI. To create an intelligence, let alone a living consciousness, that could have such consequential agency over the lives of its citizens would be an unethical act in the eyes of the Federation, given the risks. I therefore argue that most of the Federation computers we see, starting with TOS, exhibit limited AI not because of a lack of technological progress, but because the potential for harmful or ethically questionable consequences (like those of eugenics, on which the Federation takes a similar stance) far outweighs the potential benefits.
It’s a fun exercise to revisit scenes involving computer interaction with this in mind. For example, one of the first times we hear the computer of the Enterprise-D
, Riker seems flummoxed at its genteel manner (TNG “Encounter at Farpoint”).
COMPUTER: The next hatchway on your right.
RIKER: Thank you.
COMPUTER: You're welcome, Commander Riker. And if you care to enter, Commander?
RIKER: I do.
There’s a tone of impatience in his voice. I can imagine Riker internally rolling his eyes, wondering what historically-ignorant engineer thought it would be a good idea to give the computer such personality—not because it wasn’t useful or wonderful or advanced, but because it was distasteful
. (It would be analogous to a Federation doctor advertising that babies delivered in their practice grow up to have higher IQs—not eugenics exactly, but probably not the PR you want.) In my headcanon, this is the reason the Enterprise
computer is later changed to the simpler, dispassionate verbal interface we all know and love.
Mad Science? More Like Mad Props
“Lal may be a technological step forward in the development of artificial intelligence.”
- Anthony Haftel (TNG “The Offspring”)
The problem with this thesis is that we see Federation scientists either pursuing the development of Strong AI or willfully disregarding any such ethical concerns around the potential of its creation. We could discuss exocomps (TNG “The Quality of Life”), renegade missile guidance systems (VOY “Dreadnought”), or hell, the simple fact that a holodeck program autonomously generated a self-aware hologram due to a slip of the tongue
(TNG “Elementary, Dear Data”). But I would be woefully remiss, of course, if I didn’t address the 100-kilo android in the room.
Of all the attempts to create an artificial human-like intelligence, Noonien Soong’s was the most overt. This does not necessarily counter my hypothesis; we can imagine Dr. Soong had an overriding motivation to ignore Federation ethical regulations. And we can reason similarly with Torres, who wasn’t a fan of the Federation at the time, or with Dr. Farallon, whose life’s work would be jeopardized by such restrictions. Indeed, any one individual with enough self-justification might decide not to heed the potential hazards of unleashing fully sentient robot overlords.
But even beyond one mad scientist’s zeal—based on some of the reactions we see—their colleagues appreciate the technology and thank them for it. Riker becomes so smitten with a realistic hologram that he falls into despair when he loses the chance to be with her (TNG “10010011”). Pioneers such as Soong, Daystrom, and Ira Graves are highly lauded, and the last two are even recognized with institutional prizes for their work. And the question I wrestled with most of all: if the Federation had put restrictions on the development of potentially sentient AI, why later on is Bruce Maddox’s ambition to duplicate Data met (at first) with general enthusiasm and interest? (TNG “The Measure of a Man”)
Initially, I felt like these observations unravelled my theory. The problem would still remain, though, of how to reconcile the highly variable portrayal of AI across the Star Trek corpus from an in-universe perspective. Should we just throw in the towel and chalk it up to what the writers understood of computation at the time?
No! This is DaystromInstitute
! I eventually realized I wasn’t getting nerdy enough
. Looking at what we know today about AI and machine learning might offer some possible solutions. And because I delight in shameless nerdery, I must plead for your indulgence and digress into a brief foray into real-world computer science.
A Rather Simpler Summary of Machine Learning
“For me, it's rather simple. While I'm faced with a decision, my program calculates the variables, and I take action.”
- The Doctor (VOY “Latent Image”)
Indeed, “machine learning” is the hot trendy term, and for good reason: it’s the current approach giving us the most effective results in AI today. I’ll try not to get more technical than is needed to inform my points, and if you’d rather, you can optionally just skip to the last paragraph in this section. But here it is in a nutshell:
Most computer programs involve receiving an input and providing an output. If we have an input x
and an output y
, it is almost trivial to write a computer program that takes x
, runs it through an equation—let’s say “2x+6”—and spits out the output. Given an input of 2, we get 10 as the output. Importantly, we know what we’re doing when we specify “2x+6” as the function; we know
what a linear algebraic expression is, what it means mathematically, and how it can be applied to real problems.
