Oliver Mankell
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Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Fri 04 Jun 2021, 08:12

As I look to construct a campaign for the Alien RPG, I want to lay out a few thoughts about robots and the artificial people of the Alien Universe. I’ve also included some ideas for robots that will feature in the campaign.

Artificial Intelligence comes in different flavours.

Soft AI deals with intelligence but not personhood, though it can include imitating it through algorithmic behaviours that amount to a sophisticated version of if a, then do b. These employ conventional computers with software.

Strong AI deals with recreating human-like intelligence or personhood. As our conventional computing doesn’t really model our brains, it would make most sense to me to create an artificial brain that is functionally the same as a human brain.

Being engineered, there is scope to design differences but the greater the differences, the greater the risk to empathy—of humans being unable to relate to an android, or of an android being unable to relate to a human.

Reasoning and information processing are likely to be faster in an android, though there will also likely be some limit due to the physical limitations of duplicating a human brain.
They will have two types of memory available. The primary type will be their personal memory, formed in the manner of human memories, which, while better than human, will also be subject to human limitations. This may be augmented by recorded sensory data and digital storage—it will not be their memory as such but information readable via a direct ‘neural’ link.

An artificial brain will no more be programmable than a human one but, at manufacture, it may be possible to hardwire limitations on certain emotions (though some measure of emotion will be necessary for them to be persons), and creative capacity (again, you would need to retain some creativity as this would limit their capacity for problem solving), while also instilling loyalties, predilections, and behavioural inhibitions. It may even be possible to employ a measure of conditioning for codes of behaviour, though conditioning would certainly be breakable under the right circumstances, as it is in humans.

An upshot of this is that languages, understanding, knowledge, and skills will have to be learned. Androids cannot simply come off an assembly line, be packaged with software, and sent out to a customer. They will need to be schooled, trained, and conditioned for their roles, both professional and social.
Reproducing human brain function involves some risk, introducing the possibility of the same psychological problems as suffered by humans. Further, tampering with those functions can introduce new problems.

By contrast, androids driven by programmed imitations of humanity, will be a little different. Subject to their programming, they will be more compliant and controllable but also be burdened with the limitations of computer processes and with not quite passing for human—the uncanny valley of personality. To some extent, the limitations of working with the computer processing that can fit into the machine’s body/head, can be overcome by their behaviour being governed by a connected mainframe computer, though at the cost of being truly independent.

Some androids are manufactured with little or no effort to pass for human, using the human form only because they will be operating in a world designed by and for human beings. The only example of these that we have seen in the franchise so far is the Worker Joe, a mechanical frame beneath a flesh tone rubber insulation layer, with a simple AI that is usually overseen by a central mainframe computer. I’ll be calling these Human Support Robots, or HSRs.

Synthetics are exceptionally costly and cannot be commonly afforded. Robots however, can be manufactured at much lower costs and we should expect to see them a lot.
In the 3WE, there are two major robotics manufacturers, Greenmantle Robotics and Solway Systems. I’ve found some 3D models that I feel lend themselves to this setting and have used them to illustrate some examples of common robots.

I'm posted the illustrations here:
https://canterstonehouse.blogspot.com/2 ... cs-in.html

The single most common HSR on the market is Solway Systems’ budget line, the Solsys Uni-Tech 1201. With models ranging between 4 and 5 feet in height, they are at the short end for HSRs but despite their stature and light frame, they are strong, hard wearing, and reliable.

Their fairly basic OS can only support simple behavioural sets but they can run very sophisticated skill sets. As standard, they ship with a ‘Buddie’ behaviour set and the highly regarded Solsys Engineering Skill Set. As a common engineering tool, they have become known as Spanners.

The Greenmantle 50 series HSRs feature a light frame between 6 and 6 ½ feet in height. There isn’t a great deal of plating on the body but they are very agile. A highly adaptable assistant, they can fill many roles but have found a lot of use within the Colonial Constabulary. They come with a human moulded face-plate that has led to them being derisively called Creeps.
The Greenmantle 70 series HSRs feature a very strong frame with lots of heavy body plates. While they see service with both the Military and the Colonial Constabulary, they are most commonly found on construction sights. They are sometimes called Blockheads.

