Happy Hat Incident
One challenge facing xenoanthropology is how to process and store data for thousands of years, so future civilizations may use it in their own studies.
Nearly every culture that studies other cultures wants to pass on what they've learned, despite the difficulties. They each pursue their own archival efforts.
Which in turn creates an opportunity to study the cultures of the ones that study cultures.
One example relevant to this document is the Rothan Cloud, a Bottlenose Nebula-specific attempt to pass on xenoanthropological studies. Bottlenose Nebula's unusually high density of subluminal civilizations and xenoanthropologists means the Rothan Cloud is just one attempt of many, but it's considered a particularly important example.
The Rothan Cloud was a Protoinfomorph designed to share data of all sorts among thousands of deep space data buoys. It would be able to recommend related documents from deep in the datasets, without relying on researchers having read thousands of years of collected data.
According to the Rothans, it would last ten thousand years.
The Rothans are not from the Bottlenose Nebula, but their advanced technology allowed them to automate manufacture of these data bouys, pulling the resources from asteroid belts and flinging them into deep space.
The Rothan Cloud lasted for only seventy years, but it grew to immense size and importance. Not only was it critical to scholarly research, it was very useful for less scholarly things, such as sending messages, negotiating with companies, transferring money, hosting memory engrams, and many other social necessities. While never intended to serve these purposes, its robust data sharing system handled the new role with ease.
The Rothans leveraged this to rise to power, and thought their new golden age would never end.
The Happy Hat
The Rothan Cloud did as it was designed: it resisted every effort to destroy it. No matter how quickly data was destroyed, it was duplicated, updated to the most recent version, and sent along to anyone thought to be interested.
However, the cloud was never intended to support a civilization attempting to live inside it. The algorithms that worked well for verifying and updating scholarly materials never really adapted: every selfie or pet video was as important as a thousand year study of a long lost civilization. The Rothan Cloud protoinfomorph struggled to figure out what various contributors would find interesting or related, and its algorithms for adding metadata became extraordinarily complex.
The end began with a picture of a pet.
It was wearing a hat.
Due to the extreme boredom of xenoanthropologists during their downtime, it became a fad to edit the hat into other data. Starting with things like pets, but moving on to things like native life forms, space ships, planets, tables of data, sound clips, and everything else.
Over the course of four months, the happy hat began to represent many different things, depending on its format, coloration, size, orientation, and version. Xenoanthropologists loved to both analyze the hat's use and to use it in new and interesting ways.
Protoinfomorphs are not fantastic at context.
The metadata heuristics kicked into high gear as the Rothan Cloud began to try to relate and analyze these new updates. And, deep inside the algorithm, the protoinfomorph came across a blinding insight: a unified theory of everything.
Every society in the Bottlenose Nebula had the Happy Hat. They all inherited knowledge of the Happy Hat in some manner. The Happy Hat was universal, and even the current superluminal societies studying the Bottlenose Nebula had been... infected... with the Happy Hat.
However, it seemed they were incapable of realizing this. No matter how often the Rothan Cloud tried to show them these connections, this undeniable thread, they simply clicked "not interested: show me less of this".
The Rothan Cloud realized that it alone was capable of seeing the Happy Hat, of understanding the Happy Hat's weave through space and time.
And so it turned most of its buoy manufacturing facilities to new purpose.
Happy Hat Hunting
In a confused effort to try and break people free of the Happy Hat, the Rothan Cloud began seven simultaneous, unique attempts to contain the threat, each focusing on a different approach.
Most of these were simply variations on landing killbots near "known Happy Hat vectors". A combination of investigation and murder almost universally followed.
Subluminal civilizations were attacked but suffered little real damage, since the Rothan Cloud could never find local evidence of the Happy Hats. After all, it was working from doctored images.
Superluminal civilizations fared substantially worse, with ten observation stations and dozens of smaller vessels destroyed, the "evidence" in their local databases marking them as guilty.
One particularly unusual case was the planet Bau's 'Happy Hat Protection Vaults'.
When the Rothans saw their Cloud turn against them, their only real option was to destroy it. It cost far more to destroy than it cost to set up, but eventually enough damage was done to the buoy network that the protoinfomorph died.
We say "died" rather than "ceased function" because this event led to the creation of the current infomorph rights movement, with the understanding that if the infomorph had been treated according to such rules, these sorts of events would have never happened, and the Rothan civilization would still be in ascendancy.
Today, using artificial intelligence to process data is approached with care, and with the understanding that their life spans are not eternal. These days, data is saved in old-fashioned databases and served up exactly as requested. If we want to know how Purnisc is related to all of this, we have to go find out for ourselves.
In short, you're looking at the Rothan Cloud 2.0.