In machine learning, we replace a simple mathematical function with a much more complicated framework: a neural network. As you might imagine, it involves lots of connections
and many variables
(and if you can’t, here’s a diagram
), but it ultimately still takes an input and gives an output. For example, if I am texting on my phone, there’s an autocorrect program running that takes every word I type as an input and outputs suggestions or corrections. If I input the word “potsto” this program might give the output “potato.”
Because neural networks can be set up to be very complex, they are capable of taking almost anything that we can represent digitally as input! We can throw entire sentences, images, or sounds and train the neural network by specifying what we expect as output. With recent advances with recurrent neural networks (RNNs), we can also set the process to feed back onto itself so that outputs can be included with the inputs, allowing the network to have a “memory” of sorts, based on what it’s processed so far. (Looks a bit like this
; note the loopy arrows.)
An important point, for our discussion, is how these neural networks are programmed. Instead of a human programming each connection (and there might be a lot!), we set the program to train itself over and over on a set of inputs that are tested against their “right answer” which is provided initially. At first, all the connections are essentially random and the system performs very poorly. After each trial, the program adjusts variables in the network so that next time, it’s closer to getting a right answer. After a ton of testing, and a wide variety of inputs, the program will have attempted to set up these neural connections so that given a brand new input (the word “ptotao” perhaps), it still provides the expected output (“potato”). For a slightly more thorough (but still accessible) explanation, I recommend this 9-minute CGP Grey video (and its more relevant follow-up). For the mathematically-inclined, this 20-minute overview by 3Blue1Brown is a popular reference. There are also some fun examples of RNN-generated outputs in this blog post by researcher Andrej Karpathy.
So here’s the kicker: we have no idea
how to describe what is happening between the input and the output in a machine-taught neural network. We didn’t program it; the computer did. Sure, we can see what values the variables are set to, but unlike “2x+6” we have no concept around what those variables or the state of the neural network means. We know what inputs to give it, what to expect as outputs, and we can give it a helpful label so we know what it does (e.g. “Autocorrect algorithm”), but we don’t know how it does what it does. Given the code for any one neural network, it would be impossible to tell what it does until we actually ran the program.
The Known Unknown
“Complex systems can sometimes behave in ways that are entirely unpredictable. The human brain, for example, might be described in terms of cellular functions and neurochemical interactions. But that description does not explain human consciousness, a capacity that far exceeds simple neural functions. Consciousness is an emergent property.”
- Data (TNG “Emergence”)
If we assume that Federation computers are still programmed in a similar fashion as to how we program our computers today (and I do not pretend there isn’t room to argue otherwise), then it is reasonable to expect that machine learning with neural networks continues to progress to the point where we can have conversations, debates, and natural social interaction with our computers. Whatever advantages “duotronic” or “isolinear” circuitry provide in computational speed and memory, we can imagine that this may allow for a neural network complex enough to understand
the meaning of its inputs and outputs: sapient-seeming AI.
But given the machine learning paradigm, this means that we do not, cannot
know the detailed workings of these networks. We understand the mechanisms but not the meaning. Does the state of this neural network mean that the computer really does understand
the meaning of its functions, or does it only simulate true sapience?
If we presume that neural networks are the basis for holographic AI, we find similar ambiguity surrounding the same kinds of questions. We see this with Moriarty…
PICARD: We spent some time investigating how you became self-aware. Frankly, it still remains a mystery. (TNG “Ship in a Bottle”)
… and, of course, with the Doctor:
ARBITRATOR: The Doctor exhibits many of the traits we associate with a person. Intelligence, creativity, ambition, even fallibility. But are these traits real, or is the Doctor merely programmed to simulate them? To be honest, I don't know. (VOY “Author, Author”)
These lines, on their surface, seem like the writers copped out and didn’t want to take a hard stance on a very technical issue. But given the “unknowability” aspect of implementing a neural network, these comments take on new weight. If Federation computer scientists have no way to measure when the line between a normal computer program and an artificial consciousness is being crossed, it makes sense from an ethical standpoint that the Federation, as a society, should simply avoid ever getting close.
