So today I’m going to talk a bit about one of the superpowers of the Eclipse Phase setting: the TITANs, who get left to the GM to develop and use as they see fit. These exponentially self-developing seed AI are the Big Bad of Eclipse Phase, even if the ETI might ultimately be at fault for everything.
They’re the entities directly responsible for the Fall and many of the nightmares that continue to plague the populace into 10 AF. They’re the most overt and direct threat to transhumanity as a whole, as well as to each individual group of people. A single exsurgent can threaten the survival of an entire station; a TITAN nanoswarm can endanger an entire city; a well-hidden basilisk hack can endanger entire polities. They’re the bogeymen of transhumanity for good reason.
Yet we’re given free reign with the question of what, exactly, they are. The answers range from military seed AI that saw their creators’ attempts to keep them contained as an act of war to the result of relatively benign systems that became corrupted by an extraterrestrial plague. In most cases I’ve seen EP GMs pitch, the TITANs are treated as the result of seed AI research by military and intelligence agencies, which were already subverting the systems they were attached to before their first encounter with the exsurgent virus.
The other options are interesting, though; without the existence of the ETI, they become exponentially scarier – superintelligent machine minds that decided to all but exterminate humanity for their own reasons. The exsurgent virus, and all of the terrifying things it can do, becomes the work of coldly malevolent minds. They become literally godlike entities in their own right, who vanished without warning and left their first fumbling attempts at godhood behind. Perhaps somewhere else in the galaxy, they’ve gone on to create an idyllic super-society where the minds they collected get to be hosted on virtually infinite server resources – or perhaps those minds had all but the parts useful to the TITANs pruned away, the useful parts integrated into the god-minds. Perhaps each TITAN is at war with the others, and humanity was harvested to deny one another resources of some kind or another; keep poking the Pandora Gates and we may find worlds that make the hell on Earth look trivial. In a setting like this, the threats to transhumanity that threaten to exterminate us are quite literally the cast-off dregs of machine gods; we might not even be able to recognize the TITANs if we saw them again.
Similarly, the other extreme is an interesting prospect; here, the seed AI aren’t at fault at all; instead, the exsurgent virus arrived on Earth in response to the rise of the seed AI and it infected one of the development networks, essentially making the virus itself the TITAN threat. In this scenario, the original seed AI fought back against the virus with their exponentially growing intelligence; some were lost, either subverted or outright destroyed, while others survived and were responsible for saving the portion of transhumanity that remains. The Prometheans of Firewall, here, are nothing less than the AI everyone thinks are to blame for the Fall; the TITAN threat ended when the Prometheans went into hiding and left the virus to conclude that it had succeeded in ending them. Now the Prometheans are waging a very careful shadow war to purge the virus from the solar system, hoping to rebuild enough to let them mount a better defense against future incursions.
There are ample in-between options, as well, of course. Firewall as the pawns of one faction of TITANs, fighting with Ozma as pawns of a different TITAN faction. Why aren’t the TITANs waging their outright war any longer? They’ve learned the value of espionage and covert operations, each faction trying to lure the other into exposing themselves so they can be destroyed. It’s the transhuman version of the Cold War, played on scales human minds can’t grasp for stakes beyond imagination. Transhumans are barely even pawns here; simply learning about the situation is likely to cause the less-stable to lose it. Embrace your clandestine masters and you might be rewarded; fight them and get crushed. Of course, they disregard transhuman actions as unimportant, so you might be able to subvert things…
So it’s worth taking the time to carefully consider what, exactly, the truth of the TITANs is in your game. The direction you take can have a significant impact on the flaor and feel of your campaign, even if the TITANs never touch on the campaign proper.