What Are the Romulans Afraid Of? [Picard Spoilers]
One of the interesting new mysteries in Star Trek: Picard is why Romulan culture is hostile to artificial intelligence, so hostile that the secret society within the Tal Shiar, the Zhat Vash, have had a vendetta against artificial life for thousands of years.
Why would this be? I’m not sure, but here are four possibilities:
(a) Romulans descend, at least in part, from artificial intelligence.
(b) Romulans once shared their civilization or home planet with artificial life which they destroyed in some horrible way, like genocide.
(c) Romulans were created by a powerful artificial intelligence (but do not directly descend from them).
(d) Romulans once used artificial intelligence freely, but did horrific things with it.
There are problems with all of (a)-(d). I get why you’d like to hide (a) because it may raise questions in the minds of Romulans and non-Romulans whether the Romulans have real personhood/souls/meaning in life, etc. Perhaps Romulans couldn’t handle knowing they’re part machine. However, this seems like a secret that would be very hard to keep for a long time because it could potentially be detected in any Romulan body.
On the other hand, last night’s episode suggests Romulans are hard to assimilate, which might be because they are part AI, much as Data couldn’t be assimilated.
As for (b), the Romulans hideously oppressed the Remans for a very long time and seemed to feel no remorse, so it’s not clear why they’d need to hide that they’d defeated an AI race they shared the planet with. It might even be a point of pride.
(c) is probably not true because of the TNG episode “The Chase” where it is revealed that many of the major Alpha Quadrant species were created by an ancient precursor race that seems carbon-based. But perhaps an AI interfered with their history at some point. That might be taken to suggest that the Romulans were weak or fake in some way. But again, this seems unlikely.
On (d), the Romulans don’t seem like they’d be embarrassed they used AI super-weapons.
So, I’m not quite sure why the Romulans are afraid of AI for a reason that would need to be kept secret for so long. But my best guess is (a).