If the Federation has ethical restrictions on these algorithms, we can imagine that they would need to be specific: perhaps neural networks beyond a certain complexity are banned, or the amount of memory an algorithm can use is limited. These constraints might even be worked into the hardware. In instances where we see holograms that seem to be self-aware, even conscious, there are clues as to how they may have got around these restrictions. Exhibit A:
The self-aware Minuet is programmed by the Bynars (or it may be more accurate to say that the Bynars programmed the computer to program Minuet). As extreme computer experts, it’s possible that they developed a method for programming holographic AI that produced sentient-seeming characters that nevertheless stayed within the letter of Federation law and technical restrictions. When Riker comments on how “real” she seems, it’s not just because he’s surprised a holodeck simulation is capable of it, but because it is capable within the imposed limitations of Federation protocol.
I propose that the Bynar’s method presents an advance in holographic AI that becomes more widely implemented, one that is accidentally triggered by LaForge in “Elementary, Dear Data,” and that is later used for… Exhibit B:
Voyager’s EMH is allowed to stay running for much longer than a normal hologram, allowing the neural network more time to process, and memory expansions to his program are meted out over the years. This non-standard procedure may have pushed into an edge case of Federation protocols, effectively breaking them. As a side note, we learn that hologram AI is modular:
EMH: How much has to be left behind? Exhibits C and D:
SEVEN: Twelve megaquads.
EMH: I suppose you could get rid of my athletic abilities and my grand master chess program.
SEVEN: That leaves three megaquads. Your painting skills?
EMH: Oh, if you must. (VOY “Life Line”)
Vic Fontaine and Dr. Lewis Zimmerman’s assistant Haley are apparently both programmed to be self-aware by design
. Either the Federation ethics board didn’t mind that there were loopholes in its restrictions, or perhaps the ethics themselves changed with the times. The circumstances in which we see these two holograms are during the Dominion War and terminal illness, both a source of emotional trauma. It’s possible that these two are judged to provide mental health benefits that outweigh any esoteric moral discomfort around the potential consciousness of the holograms.
Everything is a Social Construct Anyway
“I have brought a new life into this world, and it is my duty, not Starfleet's, to guide her through these first difficult steps to maturity, to support her as she learns, to prepare her to be a contributing member of society.”
- Data, on his android daughter Lal (TNG “The Offspring”)
So what about all the other artificial life forms that have arisen within the Federation aside from holograms? We can look to exocomps, or whatever the cyber-shenanigans Ira Graves was up to, but once again, the Soong-type androids give us a good example to study. It seems that this hypothetical restriction on Strong AI doesn’t apply to them, so why not?
First of all, the medium in which they are formed is probably entirely different from your typical 24th century computer. The positronic brain is similar enough to a real human brain that it can host a human consciousness (TNG “The Schizoid Man”, “Power Play”), as well as be read by an empath (TNG “The Offspring”, “Descent”). The precise format of the machine (about which we could conjecture endlessly) may simply be too exotic to have been included in Federation rules. We also have no idea what “programming” on such a platform actually entails. It is possible that artificial brains are somehow easier
to directly program compared to the neural networks we use in computational AI:
KORBY: Can you understand that a human converted to an android can be programmed for the better? Can you imagine how life could be improved if we could do away with jealousy, greed, hate? (TOS “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”)
Secondly—and this should have become obvious to me far sooner than it did—there is the practical matter of power and agency. By their nature, computers are depended upon to run systems, sometimes very powerful or critically important systems. An android, though superhuman, is still a single individual who fits into its society as such. We must accept that individuals are fallible; the control system for a starship, however... maybe we’d like a little more infallibility there, please?
One may also argue similarly for holograms, if we observe that they are not designed to control mission-critical systems, but are mostly commonly used for entertainment. Holodecks have been described as having independent hardware (VOY “Parallax”), so maybe the same is true for its software, through virtual-machine-like sandboxing. (Or at least, perhaps that precaution was developed after a renegade hologram took over complete control of a starship … twice.
) This would make sense, given the apparent modularity and portability of holograms. Nevertheless, with holodeck safeties failing every other day, it would be prudent to at least have both policies and design philosophies to avoid inadvertently creating artificial life on your lunch break. Such philosophies may also contribute to why it takes Janeway roughly seven years longer than Picard to recognize the sentient AI aboard, the subject of a recent Trekspertise episode
In the end, the Federation must balance its pursuit of knowledge and its search for new life with its ethical obligations to all life, natural or artificial. For my proposed restriction on AI research to serve as a valid solution, I believe it would need to be conservative and limited in scope. The ultimate goal is for individuals of all origins—even man-made ones—to be duly recognized with fundamental rights and freedoms, for computers to remain sophisticated tools in the hands of their masters, and to maintain a strong (albeit sometimes fuzzy) dividing line between the two. If you made it all the way through that, I appreciate your interest and attention! I hope to hear some feedback: do you think these ideas hold water? What examples or conclusions did I miss? (I imagine there are some big ones!) And are there other ways to reconcile the inconsistent portrayal of AI from an in-universe perspective?
a glimpse at the world map for my superhero setting, Paladin
, specifically focusing on the Middle East.
