Iron Men did it.
When referring to the Golden Age of Technology I put a lot of emphasis on the 'Technology' bit. I do not see it as the Golden Age of Humanity! (Certainly puts the 'Dark' into the Dark Age of Technology when viewed in retrospect by the populous of the Imperium). It seems to me that machines with AI are quite capable of going of and colonising worlds to extract materials, build other machines, fighting wars and even act in a diplomatic capacity when dealing with sentient aliens etc. Humans are a bit redundant in this Human-Machine empire if it weren't for Psyker powers.
With the human removed from the colonisation equation, even extremely environmentally hostile worlds are up for grabs. From a human point of view most worlds with 1G gravity found in the Milky Way are going to be hostile in some way, but these hostile worlds are relatively easy for purpose manufactured machines, and hence 'humanity', to colonise.
Earth like worlds in our reality are a rarity, and finding another Earth is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. It could be that there are no Earth like planets for thousands of light years (in reality), our nearest star may not have any habitable planets, or the next nearest, or the one after that. However that ignored the interference of the Old Ones...
In my version it is the Iron Men who first leave our solar system and conquer the stars in the beginning and throughout the D/GAoT. Humans only start moving about once warp drives are invented and machines find that humans have psionic powers and are the only way to navigate the warp. Otherwise we human would not have gotten an invite to this party.
Once humans start to travel, they travel to worlds already claimed by the Iron Men. They move into complexes already built by the Iron Men which simulate standard earth environments. In many ways this is a machine 'breeding' program, playing a numbers game, to find the interesting mutations and manifestations of Psykers. I image that basic human tribal society is what brings he greatest frequency of manifestations of psionics, and hence the machines try to model a tribal society and enforce such a system. This leads to the Ecorium and Ecopolis designs of Project Eden.
The Machine-Human Empire is a four level system;
- The Artilects. Great mountains of photonic based artificial intelligence.
- The Corporations: run by humans for humans they make the decisions.
- The Machines: the replacement for middle and working classes They make everything happen.
- Humanity: Living a simple 'village' existence within Ecorium. A sort of real life virtual reality made possible by the technology, were they are responsible for themselves and their families and live protected by that technology.
In my mind everything outside the Ecorium would be automated, and Iron Men count as part of that automation. This allows humans to live within idealised tribal societies and retain their strongest card in regard to the Machine-Human alliance: latent psyker powers are a rich resource for the machines to 'exploit' for the benefit of all. Hence the navigator program, but also many more.
The machines may have eventually figured it all out, the generic harmonics and the warp image, but it was all brought down by a sudden explosion in psyker manifestations, plunging the Machine-Human empire into disarray and for the Machines to level the charge on humans as 'traitors' and withdraw from any and all agreements. Machines disappear, and humans are left with billions of Psykers and demonic manifestations to fight.
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