Sure, we manage your data, but what if that data were to gain consciousness? AI sentience scenarios are ubiquitous, but one important subset of them, sentient spacecraft, is worth considering more closely. Sentient spacecraft are now a staple — a main trope, even — in science fiction. They are “living ships or brains in a box“: either the ship itself is a sentient creature, or the hardware of the ship is controlled by the wetware of another (usually human) creature’s brain, if not otherwise integrated into the hardware (computer programs are a frequent conduit). Living ships are so standard now that they figure into cutting-edge science fiction podcasts like Khôra Podcast and We Fix Space Junk. The device reaches across a wide readership demographic too, with Lydia Kang’s young adult novel Toxic also featuring sentient craft.

The range of themes and creativity around the conscious craft trope is remarkable. First, the themes of works featuring intelligent spacecraft are often very political. Take, for example, the political implications of sentient craft without the rights aspirationally afforded to sentient beings in liberal societies. In We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the titular character dies after being hit by a street vehicle and wakes up more than a hundred years later as an AI unit derived from a scan of his original brain activity. In the new society, AI replicants are slaves, and the government uploads the replicants into space probes to explore strange new worlds.

Perhaps this political angle feels especially appropriate for fiction about ships that are so often used as platforms for war. In Embers of War by Gareth Powell, these ships organize together in a post-war galaxy to aid distressed spacecraft in a kind of redemptive philanthropy. Or take the first-in-a-Y.A.-trilogy Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre, where an entire race of sentient ships, called the Leviathan, visit earth to share their knowledge benevolently.

Second, the personalities of the ships are often their key feature and might offer an even lighthearted tone to the story. In Ian M. Banks’s Culture series, the spaceships speak in different styles that match their consciousness and personalities: the ship Serious Callers Only speaks cryptically, skittish about being dragged into a conflict it wants to have nothing to do with. The ship called Sleeper Service is a detective and entertainingly talks like a detective noir character.

And sometimes the explorations of ships’ or people-to-ships’ personalities are treated more seriously, psychologically or sociologically. The great Anne McCaffrey wrote a highly imaginative series in the 1960s, including The Ship Who Sang, The Ship Who Mourned, The Ship Who Killed, The Ship Who Dissembled and others. People born with physical deformities are offered up as cyborg-brains for various machines including ships. In The Ship Who Sang, one of those cyborg characters, Helva, learns that she can sing beautifully in her new “body.”

Finally, the presence of sentience can invite analysis of the logistical, physical and moral hazards which are being discussed around autonomous vehicles. AVs are accused of being vulnerable to attack, in danger of accidents or even radiation exposure, and causing social calamities like mass unemployment. But this is where my proposal comes in: what if we were the vehicles? We’ve already seen a huge sci-fi precedent for such transformations. What if we simply modified our own bodies to synthesize with space travel-ready hardware?

If so, data management would presumably play a central role in this modest proposal. If humans are fused with spacecraft, or spacecraft fused onto and then built on us, our brain functions must be capable of navigating a complex ship’s worth of details, meaning either that our brains will be augmented with faster (perhaps quantum) data processing skills, or we will have amazing data management systems at our fingertips (or whatever our new appendages are). Regardless, it’s worth hoping that the spaceships that we are turned into look more like the Enterprise than the Millennium Falcon.