Much of the history of the Middle East went as we know it in our timeline, even with the addition of Metahumans and advanced technologies since 1945. Israel was established, and Metahuman soldiers fought on both sides, with the Israelis emerging victorious each time; European powers withdrew from the region, etc. A few things go differently, though; for instance, Dubai blossoms into a metropolis much sooner than in our timeline. In general, though, everything went as we might expect, until 1980. That was when World War III (1980-1984)
broke out, and the villainous forces of the New Order
fell upon the Middle East.
Spearheading the New Order’s efforts in the Arabian Peninsula was the S-rank supervillain, Set
. A sociopath with the ability to control sand, Set made his base of operations in the shining city of Dubai, and created a massive sand storm that threatened to swallow the entire region.
Ultimately, Set was defeated by the combined forces of two unlikely heroes: an Israeli superhero named Golem
and a Palestinian superheroine named Simurgh
. The former had the ability to create automatons out of clay, mud and dirt, whilst the latter could take the form of a fiery six-winged bird, as well as transfer her energy into others to enhance their own abilities. They both did their best to fight Set, but in the end the situation required them to not only to work together, but to sacrifice their lives in order to save the Middle East. Simurgh transferred 100% of her power into Golem, who then poured everything he had into a ten-mile-tall colossus of mud and sea water, which he directed to destroy Set. Set, along with the entire city of Dubai, was crushed and buried under half a mile of earth. The Middle East was saved. The war would still rage on for two and a half more years, but without Set, the forces of the New Order were far, far easier to fight.
The lasting legacy of Golem and Simurgh’s sacrifice was a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the creation of the Federal Union of Israel and Palestine
, a secular, bi-national confederation of two peoples united by the sacrifices of each other’s children. Between 1995 and 2006, a colossal bridge covered in solar panels was constructed, connecting the West Bank to Gaza. Today, almost a million people live on the Shalam Bridge
Riyadh was destroyed by Set, killing most of the Saudi Royal Family. When the sand settled, the Saudi Civil War
began, and didn’t end until 1999, with the Treaty of Kuwait City
. The former territory of Saudi Arabia was broken up, with the oil-rich region of Nejd going to the Gulf Alliance
, a confederation of Persian Gulf states, which had occupied Nejd for almost all of the Saudi Civil War. The last remnants of the Saudi Royal Family were put in charge of a revived Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
, based in Jeddah. The Jordanians donated a member of their royal family to sit on the throne of the Kingdom of Hashemite Arabia
, based in Tabuk. And lastly, all involved officially recognized the Free Territory of the Holy Cities
, which was established during World War III by an international group of Muslim superheroes to protect Mecca and Medina first from Set, and then from the Saudi Civil War.
The Gulf Alliance is surprisingly progressive and forward thinking in its own way. As the region hardest-hit by Set’s rampage, it made sense for the governments of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE to pool their resources in order to rebuild. Though most of the Middle East has been surprisingly welcoming to alien refugees from the moon (long story), due to the massive regional drop in population brought on by Set’s Storm, the Gulf Alliance has welcomed in the most. Though the Alliance itself is mostly secular, the locals have been rather successful at converting the alien newcomers to Islam. Work is still underway to dig up many of the destroyed oil wells, even as the world is moving towards more and more renewable energy.
As for Saudi Arabia and Hashemite Arabia, the latter is a moderate Arab constitutional monarchy, the former…isn’t. The degree to which it isn’t is kinda shocking, actually. Hashemite Arabia lets their women run for positions in parliament; Saudi Arabia 2.0 doesn’t permit women to leave their homes. Hashemite Arabia is debating abolishing the death penalty; Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have
prisons – they have a waiting list for the guy with the scimitar who beheads people for anything from theft to lying about one’s virginity. Saudi Arabia is also backing North Yemen’s now-radicalized Royal Army (more on that clusterfuck later).
