An Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a self-aware computing system capable of learning and independent decision making. Creation of a conscious AI requires adaptive code, a slow, expensive education, and a specialized quantum computer called a "blue box".
An AI cannot be transmitted across a communication channel or computer network. Without its blue box, an AI is no more than data files. Loading these files into a new blue box will create a new personality, as variations in the quantum hardware and runtime results create unpredictable variations.
The geth serve as a cautionary tale against the dangers of rogue AI, and in Citadel space they are technically illegal. Advocacy groups argue, however, that an AI is a living, conscious entity deserving the same rights as organics. They argue that continued use of the term "artificial" is institutionalized racism on the part of organic life; the term "synthetic" is considered the politically correct alternative.
Artificial intelligence is a key concern for the Citadel races, one that pre-dates the emergence of sentient geth, though the geth are seen as a perfect example of how organic and synthetic life would struggle to co-exist. Tali points out that synthetic races have no use whatsoever for organics—they don't have the same needs or drives as biological creatures, so they have no need to trade resources or information with them. That is why the geth have isolated themselves beyond the Perseus Veil. An AI gives the view from the other side of the fence when it tells Shepard that, from a synthetic point of view, "all organics must destroy or control synthetic life forms".
Mass Effect: Revelation Edit
In 2165, the Alliance facility at Sidon was found to have been conducting illegal AI research; the Alliance faced heavy fines and censure as a result. By 2183, only four corporations have been licensed by the Citadel to develop artificial intelligence for research purposes, one of which is Synthetic Insights, Ltd..