Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
wordboydave
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Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby wordboydave » Thu Mar 29, 2018 3:44 am

Maybe I'm crazy, but some of the premises of Traveller seem not only wrong, but literally unthinkable. Just based on what we already are seeing now, for example, I have a very hard time picturing a future where we don't have little nanites in our bodies constantly fixing things...and it certainly seems like there would be very little for a medical professional to do. Given enough stats and bioinformation, the AI of even fifty years in the future ought to be able to deliver prognoses more accurately than human doctors do...and then it'll just be a matter of obtaining the drugs. I don't see how medics fit into any real future scenario. (Relatedly, I don't think anagathics are likely to be necessary: we'll have self-renewing stem cells and live a very long time, making the age tables on the Career Lifepath distinctly irrelevant.)

Others may quibble with my idea of where medicine is going, but surely everyone can understand why I might have a problem with human beings learning--and attempting to be expert in--a subject as readily computerized as Astrogation! If spaceflight ever becomes common, the most obvious thing to do will be to let computers handle the math! The very existence of a skill like Astrogation seems to rely on an old Age of Sail model where a lone navigator peers into his mysterious sextant, and, using arcane knowledge, tells the rest of the crew where to go. That doesn't seem even close to plausible.

But most of all, when I look at making ships, I just want to get rid of Traveller's absurdly limited computer rules. Why in the world would you install ships guns and then not have a program able to run them? Why wouldn't that simply go without saying? Ditto for Pilot, Maneuver, and all the other self-evidently necessary programs that the system insists that you buy. That's like making you buy doors, but also choose locks and handles.

But of course, the system is designed for these crazy refrigerator-sized computers that have a ridiculously small number of laughably simple programs. Has anyone homebrewed an elegant workaround? My instinct is to handwave the whole thing ("everything works unless it's narratively interesting for it not to"), but a part of me would like to quantify...something about how computers work, and what differentiates a good from a bad one. I'm just not sure how to model that outside the existing system. Maybe cheaper computers are slower at initiative? That is literally the only thing I can think of. Surely someone else has thought more deeply on this.

So what skills do you think we won't actually need in the Traveller future?
ShawnDriscoll
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Thu Mar 29, 2018 5:24 am

Traveller is an alternate future is all. Not our future.

Traveller's task check game mechanic can be used for any setting. Even for current-day Earth. Just create a new skill list.
Reynard
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Reynard » Thu Mar 29, 2018 11:21 am

This is how you get Daystrom M5s and borgs.
RogerMc
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby RogerMc » Thu Mar 29, 2018 11:36 am

Because it is a mid-1970s game that simulates golden age science fiction and not much more recent SF that focuses on transhumanist themes that largely hadn't been written then - and would very probably not have been to the taste of the game authors even if it had?

And there is a Traveller game called Mindjammer which does all - or at least some - of that stuff and lets you play AIs and sentient starships.

If you really have to rationalise having human astrogators and gunners assume that what they are actually doing is telling the computer programmes where to go and what to shoot at rather than doing the calculations or pulling the trigger themselves.

Similarly a marine in Battledress is telling the Battledress computer where to go and what targets to shoot at rather than doing the running and shooting himself.

And you want an AI astrogrator and gunner on your ship you buy and load an Intellect programme and the Expert programmes.

Ditto for Pilot.

And you can have a robot steward and a robot engineer as well and an autodoc as well.

(IIRC one of the few readable Warhammer 40K novel has a rogue trader who is more machine than man himself and whose entire crew are robotic servitors).

All these are quite feasible within the rules if that is what you want in your Traveller.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Reynard » Thu Mar 29, 2018 12:23 pm

Yep. Traveller has all the elements to run a Traveller game without the accompaniment of weak, useless meatbags. Why have humans at all when there is an expert system or mobile robotic unit able to do it better. IF there would be humans, they would be the very top of human social order who have deemed themselves worthy and locked safely in their paradises accumulating all wealth and information. Everyone else would be too fallible, fragile and definitely expensive. I'm sure at some point the machines would conclude those people are the most useless and need to be eliminated too.