Moving across the Red Sea, we have the Arab Republic of Egypt
, which…well, let’s just say, they have some interesting residents these days. During World War III, Egypt came under siege by the New Order, with the Nile Delta the site of some of the war’s most intense fighting. On one side, the New Order – supervillains, Taurus Group ground and air forces, robots, dinosaurs, African mercenaries, and thousands of undead Nazi soldiers. On the other side, the Allied forces – the Egyptian Army and local Egyptian superheroes, plus some unlikely back-up from the Muslim Brotherhood and
the Israeli Air Force. However, the Allies were losing. Badly. So badly that the Egyptian government activated its covert “Osiris Plan”
See, Taurus Group was able to resurrect the entire Wehrmacht by activating what’s known as a “Charnel Womb” (another long story), which the Nazis created in 1938 through their use of arcane science and mysticism. However, top secret archeological discoveries revealed that the Ancient Egyptians created their own, much more advanced Charnel Womb. Which Egyptian government agents activated. They were then greeted by an undead Metahuman pharaoh by the name of Neherkamun
. Surprisingly reasonable, Neherkamun agreed to aid the Egyptian government. In exchange for some concessions later.
Five days later, hundreds of thousands of skeletons, mummies and zombies rode towards the Cairo war zone, astride skeletal and mummified horses, clad in bronze/crocodile leather armor, wielding swords, spears, axes, AK’s, RPK’s, RPG’s and PKM’s, backed up by lich-sorcerers and animated statues armed with massive clubs and scythes – this undead horde charged into Cairo, Alexandria and Giza, to liberate their once and forever homeland from the forces of evil. The forces of the dead were enough to turn the tide in favor of the Allies. With the New Order defeated in Egypt, the Egyptian Army and their new undead comrades then moved to assist Gaddafi in neighboring Libya.
The Egyptian government held up their end of the bargain with Neherkamun and created the Autonomous Region of the Dead
in 1990, as an autonomous domain for Egypt’s new undead citizenry. The living are permitted to live in the ARD, though at this point, the dead outnumber them in cities like Luxor (renamed Waset), Edfu (Behdet) and Aswan (Swenett). Neherkamun visited Las Vegas in 1996 (when the city was rebuilt following the devastation it suffered during WW3), and was very much impressed; today, the nightlife in Waset, Behdet and Swenett is a strange Ancient Egyptian-themed neon rainforest with very friendly dead people walking around the gentrified necropolis, with street signs in both Arabic and hieroglyphics. In 1999, another autonomous region for the undead was created in the north of the country – the Autonomous Region of Giza
, which has become even more of a tourist-y place than before, now that you can have a friendly conversation with the people who actually built the pyramids. Both autonomous regions have Neherkamun as their constitutional monarch, and all residents of the undead autonomous regions are members of the Egyptian republic.
What are the attitudes of living Egyptians towards their undead countrymen? Surprisingly positive, actually. Sure, some fundamentalists regard them as “spawn of Iblis”, but the undead have been a fairly…secularizing influence on Egypt. Being able to talk with your oldest ancestors brought about a revival of cultural interest in Ancient Egyptian history amongst the Egyptian youth, which pervades. Many undead are still waking up to this day, and they tend to be very, very curious about this new world that they find themselves in – familiar and yet so very strange. It’s not uncommon to see Undead Egyptians visiting Paris, New York, Rio, Tokyo or Moscow, though since most were peasants when they died, most simply remain in Egypt. Some Undead Egyptians have converted to Islam, but the overwhelming majority continue to worship the old gods of the Nile. 2015’s Miss Egypt is the very well-preserved Nefertiti, who became the first undead individual to win such a title.
To the south of Egypt, one can see two grey-ish territories. Before World War III, these were the disputed territories of Bir Tawil and the Hala’ib Triangle. During the war, the New Order made extensive use of combat robots during their invasion of Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. However, during the massacre of a village in Sudan in 1983, a simple infantry robot with the designation T9X1109
spontaneously developed sentience and led an uprising within Taurus Group’s mechanical legions in northwest Africa, establishing connections with other “enlightened autonomatons” and “uplifting” those who were not so “enlightened”. T9X1109’s mutiny was mostly successful, and he made an offer to the UN’s Joint Allied Command
; in exchange for withdrawing from the conflict, T9X1109 and his “people” would be allowed to settle these disputed territories as a “homeland” for sentient machines. A neutral “machine homeland”, the Republic of 01001001
(binary for “I”; commonly called “01” or “Zero-One”), was created in 1984. In the years since the end of WW3, many machine intelligences have immigrated to this harsh and bitter desert nation, which is covered in solar panels to provide vital electricity for its approximately ~41,233 intelligences. Increasingly, cyborg transhumanist types have made their “pilgrimage” to Zero-One as well, where they evangelize their strange techno-religion to the human refugees from neighboring war-torn Sudan who’ve been permitted to seek refuge in the mechanical country (this is one reason why Cairo likes Zero-One: it’s a convenient Sudanese refugee sponge of sorts). Zero-One has a strictly pacifistic constitution and possesses no military. Its economy is based mostly on production of batteries.