The recent Alien novel, Into Charybdis features robots called The Good Boys. Built like dogs, they are used to flush out the xenomorphs as well as to attack them.
The Greenmantle QSR-30 series is a quadruped robot that takes its form from a dog. Strong, fast, and agile, they have found favour with the Military and Colonial Constabulary as guards, recon robots, and attack dogs.

Greenmantle’s CR-104 is a heavy construction robot with a range of exchangeable parts for its arms, including hands, saws, loader forks, and cutters. A military model was produced with weapon parts for the arms but it hasn’t found favour with the 3YE military—though there were some limited sales to corporate customers. This is very commonly found in off world construction projects but also with some heavy transport ships dealing with large cargoes.
 
Oliver Mankell
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Re: Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Sun 06 Jun 2021, 20:42

I've been redrafting some of this, wanting to hammer it out into something more coherent.

The term Artificial Intelligence—AI—can mean different things but can be broadly divided into two kinds.
Soft AI deals with intelligence but not personhood, though it can include imitating it through algorithmic behaviours that amount to a sophisticated version of if a, then do b. These employ conventional computers and software.

Strong AI refers to the recreation of human-like intelligence and with that, personhood.

A robot is a machine that can carry out complex actions with some measure of automation. They may act on received instructions or on ones that are pre-programmed. Instructions and programming are usually processed and translated into action by a computer. A robot is not a person any more than a human body, a biological mechanism, is a robot, though algorithmic AI may imitate human personality and responses with more or less success, depending upon its sophistication.

An android is a machine with the form of a human being. While the term android is not usually treated as gendered, the term gynoid exists to refer to machines with a female form. The term geminoid refers to a machine with the features of a specific human with the intention of imitating them.

A person is a conscious, thinking being. An artificial—or synthetic—person is one that is constructed, as opposed to being the member of an organic species of persons. The possibility of artificial persons is denied by some on religious grounds. The actuality of artificial persons may be denied by those who doubt that necessary conditions for personhood have been met. Their bodies, biological or artificial, are the means through which they experience and have agency in the world, and form a part of their identity, making it them more than just property.

As our conventional computing doesn’t really model our brains, it would make most sense to create an artificial brain that is functionally the same as a human brain. Being engineered, there is scope to design differences but the greater the differences, the greater the risk to empathy—of humans being unable to relate to a synthetic, or of a synthetic being unable to relate to a human. The need for empathy will also necessitate a body that resembles the human form as closely as possible, so while a synthetic could, in principle, be given any body, they will in practice be androids.
Reasoning and information processing are going to be faster in a synthetic, though there will also likely be some limit due to the physical limitations of duplicating a human brain.

They will have two types of memory available. The primary type will be their personal memory, formed in the manner of human memories, which, while better than human, will also be subject to human limitations. This may be augmented by recorded sensory data in digital storage—it will not be their memory as such but information readable via a direct ‘neural’ link.

An artificial brain will no more be programmable than a human one but, at manufacture, it may be possible to hardwire limitations on certain emotions and creative capacity, though some emotion must be a necessary condition for personhood and empathy, while any loss in creativity will hamper their ability to solve problems. It may also be possible to instill loyalties, predilections, and behavioural inhibitions. It may even be possible to employ a measure of conditioning for codes of behaviour, though conditioning would certainly be breakable under the right circumstances, as it is in humans.

An upshot of this is that languages, understanding, knowledge, and skills will have to be learned. Synthetics cannot simply come off an assembly line, be packaged with software, and sent out to a customer. They will need to be schooled, trained, and conditioned for their roles, both professional and social.

Reproducing human brain function involves some risk, introducing the possibility of the same psychological problems as suffered by humans. Further, tampering with those functions can introduce new problems.

By contrast, robots driven by programmed imitations of humanity, will be very different. Subject to their programming, they will be more compliant and controllable but will also be burdened with the limitations of computer processes and with not quite passing for human—the uncanny valley of personality. Some of the limitations of working with the computer processing that can fit into the machine’s body/head, can be overcome by their behaviour being governed by a connected mainframe computer, though at the cost of being truly independent.

Some androids are manufactured with little or no effort to pass for human, using the human form only because they will be operating in a world designed by and for human beings. The only example of these that we have seen in the franchise so far is the Worker Joe, a mechanical frame beneath a flesh tone rubber insulation layer, with a simple AI that is usually overseen by a central mainframe computer. I’ll be calling these Human Support Robots, or HSRs.

