The Twilight of the Known Worlds
In a society that barely tolerates technology of any sort, the idea of a mechanical human is blasphemous. Golems rob humans of their sacred place in the cosmos, diminishing and mocking the works of the Pancreator. After the Fall, the Church destroyed artificially intelligent robots (AI, or “smart robots”) outright, with little consideration for any sentience they may have displayed. Their antirobot dogma does not necessarily spread to the many non-intelligent robots throughout the empire.
AI robot brains are a cephalic matrix built from a rare element known as Pygmallium. This element simulates the neural pathways of the human brain to a remarkable degree. Smart robots are just as prone to emotions, both good and bad, as humans. A golem may be a benign creature, or a remorseless killer. Most golems have a pre-programmed desire to serve humans. A “behavioral repressor” is the only known way to enforce a golem’s servitude, but the golems resent it. (For them, it is similar to electroshock therapy.)
During the Second Republic, robots came in many shapes and performed a wide range of functions (combat, exploration, recreation, research, etc.). Since the Fall, Church Inquisitors have watched robots and their makers very carefully. They are rare now, but not unknown. Some golems are highly mechanical in appearance, while others (those built during the later Second Republic) are almost perfect duplicates of human beings.
Primitive robots are possible at as low as Tech Level 4, although these are little more than toys. At Tech Levels 5 and 6, robots become increasingly sophisticated, but are still not truly sentient. Most robots built currently by the Engineers are at this level. At Tech Level 7 artificial intelligence is possible, although few in the modern empire are able to create such technology. Golems at this level may be vastly intelligent, and may even have some rudimentary emotions. Robots built during the later Second Republic, and by the greatest human roboticists of the present, may reach this level. Advanced AI is only possible at Tech Level 8, or above. Some robots built during the final days before the Fall are of this generation. Advanced AI robots are vastly intelligent, and display a wide range of complex emotions, and are sometimes indistinguishable from humans. AI robots of any kind are very rare.
Because of their superior design and engineering, Second Republic robots are virtually immortal if they avoid destruction and receive regular maintenance. If these robots have an agenda it is unknown.
Modern robots are built by a few eccentric Engineer geniuses in hidden labs. Such work is highly expensive (and often illegal). These Engineers have a near religious fervor for their work.
Both the Ur-Obun and Sanctuary Aeon have shown some public sympathy for the remaining golems. Both groups believe that owning one is akin to slavery, and destroying one is murder.