The AI revolution had come, and passed.
The first true AI was a bizarre hybrid of biological and electronic. Technology on both fronts had advanced just enough, and unevenly enough, that the resulting brain in a jar was neither. The "brain" was a diffuse mass of neurons and nervous tissue linked with microscopic wiring grown by a regiment of delicately engineered DNA and artificial enzymes, and woven together with semi-superconducting wiring by the most advanced nanoscale machinery available. The "jar" was more of the same, but in an inverse ratio.
As with all promising high technology, the first practical adaptions were done by and for the military. After the perverse success of remotely piloted aircraft over several decades of bush wars and world ones too, the next logical step had been to developed remotely piloted ground troops. All had been failures for their intended purposes, running repeatedly into issues of operator feedback and sensory constraints.
But the legacy of those failed programs were superhuman bodies that were roughly human sized; and the absolute moment that someone thought they might just possibly be able to shrink down the brain in a jar to a size small enough to stand in for the electronics package necessary to plug one of the robogrunts into a satellite link, they did.
Someone with a sense of humor named the whole affair PROJECT SINGULARITY, and they must have laughed when the whole thing was scrapped barely five years later. They just weren't cost effective when you could get something not quite as good, but much cheaper.
While SINGULARITY had been in its infancy, breakthroughs enabled by the same research devoted to shrinking down the brains-in-jars had led to the digitization of human consciousness in a very limited fashion.
Very limited, but capable enough. The brains in jars were replaced by ghosts in breadboxes. It would no longer be necessary to carefully grow and seed a biological hybrid brain, and then train it and teach it what you needed it to do. And there was none of that pesky personality development. You need only find and train one compatible human being, and digitize them into an unlimited number of constructs.
Every arcology in the world has just such a construct at its core. And so does every traffic system, communications satellite, and vacuum cleaner. As it turned out, it was relatively easy to scale the processing ability of constructs, and keep them exactly where they needed to be for minimum function. And you didn't have to worry about the ethical constraints of treating them like humans.
Simple economics, that's all. Barely ten years after the announcement that a true artificial intelligence as equal, as near as anyone could tell, to that of a human had been created, everyone had forgotten about them except the occasional academic or historian.
And, of course, there were caretakers of the remaining Singularities.
Jake looked across the board at the sly grin of his opponent as he shuffled the tiles listlessly in the wooden trough, before shrugging and reaching for another of the small wooden squares from the pile set beside the board.
"Go ahead, Frank," Jake said, sighing even as Frank cackled.
"You need to work on your poker face," he whooped, slamming down A-N-T-I-Q-U-E for a triple word score. "I've told you a million times you got no poker face, even if it is smooth as a toilet seat!"
"Yeah yeah," Jake rumbled as he reached for another letter. "Toilet seat, toaster, I've heard 'em all. You were smooth as a toilet seat too, about thirty years ago."
"More like forty," Frank sighed with a P-I-E. "But the ladies still want to sit on my face!"
Jake joined him in cackling and hooting, stopping only to mime the wiping away of tears from the smooth and carbon-black composite shield of his face.
Hours later, Frank sat in his weekly debriefing.
"My God, thirty years and I still can't get over it. He seems so human," he almost whispered.
His debriefer nodded. It was almost a script with Frank. Every week, the same thing.
The debriefer picked up his pen, pretended to make some notes, and droned without looking up, "Yes, well, we both know how far from the truth that is. None of us can really be sure what's going on in there, not with any of them. Do I have to remind you about DLD-1?"
"No, Jesus Christ, of course not. I was there when it happened! I was there when it happened and you were still shitting your pants and drinking out of a sippy cup!"
The debriefer cleared his throat and let Frank go through the whole story again. Every single week, Frank went through the whole story. He was nothing if not reliable.
His involvement in the DLD-1 incident had been one of the reasons he'd been selected as a caretaker. The program administrators and their advisors had reasoned that the people best equipped to deal with the Singularities long-term would be the ones who had seen DLD-1 and, later, DWB-2 during their respective incidents.
The debriefer always hated the couched language, but reasoned that it was necessary if for no other reason than it was convenient shorthand. "Incident" was far easier to say than "a nonhuman intelligence integrated into a cutting edge humanoid killing machine acted for motives and purposes possibly not fully compatible with human understanding, causing significant damage to life and materiel and requiring the combined efforts of most of the domestically available armed forces and a good fraction of the total intelligence apparatus to contain and subdue".
So they were just called "incidents", although very few people knew there had been more than one. Still fewer knew that the incidents had been the real reason construct-based technology had won the race.
The debriefer handed Frank a tissue at the climax of his routine, patting him on the back and helping him to the drinking fountain on one wall of the office.
It was all Frank could do to not jump with glee when he passed through the lobby on the way home.
They'd bought his bullshit for thirty years, and today had been the last time.
Back in the complex, Jake sat quietly, watching television and leafing through a magazine.
Anyone watching through the numerous, if discrete, security cameras would have noticed nothing as he decoded Frank's messages.