Sounds like a slow, insidious alternative to Virus.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Condottiere » Thu Mar 29, 2018 12:23 pm

Maybe Stuxnet is still loose in the wild.

The Vilani databases and industrial appliances didn't know what hit them.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby phavoc » Thu Mar 29, 2018 1:16 pm

What we have learned throughout history is that man has his pluses/minuses, machinery has its pluses/minues, and merging the two melds into something entirely different - often, thought not always , superior to the individual items.

Secondly you have to think about why we make machines - to make our lives easier, but NOT to replace them. People talk of AI and sentient machines, but notice there is almost no conversation from the average person as to what that means. Many people who think thinking machines would be cool, but they would also have no problem treating them like a dog or a toaster. Hence we get the machines rebelling against their human masters, much like slaves have done in the past.

So if you want something to serve you, you don't want it really to be self-aware. So there's no issue with having computers and having to issue orders to them for some things. Obviously you don't want to have the 52nd century equivalent of Alexa and say "Alexa, re-process all the solid and liquid waste" onboard a ship. That would be something that is done automatically much like you breathe and don't have to think about it. But many other tasks are things you would want to have a decision tree in place for, or at least having some person initiating them.

The issue of cost of computer programs is just a method to include the cost of software with hardware. You are correct in that the two go together. But since ships are of different sizes and different number of weapons, how would you put the cost across multiple weapon mounts? If Targetting costs MCr10, do you say your first beam laser costs MCr11, and everyone after that MCr1? Breaking out the software makes it easier to apply costs. Don't read more than that into it.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby paltrysum » Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:49 pm

As for the why's, we can imagine that there was an event or a historical current that took humanity and the other starfaring races away from employing AI as an pervasive element in daily life. In Dune, the AIs rebelled and a great deal of high-level computation is performed by human mentats. In Banks' "Culture," AIs operate seamlessly with sentients because they were traditionally programmed to do so; even though the "Minds" do far more than "the meatbags," they accept their presence and acknowledge the value of biological as opposed to machine life.

Traveller was based on a much earlier brand of sci fi, in the wake of the 60s and the moon landing, when we envisioned humanity more like intrepid pioneers than denizens of a post-scarcity society, leveraging every aspect of an all-encompassing AI technology-based utopia (okay, there were the Jetsons and their ilk I suppose, but that's not what Traveller was based on, obviously :D ). Succeeding versions of the game have tried to bridge the gap a little bit here and there but have never quite gotten computers or robotics (among other things) quite right to satisfy a more hard sci fi crowd.

There are even social elements of the game that are archaic. The idea that space capitalism will be the prevailing economic structure seems a little myopic when the mining of a single asteroid could yield the metal content of the entire Earth. We're talking post-scarcity society for vast reaches of space and only a regression to currency and capital in the more primitive, frontier regions. When you go to TL-15 Rhylanor, Mora, or Trin, you may or may not have goods they can put to use (considering the massive 3D printing manufactories we can imagine they'd have), but they don't mind charging your jump drives for free for your departure. "Good luck, boys! Have fun storming the Zhodani!"

The point is we can all see the cracks. You just have to decide on a reason why the way things are as they are in the OTU or toss 'em out the window and do it the way you want!
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Sigtrygg » Thu Mar 29, 2018 5:19 pm

The Vilani stagnated at TL11 because they were culturally terrified of intelligent machines. They had the opportunity during their exploration period to encounter many cultures of a higher TL than themselves, they studied them and in some cases dropped rocks on them - they had the advantage of jump technology and could nudge comets to do their dirty work for them.
They buried their knowledge of TLs12+ away and were content.

Then along came the Terrans.

