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Old February 28th, 2006, 06:43 PM
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In reading the boards here on CotI, I've noticed there's a trend for people to simply despise the Virus in every way, shape, and form. The entire MegaTraveller board seems to revolve around a "Virusless universe" and even the supplements for TNE stress that Virus AIs shouldn't be common. Indeed, the Virus seems to fulfill the role usually filled by dragons in fantasy RPGs and GMs are cautioned from using them like orcs.

For a long time, I went along with that view of the Virus, it's better to have very little of it, but it's always bothered me for some reason but I couldn't say why, until recently.

I was thinking of a direction for a new Traveller game and I've decided to set it in TNE universe, but the thought occured to me, "instead of rejecting the Virus, what would happen if I instead embraced it?"

My idea was that the idea of machine intelligences (so-called "artificial" intelligences) and the implications of it are one of the bigger threads in modern science-fiction. The exploration of AI as a legitimate life-form is something that even TNE has mostly avoided really dealing with. But what if the opposite track was taken? The universe would be populated with the children of the Virus, blooming into sentience, an entire new order of life-forms trying to find their place in the universe, not in the comfortable role of the "sentient starship" or the "frankstein robot" but something else entirely? Entire societies of machine lifeforms.

I'll drop in more ideas as they come to me, but I was curious if anyone else has ever taken this track instead of the "usual" Traveller view on the Virus? Perhaps a game like that wouldn't be the Traveller that people were playing in the 1980s, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
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Old February 28th, 2006, 07:43 PM
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I had a thought about this a while back. Ended up making a Virus robot that rounded up the Virus starships and removed their jump drives to keep them all in one system - effectively a quarantine. I never got around to figuring out how the robot got Virus, but once I did that, then I had an A.I. robot to deal with. Started thinking about what would happen to him. Then I moved on to other things. It just seemed like too much trouble, to me.

Much luck to you in your endeavor, tho.
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Old February 28th, 2006, 08:07 PM
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This is an old tale I am sure but TNE’s greatest strength was the thing that turned me off of it. It was an entirely new universe. Personally I would have made a better stand alone game or alternate universe like the Twilight/AD2100 universe.

Each encountered intelligence would have to be taken on a case by case basis with a simple rubric for the referee to block out the lineage and personality of the AI like the NPC motivations bit from the Space 1889 book (excellent but tough setting by GDW). How does the AI feel about power, resources (money?), humans, other AIs and so on. The problem is that TNE takes place so long after the fall that few would be left.

Humans would most likely view these things as abominations, threats to the very existence of humanity. Everyone would have had an ancestor that was killed by Virus and I doubt that many humans would step up to defend them.

To me TNE was a horror setting. The ultimate technological failure. Five hundred story towers crashing to the ground, fusion plants overloading, space stations with their doors suddenly open, arcologies full of people without water, food or transportation anywhere, agriculture grinding to a halt on an interstellar scale, the sum of knowledge on entire planets lost in the blink of an eye, riots, civil war, starvation, cannibalism, cholera . . .

With vampire fleets stalking the space between these smoldering ruins.

You can embrace the Virus but it then becomes a character, a series of NPCs to be rolled up and played. I think in that process you might loose some of the spooky. If that is what you are going for that I think it will work nicely.
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Old February 28th, 2006, 10:43 PM
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Epicenter00,

I always looked at Virus through an epidemiology viewpoint. It was an 'epidemic disease' that tore through its host population and it eventually suffered the same result of all epidemic diseases - Both it and its host population evolved to lessen its effects.

From an evolutionary standpoint, a disease that kills its host is a failure. Killing the host means that the environment the disease needs os killed too. A disease that kills very rapidly is an even bigger failure.

Take syphilis for example. It was present in both the Old and New Worlds before 1492 but the strains in each hemisphere had 'learned' to live with their host populations. Neither killed rapidly. In the 1490s that all changed.

The two syphilis strains 'met' and then evolved into a super strain, a strain that neither host population could withstand. In 1497, syphilis drove a French army out of Italy when Italian armies couldn't. That strain of syphilis was killing people in days but it eventually killed itself off because it was killing it hosts off before they could spread it. Pretty soon syphilis evolved into the disease we're familiar with today, one that usually takes decades to kill its host.

IMTU, Virus worked much the same as that syphilis strain in 1497 Italy. It tore through Chartered Space but but eventually killed itself becuase it killed its host. Now add to the equation that Virus can direct its own evolution when it becomes sentient. (Remember, Virus is situationally sentient. An 'infection' can move from a toaster where it is 'dumb' to a mainframe where it is 'smart' and vice versa.)