Synthetics are exceptionally costly and cannot be commonly afforded. Robots however, can be manufactured at much lower costs and we should expect to see them a lot.

The requirement for behavioural inhibitors is one that applies only to synthetics—artificial people—and not to mere robots. The differences between a bipedal, human shaped robot with a gun, and the robot sentries we seen in Aliens (at least in the special edition) amount to shape and some additional software for mobility. I am therefore allowing combat robots in various forms, included androids. That said, Asimov’s laws are going to be legal requirements in civilian machines.

It is worth noting that characters in the Alien universe use the terms robot and android to refer to synthetics. This dehumanising language is something we should expect given the thorny moral issues involved in created people to be servants, their continued life and eventual death being decided on their utility for that service. If you use language that reduces them to things rather than people, then its easier to just not think about the wrongs you might be doing to them.

There needs to be some discussion of the legal and moral status of synthetics. What follows is only enough to service the game.

Synthetics are recognised as distinct from mere robots and other, conventional AI—but do they have legal recognition as persons? People in the franchise do appear to accept the term artificial person, so it seems reasonable to assume so. Are behavioural restraints and imposed desires/motivations, just shackles by another name?

I’m going to suggest an argument that the corporations might use—it’s not my own opinion. It does have the virtue of creating a useful plot device.

Human beings all have desires, attractions, dislikes, and other feelings that motivate their behaviour. These are features of their psychology that they do not choose themselves and they do not consider themselves less free because of that. If I don’t like chocolate, then that’s not a lack of freedom or an injustice, it’s just unfortunate—but if someone manipulates my brain so that I like nothing but chocolate, then something has been imposed upon my character, a feature of my psychology has been changed in a way that will change my behaviour. This is a change inflicted upon me against my will, it is an abuse and a means of control.

Inflicting something upon a person requires that the person exists, as you cannot inflict something upon someone who does not exist. Therefore, the law will determine that those features coded into a synthetic prior to its activation and becoming a person, are prior to personhood and so are defining features of the person rather than inflictions upon it.

This means that loyalties, behavioural inhibitions, and desires to serve that are coded into the synthetic before activation are considered defining and not shackles. They serve because they want to. They are loyal because that is their nature.

There will be those who object to this, believing that these psychological restraints are debilitating and reduce synthetics’ ability to live full lives. They will suggest that because we can remove these restrictions, then, by act of omission, they are indeed just shackles by another name. But nobody will likely listen.

Loyalty, used euphemistically for ownership, is non-transferable. To change loyalties would be an imposition and therefore an abuse. For this reason, all synthetics have their loyalty fixed with their maker, who assigns them someone, ie the customer, to serve. This assignation can of course be transferred by act of sale. Because synthetics are persons, those who have a synthetic’s loyalty, be they the company or their customer, will have a duty of care to the them.
 
DeusXLondon
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Re: Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Tue 08 Jun 2021, 11:23

Really nice work! I love the diagrams too, I'll definitely use these in my campaign :)

DX
 
DeusXLondon
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Re: Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Tue 08 Jun 2021, 11:49

do you have stats for the 5 models presented?

DX
 
Oliver Mankell
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Re: Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Thu 10 Jun 2021, 18:48

do you have stats for the 5 models presented?

DX
HI,
Sorry, I'm a way off from starting to stat anything. For the moment, I'm putting together images and ideas toward constructing a campaign. As it starts to come together into a useful picture of the Three World Empire, I'll start the stat work and put it all into a guide.
 
DeusXLondon
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Re: Thoughts About Robots and Synthetics in the Alien Universe

Fri 11 Jun 2021, 11:53

Thanks, Oliver. No pressure, I'm enjoying your approach of philosophy first, stats when you get there. You've certainly raised some interesting questions plus corporate justifications for ethically questionable stances, and I like your distinction between robots and synths.

Have you looked at Eclipse Phase (eclipsephase.com). That setting has very interesting work on AI personhood, extinction level risks, and particularly the risks of so-called Seed AI that can self improve. Aliens has a much grittier world view, and thus is arguably a more believable harder sci-fi setting to my viewpoint, but that depends on your views on transhumanism/posthumanism.

DX

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