Saddam Hussein’s regime performed impressively during WW3, and he was able to win over much of the public as a result. But he over-played his hand, and thought he could go back to his old ways. He was wrong, and an idealistic, Western-educated superhero by the name of Ninurta
(real name: Mohammed Al-Doori) led the uprising against Saddam in 2002. His parents fled Iraq for Canada shortly after the Ba’athists came to power in Iraq in 1968, and young Mohammed longed to return to free his homeland. After deposing Saddam, the eagle-headed superhero abolished the Ba’athist regime and replaced it with a secular, democratic government – the Mesopotamian Confederation of Iraq
, with himself as its wise and benevolent dictator. Every office and position in the new Iraq is elected through a multi-party democratic system, with the exception of Ninurta’s position as President. The Federation is divided into six autonomous republics, plus the independent capital district of Baghdad. The six “Mesopotamian Republics” are Babylonia (Sunni Arab majority), Sumeria (Shiite Arab majority), Kurdistan (Kurdish majority), Assyria (Christian Assyrian majority), Sinjar (Yazidi majority) and Akkad (Turkman majority). Under Ninurta’s rule, much has been done to mitigate the country’s historical ethnic tensions and to modernize Iraq. Though most of the time, Ninurta is busy helping to build infrastructure, or assisting the Iraqi Defense Forces with rooting out Islamist or Ba’athist terrorists; there are fundamentalist Muslims who disapprove of Ninurta’s love affair with ancient Mesopotamia or take issue with his atheism, and the Ba’athists are salty that he overthrew Saddam.
To the east of Iraq is the Persian Technate
. In 1979-1980, Iran was a country on the verge of revolution, and between despotic monarchs and totalitarians of both the Islamist and Marxist variety, a low-level Metahuman supergenius by the name of Hamid Mousavi created a fourth option for his beloved Iranian homeland – a secular, scientifically-minded brand of populist technocracy. World War III began shortly after the Iranian Revolution, and amid the chaos, with loyalist and revolutionary forces and third and fourth parties fighting each other and
the New Order, the Iranian Technocratic Revolutionary Army managed to fight its way to be top dog in the Iran Theatre. When all was said and done, Mousavi effectively controlled the country, thanks to his brilliant grasp of strategy and his charismatic brand of “scientific populism”. In 1986, the Iranian Revolution ended, and the Persian Technate was officially recognized by the US and USSR. Today, the Persian Technate is a rationalist, secular regime governed by scientists, engineers, mathematicians. The Technate’s not very democratic, and though they have a lot of fancy doo-dads, the planned economy is kinda mediocre. Following the death of Mousavi in 2010, his successor’s lack of charisma isn’t helping the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the eggheads ruling Iran.
Turkey has not
had a fun time. During World War III, the country was invaded by Taurus Group, backed by Reticulan tripods. Immediately prior to the start of the war, Turkey’s military government was devastated by a string of assassinations carried out by ninjas sent by the Red Hand. To add fuel to the fire, a very young Metahuman in the province of Bayburt experienced a panic attack, unleashing all of its power at once. That glowing blue orb and the “Gulf of Trabzon” you see? That’s the result. The shockwaves resulted in earthquakes across Turkey and tsunamis along the Soviet coastline in the eastern Black Sea, killing upwards of a million people.
Despite all this chaos, the splintered and factionalized Turkish armed forces were able to liberate their homeland from the New Order. Following the end of hostilities in 1984, the National Transitional Council of Turkey
was formed, bringing the three main factions of the Turkish Army together – a secular republican faction, a “theodemocratic” Islamist faction, and a Neo-Ottmanist faction advocating for a constitutional monarchy. Negotiations were tense, with militias and paramilitaries clashing in the streets across Turkey, Turkish and Armenian separatists making their moves, and the Syrians expanding their sphere of influence into Hatay. The Turkish national election of 1995 ended badly
, with violence raging across the country and the military factions breaking away from the NTCT to back their political allies in the streets. The Turkish Civil War
(1995-2001) had begun.
