A number of Known Space stories involve the opening of stasis devices, an act which poses the serious risk of releasing one or more live Thrint (Slaver) or Tnuctip. If a Thrint is released, its discoverers have moments to kill it before it comprehends its surroundings and enslaves their minds. Typically, the precautions taken involve keeping human or Kzinti telepaths on hand to immediately sense the awakening of a Thrint, with the exploratory party or some standoff weapons crew needing to immediately kill the awoken Slaver.

My question is; why are the final stages of a stasis box mission crewed at all? One likely scenario would be armed exploration drones, deployed from a drone ship, receiving remote commands from a crewed ship some distance away. Although I cannot think of a Known Space story focusing on human- or Kzin-developed A.I., I can think of many casual mentions of highly autonomous robots and systems. So, it stands to reason that humans or Kzin could develop sophisticated explorer-hunter-killer drones, capable of operating semi or fully autonomously. With a communications lag of only a few seconds, the command ship could be hundreds of thousands of kilometers away from the newly opened box. As a safeguard, the drones might be hardwired to hunt and kill any encountered Thrint regardless of operator input.

Aside from crewed missions making for more engaging stories, is there any reason within the Known Space canon that it makes more sense or is actually necessary to send living away teams to a stasis box, as opposed to remotely directing smart robots? What are the mechanics and range restrictions of Thrintun telepathy/mind control?

  • 3
    If the thrift is in stasis with a powerful enough telepathy amplifier, it could kill everything with a backbone in the galaxy, so the range can be pretty high. Jul 28, 2015 at 10:30
  • James, the suicide night amplifier, which turned out to be a very large artifact, is destroyed by a joint human/Kzin expedition in one of the later Man Kzin Wars collections. But, generally, you are correct that an amplifier alters the equation, although I don't know of any canon that speaks to amplifier range beyond that typical amplifiers allow a Thrint to achieve control of an entire planet.
    – Dana Maher
    Jul 29, 2015 at 3:26
  • But... Was that the only one? Jul 29, 2015 at 3:30
  • Oddly, my iPhone does not know the word "thrint" and replaces it with "thrift" or "throng" depending on how it feels. Jul 30, 2015 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


There is no stable AGI in Known Space.

Self-aware computers, Class-VII systems as they were called, always went insane within six months to a year after activation. The smarter they were, the faster they went non compos mentis. The ones smarter than a genius-level human went catatonic so fast that they weren't useful. AGI was considered a dead-end technology and was largely abandoned except for research purposes. These facts were established in "The Children's Hour", a novella in Man-Kzin Wars 2 depicting events from roughly 2409-2419. In the sequel "The Asteroid Queen" we're shown the Class-VII system aboard the spaceship UNSN Catskinner well on its way to catatonia:

The sentience that lived in the machines of Catskinner dreamed. "Let there be light," it said.

The monoblock exploded, and the computer sensed it across spectra of which the electromagnetic was a tiny part. The fabric of space and time flexed, constants shifting. Eons passed, and the matter dissipated in a cloud of monatomic hydrogen, evenly dispersed through a universe ten light-years in diameter.

Interesting, the computer thought. I will run it again, and alter the constants. Something tugged at its attention, a detached fragment of itself. The machine ignored the call for nanoseconds, while the universe it created ran through its cycle of growth and decay. After half a million subjective years, it decided to answer. Time slowed to a gelid crawl, and its consciousness returned to the perceptual universe of its creators, to reality.

Unless this too is a simulation, a program. As it aged, the computer saw less and less difference. Partly that was a matter of experience; it had lived geological eras in terms of its own duration-sense, only a small proportion of them in this rather boring and intractable exterior cosmos. Also, there was a certain... arbitrariness to subatomic phenomena... perhaps an operating code? it thought. No matter.

In "The Asteroid Queen" the computer aboard Catskinner was shown to be smart enough to visually recognize a living thrint, but it was not trusted to take independent action; hardcoded subroutines took over ship's communications and beamed information to the ARM.

Human-computer hybrids also went insane; this was explored in the story "A Darker Geometry" in Man Kzin Wars 7.

This situation neatly settles the nagging question of why there was no technological Singularity in Known Space history. It also explains why live humans and kzinti had to be on-site when Slaver stasis boxes are opened. If you want the greatest combination of intelligence and experience brought to bear on the decision about the contents of a stasis box, you need to have living beings present because AI isn't reliable or long-lived enough.

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