The End Time Wars were devastating in their own right, fleets of untold power rained destruction down on unsuspecting worlds and the direct casualty toll was over two billion. The indirect however, was a lot higher, nearly three quarters of all humanity.
No one is quite sure what killed the AIs. Many suppose that it was an information super weapon gone wrong, others theorise it was produced by a small group of unaugmented scientists in an attempt to stem the blood flow. Either way, its remnants seem to be floating around the internet preventing the formation of any new AIs. Though if it was the scientists, they should be brought up on war crimes.
Imagine for a moment if the internal combustion engine stopped working suddenly, anarchy would reign within hours as the food ran out and no one had a way to replace it. A similar level of pervasion was true of the AIs and when they died everything went down, transport, power, banking and many of the higher level thinkers found themselves brain dead or at least missing huge chunks of their mind. In this case there was at least some level of manual overrides, but as the governments were almost universally lobotomised the implication of these systems was hit and miss at best.
People with skills became the most valued and therefore valuable members of society and new governments formed under the thumb of those who still knew how to work the most complicated technology. This lasted six months at best. Farming at it’s pinnacle had reached a level where one man could oversee the growth of enough food to feed ten thousand but with automation dead that went down to ten. Some planets didn’t realise this, and so starved, and even those that did were faced with the dilemma, their land had only a fraction of its old productivity and the industry was in tatters, ‘how do you build enough farms in time?’
There wasn’t an answer. Society fell on every world as over half the galactic population starved to death. Some collapsed as the rich lost the skills they needed to survive the next year, on some the starving mobs battered down the doors and spread the food so thinly that everyone died. But even those that lasted the long dark did so with terrible losses. Law failed, industry choked and information of humanities’ golden age was lost to the void as the cities shut down under the weight of the dead.
The remnants that rose from the ashes were mere shadows of former glory. Core worlds, Earth, Procyon, Altair, Arcturus and so on had lost hundreds of years of progress, but that was a lot better than the planets further out. It was later agreed that if your civilisation had stayed space faring, you were doing pretty well, fusion power, mag launchers, all meant that the new state was a power in the wider world. Others fell to pre-Derelict levels, computers and chemicals but not a lot else, they were ruthlessly exploited. The worst fell to mere industrial levels and some pre-industrial, scrabbling around their ruins of their cities. Unlucky people lived on a planet where the environment wasn’t stable and they suffocated.
The recovery is slow. The AIs are gone for ever, even attempts to follow known instructions, or plug isolated AIs into the web result in nothing but a box of malfunctioning qubits. Likewise we can no longer rely of augmented humans; they go mad or worse within days. But humanity will, nay, has survived and will overcome, and for the glory of our empire we will once again master the stars.