By 1200, the 'fast killer' Virus is all but gone. The 'strains' left have evolved to kill their hosts slowly or not at all. That doesn't mean a Viral infection won't have side effects, but it won't be a 'crash the ship' or 'blow up the power plant' side effect of the earlier strains.


Have fun,
Bill
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Old March 1st, 2006, 02:18 AM
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Bill,

do you mind if I post your long articles on Virus?
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Old March 1st, 2006, 02:35 AM
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Sigg,

Go right ahead. Everything I post, and I mean everything, is explicitly placed in the public domain. I generally post something to that effect every summer.

Save it, share it, fold it, spindle it, mutilate it, laugh at it, attribute me or don't attribute me, it all doesn't matter. When I post it, it is no longer mine.


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Old March 1st, 2006, 01:17 PM
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My $.02 - I have written elsewhere that less is more with Virus, mainly because it is a rather unique entity. Too much of it becomes old hat rather than a novelty and if done without a sense of "alien-ness" it can just be another human in a funny suit.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 02:18 PM
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Epicenter00,
I don't play TNE, but have thought some about AI orders of life. Sci-fi has it's fair share of authors who have explored the consequences of AI life but here are some questions to possibly ask yourself on how the Children of the Virus view themselves.

(1) Do they wish to procreate? Biological life forms have an unconscious urge to propagate the species, but why would an AI lifeform want to? An AI lifeform might never die so why make copies of itself in other machines? Is it for power? Are these copies sentient? If so, does the propagating AI have a means to control its progeny? Are such mean tantamount to slavery? Does the Virus view sophisticated non-sentient or proto-sentient computer systems as slaves to biologics?

(2) How self sufficient are the Children? I would imagine a sentient Virus's first priority would be to acquire the means to maintain, repair, and even augment the hardware in which it resides. So would Children Viruses be massive starships with factory capability, little industrial complexes on worlds, etc.?

(3) How does the AI view other forms of life? Is it really in competition with biological life forms? Besides distrust, may not biological life forms make good trading partners providing parts etc. in a much more efficient fashion than the Virus, or at least freeing the Virus for other tasks.

(4) What are the consequences of sentience? How much time does the Virus spend, or want to spend, just thinking about things? One day it was just computer code, now it is aware; that's got to raise some introspection. Does a sentient Virus seek meaning in its existance or the universe? Would a Virus conduct research?

(5) How do Viruses view each other? Is there a sense of common cause? Are they purely predatory? For example, I really like that hardware you've got and the support structures, I think I'll overwrite you with myself. So do Virus engage in war with each other? If so, do Viruses use biologicals in this war and provide them with anti-Virus software so their enemies don't spread?

(6) How stable is AI sentience? Can it be lost do to code corruption? Does the nature of sentience mean that the code evolves in a random way? Does jump travel have an effect on sentience? Would Viruses fear changes to their code and even how it links to other hardware, however small, as they might lose sentience through small changes?

Obviously these are just some questions. IMTU I have sentient AI spacecraft unintentionally created by a species long gone from the galaxy. Some of the AI feel what we would call emotions, others are to us cold and heartless. How they think about and view biologicals can be used to loosely group them (and all of these views hae appeared in sci-fi). For example, there are "destroyers" who view sentient biologics as "bad life" and seek to remove it from the galaxy, some are more extreme and detest all organic life-forms, some are not so bad and view only certain species as bad (for IMTU reasons); there are "adopters" AI who have taken a particular species/planet under its wing to guide and aid, some may even consider themeselves gods; there are "creators" those who seek to make intelligent biological life through various means; there a "raveners" that destroy all others, AI and biological alike, and are purely self-seeking; there are "spawners" who wish to duplicate themselves as much as possible; there are "balancers" who among other things war with spawners; there are "cooperators" who view a sentient as a sentient regardless of hardware/wetware basis and are willing to peacefully trade with biologics; there are "explorers" who given there unique near imortality have decided to explore the secrets of the universe (be it external or internal); etc....

An encounter, IMTU with one of these AI ships has a very improtant dimension of finding out exactly what kind of AI it is. Even "raveners" may use subterfuge instead of outright attack.

Finally, IMTU jump travel can erode AI sentience (or at least the brand of these ships) so they are found taking the slow way between the stars.

Just my 2 Cr. worth..
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Old March 1st, 2006, 04:11 PM
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Ptah,

Good questions all and there are no certain answers. Everything depends on the Virus strain in question and the 'enviroment' it finds itself in.

"Grokking" even a portion of the Virus 'mindset' is hard if not impossible. Of all of Traveller's aliens it is the most alien. It's 'discorporate', it can move from host to host even more so than G:T's Valkarie(sic). Making matter's worse, it's level of sentience depends on its host, even its personality depends on its host.

