AI – Simulated or Real
If computers could closely emulate real thought and understanding; if software could create NPC’s with reasoning skills, games would never be predictable. We could have characters that seemed to wantonly compete with us. The practical definition of AI used by game developers would amass all the subtleties of real life, and the player experience would be out of this world! We have seen some convincing AI, like “The Last Express”, “FEAR”, and “SKYRIM” – I was just practicing my lock picking, damn nosy guards!
We’ve seen it throughout landscapes with things like fleeing birds, and spooked fish. Even the small stuff brings the game-play to life. But everything up till now is predetermined, even when responses are random. Levels and sub-levels of brilliantly coded ‘if’, ‘switch’, and ‘random generators’ can make a second run through maybe a little different than the first; can make our surroundings and adversaries respond appropriately, or intentionally abnormal to our actions.
What if a system generated NPC could respond like an avatar? It could learn your behavior, anticipate your actions.Somehow by searching through a vast database of pre-learned patterns – much as we dig into our subconscious – it could judge you. Doesn’t this still sound like a program? True memories, and pointers to data on a hard drive, are very different due to one primary factor – understanding. Some theorize that a computer understanding, achieving consciousness, is only a matter of time. They refer to that milestone as “Singularity”.
Philosophy explores the theory of “Substance Dualism”, more or less to answer the question of the mind being something more than the calculations of the brain. Some share the position of “Mind-Body”; they talk about computers and programs (software) as being similar to how our brains function. “Strong AI” guys will tell you that our brain is just a powerful computer, and that computers will soon be able to think for themselves…Kinda scary, kind of amazing.
I would love it if my PC understood me, instead of just picking apart everything I say into keywords! It could do my research for me; it could do my work for me. I wouldn’t want to be lectured by a machine though; I don’t even like it when “Wii-Fit” tells me how long it’s been since I last exercised. What about games? It has been debated as to whether a computer, running software, could become liken to a human brain – “The Brain Simulator Reply” – or would it require a digital machine with multiply independent processors to achieve understanding – “The Many Mansions Reply”.
In order to achieve understanding, the computer, or the machine, would have to simulate neurons firing in a brain. This is more or less the aspect of sensation; good sensations or bad that determine our moods, and actions. If this could be accomplished with software, then lookout, games are gonna rock our worlds!
What if we are able to dispense with basic response algorithms and intentional random patterns, because now our programs are able to dynamically create responses as “they” deem fit? The idea is at least as concerning as it is cool.
An adversary that can figure you out, and exploit your weaknesses is theoretically unbeatable. Maybe not unbeatable; if this entity responds to virtual stimulus, virtual endorphins, then it may be susceptible to arrogance, egotism, carelessness, and mistakes. Is this starting to sound less like a program? A process however, likely having no restraints of recollection, could in theory learn to be invincible. If though, its lifespan is restricted to run-time, and its thought processes were governed to match the average mind; maybe a little faster – the average gamer; none of this 2.7 billion deductions per second. The playing field would then be leveled. Each new run would be a new confrontation, an unpredictable encounter.
There’s another philosophical position regarded as “Weak AI”. These are the theories that support the possibility of a “Grand Mimic”, as might be. This idea yields to the possibility of a computer, machine, or robot, that may be indistinguishable from the real thing (human), but not authentic. The processes would be similar to the brains processes; but they don’t believe the human brain can ever be replicated.
To the proposition of game development, it may be a truer scenario to imagine. I don’t think even in our wildest estimation we are going to consider that this synthetic being is actually alive. What is the definition of alive? The assumed meaning is usually of course ‘living’, the opposite of dead. But the other widely used definition is “alert, active; animated”. Not being alive doesn’t necessarily have to stipulate that an entity can’t “be”.
This is not a spiritual stretch that suggests that humans can create life; only the possibility that we can create a being. A being of some form, a being that once created can perform a function, or even contrive a function, without human intervention. Maybe the construct would not require any physical form, just a cleverly written terabyte of coding. I can imagine, in simplest form, multiple threads that speak to one another, sharing constructed prototypes, and statistical probabilities; reasoning in a sense, as a means to a solution. Sounds a little human; sounds like rationalization, or the metaphorical “Angel and Devil” on opposing shoulders, or Freud’s “id” theory. As much as this may sound like science fiction, it is – at least in the form of imitating human life – quite feasible.
Imagination can take us many places; it has, for centuries been the force behind new ideas, and it has been the antagonist that drives us to excessiveness. If whatever is ever possible, we will do it because we can. There is no concept that we will not find a way to embellish upon. But even without any wild breakthroughs, a perfect imitation of human behavior is possible.
The ingredient to me that can add the most realism to game-play is the emotional content of the characters; not in the frame of a cut scene, but during the action. Using higher density mapping and true artistic representations to animate speech and facial expression is a worthy investment for a project. Is it possible that moments of either social tension, or synergy, can ever be over used in a story-line? “The Last of Us” answers that question with fierce affirmation. No way! This is one of the dynamics that defines “immersion”. Developers should not be afraid to warp our sense of reality, and make us believe!