Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Artificial Intelligence: No Preservatives Added

I'm writing up some ships for Friday. Instead we have more background material on the Icy Shore: Robots!

Computer power in Traveller is the second biggest problem people have with the basic rules (the first being reactionless drives and light speed missiles.) I never had that much of a problem with the portrayal. 

At a Gen Con a looooooong time ago someone asked Marc and Frank and Loren why the computers massed tons and the reply was that of course that didn't represent a solid mass of transistors. It included the room to house the computers, access for repairs, safety, and redundant features. Not to mention terminals in various part of the ship. If someone wanted to forego that weight they could and any hits to the computer system would leave it destroyed and I quote "You can let them die sucking vacuum."

As for processing ability I have no idea how much actual processing ability you need to generate a jump program so saying a CPU of one for Jump 1 is not telling me anything. I just assume the computers are pretty damned smart. yes, you could have a Model 3 fit in your desk. Repairs might be a little tricky and forget using it while it's being fixed, unlike the big redundant design of ship's computers.

Having said thatI broke out my copy of Book 8: Robots. While I'm not using High Guard and its construction system for ships I feel robots should be in a near future space epic. I mean the Space Station has one for gosh sakes (sort of.) The Book was written in 1986 and is slightly more current than the core LBBs. It also gives provisions for running everything with CT.

TL 9 robots are said to be able to follow single word commands that are clearly enunciated from a variety of users. I'd say this is a minimum. Under most circumstances your 'bot can follow simple commands with some contingencies built in i.e. "Go down the corridor to the steward's quarters and knock on the door. If he answers return. If he does not enter and wait for me." Of course it helps to avoid ambiguity, "I'll hold the panel in place and when I nod my head you hit it! ... WAIT!"

In the case of a noisy gun battle or an airlock blowing or any other situation where there is a lot of noise and confusion the bot would work under that minimum. For example, handing it a gun and saying, "Reload", or pointing to the airlock and saying, "Close." Savvy users will program robots with several trigger words or phrases for moderately complex tasks. "Bacon!" -"Take this weapon and throw it in the nearest waste disposal", or "Cleric!" - "Get me to a low passage berth and freeze me till help arrives." Of course many people are the type who buy a robot based on its color and lines and leave its internal clock blinking 12:

Robots are pretty god at the job they do and suck at everything unrelated. 

For those of you who read the webcomic "Freefall" by Mark Stanley I picture the robots acting a lot like the AIs in that setting after neural pruning removed any new memories they had not job related. Emotional simulation gives a 'bot that acts very human but shallow. A robotic Dr. Phil will not have any psychiatric advice worth mentioning.

AI computers are sticky wicket indeed. I do not want expert systems to take decision making and all that stress from the players. If AI is just a matter of processing power we should have it by TL 8. In fact it's been five years away for at least 20 years. I'm going out on a limb and saying building large scale computers with AI is possible. You just are pretty certain your AI will be unstable at best and dangerous at worst (think Hal from 2001 by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Yes I know he went nuts as a result of conflicting directives. It's the kind of nuts I'm endorsing!

So you can have AI but it needs watching and rebooting which implies a bot master. A robot is the ultimate npc. You can boss it around, abuse it, wreck it and only have to worry abut still making the payments. 

I'm pretty sure almost every ship will have a bot for maintenance while the crew hibernates or for EVA chores such as digging ice for fuel on the frozen shores. One of the features Robots leaves out is a power cable. You want your fuel cell powered 'bot to step into the Black? Run a plug from the airlock.

I'd also go with a modular design. Have a humanoid torso and head (it's less creepy.) Plug the waist socket into any of several locomotions devices: grav module, legs, wheels etc. Why carry several bots when you can switch one to the most efficient configuration? For that matter buying a robot might be more along the lines of building the pc you want today. You go to a builder, give the requirements you have and let them build one to order.