Playing With Minds

Today I’m going to talk a bit about a concept that I’m not sure I’m going to add to Slower Than Light, but is currently on the table.  This is one of those times I’d like to actively solicit feedback from my audience, because this feature could radically alter the gameplay experience of Slower Than Light one way or the other.  That concept is Whole Brain Emulation, otherwise known as mind uploading.

The basic premise is that with sufficient resolution, we can (in theory) create a snapshot of a human brain, transfer that snapshot into a computer with sufficient processing capability, and the computer will simulate that person in all their mental and intellectual complexity.

Along with this concept comes a tremendous load of ethical, philosophical, legal, and moral implications, especially when you consider the related capabilities that might come along with it: mind manipulation, creating multiple copies of the same person’s mind, or most pertinently to our conversation: transmission of the snapshot.

If you have two colonies separated by some transmittable distance, mind uploading offers the potential to move “people” from one system to another at light-speed or very near light-speed, transfer them into a computer or a robotic frame, or perhaps even a human body, and allow them to act at their new location.

Being able to cheaply move population between colonies at the speed of light has tremendous implications for the political and colonial aspects of Slower Than Light.  The technology does not, itself, violate the core stipulation of that game that the speed of light must be respected.  The presence or absence of this technology, though, will shift the focus of this game and the role of spacecraft in it dramatically, so I’m thinking very long and very hard about whether to include it in release.

NOTE: From a technical coding perspective, implementing this form of transhumanism is just this side of trivial, given the architecture of the game’s data structures.  This is strictly a design consideration.

5 thoughts on “Playing With Minds”

  1. Hmmm… I think this idea definitely has potential, as it provides a way to introduce “tourism” into the game, which will help justify why the colonies are allied to one another, but some questions:

    1) Can it work in reverse — that is, can you download a recorded mind to another person? I’m envisioning a scenario where person X & Y living in different star systems “trade places” for, say, a decade. There are, of course, other implications (downloading your mind to a newly minted clone to become functionally immortal, to build colony ships that carry only a powerful receiver / transmitter and the equipment to manufacture bodies “to order” for colonists selected when the ship reaches its destination. Oddly enough, I don’t thinking stealing bodies would be a big issue, at least not at the scale of the game, because of the costs associated with the reading / rewriting equipment creates a big barrier to entry, and anyone who does have the resources can just build a clone “to order”.
    2) Is the reading process destructive — that is, to download a person into a computer kills the body left behind? From a gameplay standpoint, it is probably best that it be destructive, as it creates a strong incentive for many people not to participate, and introducing the technology (otherwise, very much to the players advantage) now has strong downsides. A government that encourages (or even depends) the creation of “P-Zombies” is not going to be popular among those who are religious.
    3) Is this technology something that is available to the “common man”, or something that only the wealthy / powerful can take advantage of? Making it expensive is easy enough — the scanning process requires some exotic material that is impossible to synthesize and must therefore be mined, refined, and shipped from a remote (unsuitable for a colony) location, and is consumed in the scanning process. Again, from a gameplay standpoint, making the process something that only the elite can afford creates a useful drawback behind introducing the technology. It also creates a useful avenue for the homeworld to remain in control of the colonies — if they control the supply of the exotic material, then the colonies have to “play ball” or suffer the consequences.

    The only concern that I have with this concept is that it may be hard to model the effects of such a technology given the scale of the game — can you make the consequences of using it (or not using it — even if the player would prefer to introduce this technology, there will be loads of people that do want it, creating a “black market”) serious enough that the player notices, without making it dominate the game? That’s a tricky proposition…

  2. Seems to me like there are a few things this technology could affect in the game, depending on how ‘expensive’ it is to operate in the game world.

    A) If this tech is prohibitively expensive, it might only ever be used to re-position the player himself.
    B) If it is pretty expensive, then you could also use this to send a new planetary governor faster and probably cheaper than via space ship.
    C) If it is affordable to send hundreds, but not millions, then sending a bunch of robots or clone tanks to a place, then transmitting brains to operate them later on becomes a viable colonization technique.
    D) If it is very very cheap, it means that large number of colonists (or trained soldiers?) who ascribe to a particular culture can move across space at light speed, which probably has big implications for the spread of influence.

    For my part, I feel like D and maybe C cuts pretty heavily into the uniqueness of your game, or at least muddy the waters a fair bit. On the other hand if I can build a ship that moves at 0.9C for most of its flight with one person on-board, A and/or B don’t feel like a huge upgrade.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’d probably enjoy an expensive version of this tech as footnote somewhere in the research tree, but I’d rather not see it become a central pillar of game play.

  3. Without even considering gameplay effects, I would recommend against this. The charm of this proposed game (to me, at least) is the hard sci-fi setting, where everything is a reasonable extrapolation of what we know can be done. While downloading/uploading personalities is an interesting idea, it is pretty far out into the science fantasy realm and seems counter to the “feel” of the game you appear to be aiming for.

  4. And why won’t we use this technology other way. it could be explained that the process of downloading/scanning brain is extremely expensive and affordable only to the wealthiest. You could use human simulations made from scans as an alternative to AI in controlling spacecraft, especially on longer trips. Human simulation would fare as good as AI in purely scientific matters, due to being placed in ship computers but also it would keep majority of its humanity, giving it massive edge in dealing with sth unknown

    Also due to its humanity, the simulations wont see themselves as better than baseline humans, so the risks of rebellion would be severly reduced.

    Think Cortana from Halo series.

    I think it should be rather high tier technology

  5. This concept is illogical for the game play function indicated, i.e. “moving” population. If emulation can be translated to information and transmitted, then there is no reason it can’t be transmitted anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. It’s not “movement,” it’s copying. If a copy translates into a ‘worker’ for the purposes of worker placement, then there is no reason from a game play perspective not to ‘spam’ copies everywhere, instantly, and to the current maximum carrying capacity of the location.

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