When the dust settled in 2001, a NATO intervention in Turkey resulted in a negotiated ceasefire brokered by the Sentinel Coalition
(which still occupies the Bosporus Straits). The country was now divided into the Republic of Turkey
(“Republican Turkey”, Istanbul), the Islamic Republic of Turkey
(“Islamic Turkey”, Ankara) and the Sultanate of Turkey
(“Ottoman Turkey”, Adana). That last one is a mostly-secular constitutional monarchy headed by Dündar Ali Osman
, the last heir of the old House of Osman. Relations between the “Three Turkeys” have been tense at times, with Islamic Turkey currently in the midst of a military build-up, fearing the growing ties between Republican and Ottoman Turkey.
Istanbul, Ankara and Adana were all forced to recognize the independence of Kurdistan, as well as, more controversially, the Free State of Izmir
Allow me to explain Izmir. At the start of the Turkish Civil War, a giant, tentacled Kaiju by the name of Atlas
took advantage of the chaos in Turkey to take over Izmir and the surrounding area from the Republican and Islamist forces fighting there. A fan of Ayn Rand, Atlas decided to turn Izmir into his own little capitalist utopia. And the people living there decided to go along with the 300-foot beast’s plan. Today, Izmir is a city in the vein of Las Vegas, Singapore and Bangkok – a free market wonderland of Ottoman and Art Deco architecture with its dictator spending most of his time along the bottom of the Gulf of Izmir.
The People’s Republic of Kurdistan
started out as a socialist republic ruled by the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party). Backed by the USSR, Kurdistan made the transition to a multi-party social democracy in 2004.
Meanwhile, in Republican Turkey’s far-eastern provinces the unrecognized and widely-hated “Armenian Republic of Tačkahayastan”
claims authority there. The ART is headed by a pyrokinetic Metahuman and Armenian ultra-nationalist by the name of Azhdahak, who is overseeing a rather ironic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local Turks. Republican Turkey keeps asking Armenia to do something about the flow of arms that’s obviously coming across their border, to which Armenia shrugs and plays stupid every time. Increasingly, however, more and more Armenians are deciding to agitate in favor of ending the madness, and the Soviets are getting around to tapping Yerevan on the shoulder. North Yemen
is…yeah, pretty much a clusterfuck.
The Mutawakkilite Kingdom
(North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen
(South Yemen) put their differences aside to fight against the New Order, and more or less reached a state of détente with the war’s conclusion. This lasted about 30 years.
Around 2010, the failing Mutawakkilite monarchy began experiencing major uprisings by left-wing protestors backed by South Yemen. On the brink of civil war, and with much of the kingdom’s military siding with the protestors, the Yemeni monarchy made the very, very questionable decision to ally with a supervillain by the name of The Claw
. For a while, The Claw was able to keep things under control, though on his watch, North Yemen increasingly became a police state. At the same time, The Claw started to gain his share of odd supporters from the populace. Believing that they could take over the security infrastructure The Claw had built, the Mutawakkilites tried and failed to assassinate him in 2013. Almost immediately afterwards, The Claw staged a coup, backed by his private army of cyborg mercenaries and his following of Yemeni supporters. The Mutawakkilites fled to Saudi Arabia while the Royal Army remained to fight against The Claw’s army, and the left-wing North Yemen Democratic Forces
rose up. The North Yemen Civil War
had begun. South Yemen continued to back the NYDF, but stopped short of committing their forces to the three-way conflict, believing that the Royalists (backed by Saudi Arabia) and The Claw’s forces (backed by nobody) could be easily defeated. South Yemen’s military was actually busy assisting the Soviets and Ethiopians in Somalia during most of the North Yemen Civil War.
Then, in 2014, half of Aden was ripped a series of explosions in the early morning hours. Suicide bombers, whose explosives were traced back to The Claw’s growing transhumanist cult of cyborgs. Though The Claw himself denounced the attack as the actions of a rogue henchmen acting against his orders, South Yemen announced that it would be withdrawing its forces from Somalia to “rectify a previous error in judgement” and invade North Yemen. The Soviet Union and Egypt have both agreed to back South Yemen’s move and have committed troops to backing the NYDF.
So, conclusion? Middle East is a bit of a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, lots of interesting, I suppose.
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