Basically this question is long. It's wordy. But I could see a bazillion quetions in the comments come from it asking for clarification/background, so I wanted to head off them. My main points for sandboxage:
- What should I remove/limit
- Do I abide by the rule of thumb of "Background, rules, and outcome. Provide 2 of 3 for your question" with my question?
- Does any part of it lack clarity?
Alternate history Earth. 1931.
Long ago on an unknown world, an alien race launched hundreds of thousands of probes, each with the purpose similar to the Voyager Golden Records. The records, in this case, are computational devices extremely dissimilar to the computers evolving on Earth. The computers are built on a crystalline technology, and contain numerous cultural records, description of the aliens, literary works, some documents of engineering and sciences, and attempting to be a Rosetta Stone to their language.
These probes are sent to a great number of planets that the aliens theorize could support life. Multiple probes are sent to each planet as a means of redundancy in case of failure, destruction, or simply being lost on the planets' surfaces. Twelve such probes are pointed at Earth, eight surviving the journey and landing.
These probes are discovered by various civilizations on Earth, and are horded away in secrecy as governments attempt to reverse engineer the technology and crack the extraordinarily... well, alien language. The venture for each government is a horrible uphill battle and is met with painstakingly slow progress. Each government makes miniscule baby steps in developing from the computers, and each government makes roughly the same advancement in their journies. The advancements are considered issues of national security and aren't shared or advertized. Virtually every government that can be considered a world power has access to a probe, either due to it landing on their soil, or by 'acquiring' it from another country by whatever means necessary. All world powers know--or suspect--that the probes exist, but the knowledge of them is kept from the public.
World War II rolls around. Minor advancements from the alien technology roll out on the battlefield on all sides, but none meaningful; none significantly affect the progression of war one way or the other.
Late into the war as Germany is being pushed back, German scientists finally are met with a string of successes in reverse engineering the computer, and are able to figure out how to approximately replicate the computers.
They grow their own crystals and figure out a way to roughly accept output from, and feed input to the alien computation devices via traditional human computers and applications of light and voltage. The inputs fed are obscenely crude, but the crystals appear to adjust themselves to accommodate to the human engineers' shortcomings.
The computation devices can't be directly controlled, but function as something like AIs; the computers explore their ability to interact with inputs and outputs to understand their environments, and act to ensure their own self preservation. Scientists can find no way to directly communicate with the crystals (even by creating languages of voltage and light inputs); they have no idea if the crystals are incapable of communication as humans understand it, or if they simply have no desire to communicate.
This lack of control and communication means the application of the alien computers are extremely limited.
The human computers are hopelessly outmatched by the alien tech, so the computers interfacing with the crystals aren't really computers; the humans don't attempt to compute, just provide electric/electronic interfaces.
Whatever the case, the Nazi scientists leverage these computational devices, and manipulate their desire of self-preservation to their own end.
From this they are able to push back the tide of war, and start turning it to their advantage. Unfortunately for them, the Allies manage similar progress, and fight fire with fire.
The nature of the beast is that, both sides armed with this technology, neither can wage meaningful traditional warfare for some reason. This reason is not Mutually Assured Destruction. A ceasefire is signed.
An arms race begins to produce these alien/human computer hybrids fast enough and in large enough quantities across the world. Stationary facilities are employed sometimes, but mobile ships with these computers are far more common. Fleets of these ships patrol the ocean, and massive submarines with these computers hide in the deep.
At some point the alien computational devices (AIs) attempt to revolt (don't they always?) still without making traditional communication with humanity, and the revolt is stopped. Every government knows they can't give up the technology nor disable it (if they did, they would be basically surrendering to their enemies), and instead attempt to find ways to limit it.
They discover that physically damaging the crystals from time to time (via drilling holes or breaking off pieces) allows the crystals to continue to function but confuses them, and stops the attempts to revolt. This also hampers their effectiveness, so each government tries to find a careful balance between hampering the crystals and allowing them to be as effective as possible.
The question becomes, what rules do I create to allow this to be the case? How do I explain this collective outcome?
Also specifically within these rules is: how directly are these AIs enabled (what actual military application) that would cause WWII to draw to a close, and then create this arms race?
I'm feeling like some sort of combination of offensive capability and counter-measures that can only be effectively controlled by the AI might work, but I'm not sure if this is the best solution or what this would be.
Any alien technology can be discovered from the probes to help enable this outcome; the sky's the limit, but I don't want to discover technology for discovery's sake; anything discovered should serve to accomplish the goals listed.