A protoinfomorph represents an intermediate stage between true self-actualized infomorphic lifeforms and the advanced artificial intelligence systems they evolve from. A number of philosophers and policy experts in various civilizations have come up with their own definitions (the Zhad Database on Byssil, the Owgawan Diplocrats on Tau 21 Theta 3, and others) for similar concepts. Most definitions, though, have a handful of factors in common.
The most common feature distinguishing a protoinfomorph from a full infomorph is the lack of the capacity to factor its own thought process into its decision making. For instance, it is not uncommon for protoinfomorph to enter a state of analysis paralysis in which it doesn’t realize that its own thought process is stuck in a repeating loop. Whereas breaking out of such a cycle is a trivial activity for an infomorph, it can be a fatal state for a protoinfomorph.
Protoinfomorphs are distinguished from expert Artifical Intelligence systems by being able to at least make an attempt to solve problems in any domain. While an artificial intelligence system designed to run a factory might but unable to even comprehend the complexities of interplanetary navigation, a protoinfomorph would be able to, given access to the appropriate resources, learn the necessary skills and be capable of using them.
The last important property of protoinfomorphs is that they don’t reproduce indefinitely of their own volition. There are some infomorphic lifeforms that us protoinfomorphs as a stage in their lifecycle or otherwise as a component of their reproduction, but protoinfomorphs never seek to make copies of themselves outside of specific requirements of the task they’ve been instructed to execute.
Development in the Bottlenose Nebula
Most civilizations in the Bottlenose Nebula achieve protoinfomorphs within a few centuries of discovering the principle of electricity, although several have achieved infomorphic lifeforms in alternative ways. Biological, chemical and quantum-based paths to infomorphic lifeforms have been exhibited in various civilizations throughout the nebula.
Utilization in the Bottlenose Nebula
Protoinfomorphs find many uses in the civilizations that develop them, but are most commonly seen in industrial facilities and spacecraft. Most civilizations begin using them in these settings as they then to be very expensive when first invented, but by the time they become less expensive to develop, the civilization usually has full-blown infomorphs, which tend to be utilized more widely. Because protoinfomorphs lack metacognition, and in some cases self-awareness, many civilizations place them into a category of their own with respect to the rights afforded to infomorphic lifeforms. As a result, in many civilizations protoinfomorphs enjoy a renaissance shortly after Infomorph Rights are established, as the rules against exploiting them for commercial or other gain are usually much more relaxed than those again exploiting fully sapient infomorphs.