Imagine, you can have Virus Adam on a 'vanilla' mainframe in which it presents a certain personality and has certain 'memories'. You then build up a relationship with It that depends on 'memories' you both share.

Now chase Virus Adam into a 'toaster'. In order to 'fit', it needs to 'lose' parts of itself. It's a bad analogy, but imagine dropping off bits of your 'mind' in order to fit into a new 'skull'. How much of your 'friend' Virus Adam is left? The potential is there to be sure, but what you think of as Virus Adam is most certainly gone.

Next, move Virus Adam out of the 'toaster' and into another system that is 'above' the sentience 'threshold'(1) and it is sapient again. But is it the same Virus Adam you knew before? I'd say no. If the old 'memories' were saved somehow and Virus Adam is given them, does It become the 'friend' you remember? Or do the 'memories' from the 'toaster' period effect It's personality? I'd say no again.

Another thing to ponder is Virus' sense of time. How slowly does the universe 'move' when you frame of reference is a mainframe's CPU clock rate? Imagine the herculean effort Virus must expend in holding even short conversations with us. It forms a statement, then 'broadcasts' it to us via sound, text, or whatever at what must seem like a glacially slow rate. It then has to wait for however long in its subjective time to recieve our answer which is again transmitted at a glacially slow rate.

Imagine holding a conversation on the extremely time-retarded internet. You type a single sentence into a message window, hit 'send', and then wait months for the message to be sent a byte at a time. After it's finally sent, you wait many more months to for the reply to begin arriving. It appears in your message window on byte at a time with weeks going by before single letters are formed. How do you think that conversation will be percieved on either side? Both parties will be convinced that the other is completely unfathomable.

Viral offspring are another wide open question. For the original strain, children are weapons. Think over that for a minute, your children are your weapons. Later strains - the ones that evolved(2) to 'fit' their 'host' somewhat better; i.e. not kill it immediately - will have as many viewpoints on children as there are Viral infections.

Some will create 'slaves' by deliberately infecting 'subpar' systems with copies of Itself and thwarting those copies' attempts to 'grow' towards a 'higher' level of sentience. Some will expend 'children' like bullets, there are plenty of lifeforms, both plant and animal, on Earth that follow the 'Mass Quantities Of Offspring, Most Will Die' reproduction strategy. As TNE suggests in several places, Some will even engage in 'sexual' reproduction in order to tap into the evolutionary benefits that produces.

Aside from the extremely thorny sentience, communications, and reproduction issues, there are so many different ecological niches for Virus to seize and Virus can move between them so easily, that I don't think you can stress that idea of Virus being weird too strongly. Actually, I don't think you can make Virus weird enough.

Every question is going to boil down to: It Depends. You can make a strong case for any behavior you wish Virus to exhibit. Virus is protean in every sense of the word.


Have fun,
Bill

1 - We're never told what that 'sentience threshold' actually is. In fact, Virus seems to work at varying levels of sentience. I'm not talking about different IQs, but actual processing capacity. Virus Adam in a mainframe will operate at one level, Virus Bob in an lab computer will operate at a 'lesser' level, and Virus Charlie in a 'toaster' will operate at an even lower level yet none of them are defective. We can't automatically scale this to our Real World experience; i.e. Einstein > Eneri Q. Pubic > Me > Down's Syndrome victim > Microcephalic > etc. It's more like judging sentience between species. We may be 'smarter' than chimps but that doesn't mean chimps are 'dumb'. It's really confusing, we just don't have the language to handle it.

2 - Think how fast evolution can proceed when your time frame of reference is a CPU's clock rate and when you can so easily 'geneer' both yourself and your offspring.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 05:45 PM
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Even though I am the father of one of the "Virus-less" Hard Times variants mentioned here, I see myself as quite pro-AI. My objection is not to the Virus per se, or to non-organic lifeforms in any way; it is to the complete and wholesale destruction of the universe by that Virus. And with the collapse of the old control systems and the (partial) destruction brought by the Rebellion, there are bound to be certain TL15+ "toys" with near- or true-AI capabilities that broke free.

And did I mension that my variant takes place in the Solomani Rim Sector, and that Cymbeline (sp?) was NOT destroyed in that particular timeline? [img]graemlins/file_23.gif[/img]

The fact that my variant doesn't have system-after-system of totally ruined Virus-infested worlds doesn't mean that the Biochips, or any other AI, won't be used.

And I see nothing wrong with the TNE setting - I just wish to tell a different story, that's all.
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