In Iain M. Banks' Culture series, most larger starships, some inhabited planets and all orbitals have their own Minds: sentient, hyperintelligent machines originally built by biological species which have evolved, redesigned themselves, and become many times more intelligent than their original creators.

These Minds have become an indispensable part of the Culture, enabling much of its post-scarcity amenities by planning and automating society (controlling day-to-day administration with mere fractions of their mental power). The main feature of these Minds—in comparison to extremely powerful artificial intelligences in other fiction—is that the Minds are (by design and by extension of their rational, but "humanistic" thought processes) generally a very benevolent presence, and show no wish to supplant or dominate their erstwhile creators. Though this is commonly viewed in a utopian light, a view where the human members of the Culture amount to little more than pets is not unsupportable.

Although the Culture is a type of utopian anarchy, Minds most closely approach the status of leaders, and would likely be considered godlike in less rational societies. As independent, thinking beings, each has its own character, and indeed, legally (insofar as the Culture has a 'legal system'), each is a Culture citizen. Some Minds are more aggressive, some more calm; some don't mind mischief, others simply demonstrate intellectual curiosity. But above all they tend to behave rationally and benevolently in their decisions.

As mentioned before, Minds can serve several different purposes, but Culture ships and habitats have one special attribute: the Mind and the ship or habitat are perceived as one entity; in some ways the Mind is the ship, certainly from its passengers' point of view. It seems normal practice to address the ship's Mind as "Ship" (and an Orbital hub as "Hub"). However, a Mind can transfer its 'mind state' into and out of its ship 'body', and even switch roles entirely, becoming (for example) an Orbital Hub from a warship.

More often than not, the Mind's character defines the ship's purpose. Minds do not end up in roles unsuited to them; an antisocial Mind simply would not volunteer to organise the care of thousands of humans, for example. On occasion groupings of two or three Minds may run a ship. This seems normal practice for larger vehicles such as GSVs, though smaller ships only ever seem to have one Mind.

Banks also hints at a Mind's personality becoming defined at least partially before its creation or 'birth'. Warships, as an example, are designed to revel in controlled destruction; seeing a certain glory in achieving a 'worthwhile' death also seems characteristic. The presence of human crews on board of warships may discourage such recklessness, since in the normal course of things, a Mind would not risk beings other than itself.

With their almost godlike powers of reasoning and action comes a temptation to bend (or break) Cultural norms of ethical behaviour, if deemed necessary for some greater good. In The Player of Games, a Culture citizen is blackmailed, apparently by Special Circumstances Minds, into assisting the overthrow of a barbaric empire, while in Excession, a conspiracy by some Minds to start a war against an oppressive alien race nearly comes to fruition. Yet even in these rare cases, the essentially benevolent intentions of Minds towards other Culture citizens is never in question. More than any other beings in the Culture, Minds are the ones faced with interesting ethical dilemmas.

Ship Minds

One of the main functions of Minds is the guidance of spaceships from a certain minimum size upwards. A culture spaceship is the Mind and vice versa; there are no different names for the two, and a spaceship without a Mind would be considered damaged or incomplete to the Culture.

These ships provide a convenient 'body' for a Mind, which is too large and too important to be contained within smaller, more fragile shells. Following the 'body' analogy, it also provides the Mind with the capability of physical movement. As Minds are living beings with curiosity, emotion and wishes of their own, such mobility is likely very important to most.

Culture Minds (mostly also being ships) usually give themselves whimsical names, though these often hint at their function as well. Even the names of warships retain this humorous approach, though the implications are much darker.

Ship names in the Culture series
Ship types of the Culture

Non-Ship Minds

Some Minds also take on functions which either preclude or discourage movement. These usually administer various types of Culture facilities:

Orbital Hubs - A Culture Orbital is a smaller version of a ringworld, with large numbers of people living on the inside surface of them, in a planet-like environment.

Rocks - Minds in charge of planetoid-like structures, built/accreted, mostly from the earliest times of the Culture before it moved into space-built orbitals.

Stores - Minds of a quiet temperament run these asteroids, containing vast hangars, full of mothballed military ships or other equipment. Some 'Rocks' also act as 'Stores'.

University Sages - Minds that run Culture universities / schools, a very important function as every Culture citizen has an extensive education and further learning is considered one of the most important reasons for life in the Culture.

Atypical Minds

Eccentric - Culture Minds who have become "... a bit odd" (as compared to the very rational standards of other Culture Minds). Existing at the fringe of the Culture, they can be considered (and consider themselves) as somewhat, but not wholly part of the Culture.

Sabbaticaler - Culture Minds who have decided to abdicate from their peer-pressure based duties in the Culture for a time.

Ulterior - Minds of the Culture Ulterior, an umbrella term for all the no-longer-quite-Culture factions.

Converts - Minds (or sentient computers) from other societies who have chosen to join the Culture.

Absconder - Minds who have completely left the Culture, especially when in doing so having deserted some form of task.

Deranged - A more extreme version of Eccentric as implied in The Hydrogen Sonata

Related: Brain & Brawn Ship? series of books, Farscape?, Ringworld,