Monday, July 14, 2008

ProtoTraveller Robots

Looking at LBB123, they don't really show up, do they? I need to look at the book 3 tech tables again to see what references are there - but the core of the game gives little in the way of guidance - so I'm pretty free to do just what I want.

Robots should certainly be no less plentiful than they are today - industrial applications abound. Androids, though, will be vanishingly scarce. Even 'droids as envisioned in Star Wars will be few and far between.

In the worlds settled by humans during the Old Empire (that is, all known human space) , there is a deep and abiding unwillingness to creating true AI - there is almost universal revulsion with the idea. It is certainly possible, at the higher techs, to create completely sentient, independent AI - but the thought of actually doing so inspires horror almost everywhere.

Dumbots are ubiquitous on many worlds; often, worlds of high tech but low population are heavily automated. Better starports have robots to assist with loading and unloading. But these robots, in virtually every case, are under human supervision and control.

Among spacers, the robot taboo is particularly strong; there is an acceptance that there are proper roles for 'bots - menial positions that humans do not wish to fill. But the thought of giving a robot control over a human in terms of medicine, or any key role on a starship - engineer, navigator, or- Great Space! - piloting - inspires deep, existential terror.

This also goes for the military. Drones are virtually all remote-controlled; there are fairly intelligent mines and missiles, but there is a great unwillingness to create or unleash war-bots capable of independent operations.

The prejudice against A.I. surpasses even that against Psionicists in some circles; slavery is almost more acceptable - although morally abhorrent (on most worlds) human slaves are generally considered less likely to turn on the species as a whole. Robot-fear is not new - there are no recent events anyone can point to to say why humans feel this way about machines. A common, indeed ancient trope in fiction is the psionic-scientist-villain who unleashes his robotic minions to prey upon the innocent; such stories virtually all result in the robots turning on their master, and then developing into self-replicating machine plague which the hero of the story - often a scout - must then defeat.

One of the oldest of these - The Lay of The Five Suns - is an elegiac poem describing the last journey of a starship - The Five Suns. The ship, an exploratory trade vessel, visits a world whose leader satisfies all his needs with a great army of servants, which prove to be robotic. Realizing his secret has been discovered, the villain attempts to murder the crew and capture the ship. The captain escapes with his ship having lost most of his crew; he jumps back towards civilization. But robots have stowed away, and begin to take over the ship. The captain proves cowardly - his name, in fact, is Craven - and he abandons ship, with all but one of his surviving crew. The hero, a lowly deck hand, realizes that the robots in command of a jump vessel would spread and become a menace to all humanity. To prevent this, he refuses to follow Captain Craven. He holds the bridge against the teeming robot horde, and flies the ship into a gas giant, sacrificing himself to save humanity.


Blogger Omer Golan said...

I really liked the Lay of the Five Suns - it gives the spirit of the setting an its robot phobia.

But what is the reason of this fear of robots? A tragic historical incident? fears of losing "thinking" jobs to robot?

11:57 PM  

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