The Terrans were initially TL9 when they encountered the Vilani, but within a few decades of reverse engineering and espionage had elevated themselves to TL11. They didn't have the stigma against AI and so were quite happy to build AI systems to aid their armed forces - the knowledge of which could have come from raids on Vilani secret technology vaults (see Agent of the Imperium for a bit more info on Vilani secret technology vaults) - and made the advance to TL12.

The fall of the Rule of Man probably halted the spread of AI (I have my own pet theory about what actually happened) and by the time the Syleans reconstituted the Imperium at TL12 they were heavily influenced by Vilani bias against intelligent machines.

The Imperium to this day tends to use human cannon fodder where other races quite happily utilise drones and robots (Zhodani, K'kree, Hivers - probably the Solomani too). The Aslan - due to their uplift to starfaring status and bias against making female machines - also lack drones, robots and AI.

I have a sneaking suspision that the ultimate secret behind the Droyne is that they are a synthetic construct race. The Chirpers are the true Droyne but Ancient era manipulation burried within their DNA the potential to 'evolve' into Droyne with the correct psionic triggers. The Droyne are biological machines...
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby paltrysum » Thu Mar 29, 2018 5:53 pm

Sigtrygg wrote:
Thu Mar 29, 2018 5:19 pm
I have a sneaking suspision that the ultimate secret behind the Droyne is that they are a synthetic construct race. The Chirpers are the true Droyne but Ancient era manipulation burried within their DNA the potential to 'evolve' into Droyne with the correct psionic triggers. The Droyne are biological machines...
THAT...is a really cool theory! I intend to appropriate that for my own campaign if you don't mind, Sigtrygg! :)
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Sigtrygg » Thu Mar 29, 2018 6:18 pm

Please take it and run with it, and let me know what you come up with :)

The whole Ancients/Droyne/Chirper set up has always interested me and I think there are still a lot of secrets still to be revealed.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Epicenter » Sat Mar 31, 2018 9:54 am

wordboydave wrote:
Thu Mar 29, 2018 3:44 am

So what skills do you think we won't actually need in the Traveller future?
It depends.

I mean the problem with eliminating skills because "we won't need them in the techfuture" is certainly understandable, but there'll come a point where someone like me will come along:

"What skills?"

"Humanity as we know it won't exist by that time."

Our computers will be so much better than us, if we want to remain relevant, we'll have to have change ourselves, beyond recognition compared to us pretentious apes of the 21st century. This change is already happening now. How we'll adapt to this will be quite "interesting."

At that point, we're not talking astogation, navigators, riflemen, or anything else. We won't have skills. Or rather, we'll have every skill we need. Whenever we need them. But we probably won't. We'll have a host of expert systems that will handle all of that.

As the late Mssr. Wiseman once said of a "posthuman traveller" - it could be a great game, but it wouldn't be Traveller.

While I won't go that far, I'd say that you should decide a few things about your Traveller universe: How far as technology advanced? I have a friend who was once talking about alien invasions of Earth and how we'd fight it off ... an idea I found kind of quaint, an "alien invasion" won't consist of tripods or huge UFOs. They'll simply drop huge rocks on us going some small % of the speed of light, or tailored diseases or something. The aliens are here to get rid of a niche competitor, not to give us good movies. There is no point where there is "too much" to ensure the survival of your species. Similarly, if you're talking about the far future, why would there be guys in power armor and gauss rifles? There wouldn't be.

So I think a big starting point would be to decide how much high-tech in your game, how far it's gotten and a lot of those questions will answer themselves. Another important thing might be: How well-distributed is that high-tech?

Perhaps there is a far-future "haves and have-nots" where the promise of cheap fusion power and nanotechs for all was ultimately betrayed by capitalism and market forces - nobody is going to generate electricity "too cheap to meter" since you can't make money off of it and it requires money to pay the techs to repair stuff and build the reactors in the first place. Who's going to give any of fancy nanoids to the poor? The poor literally have nothing to offer you. Nothing. No skills. No companionship. No work. Nothing your machines, cyborgs, and computers can't do better in every way.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Sigtrygg » Sat Mar 31, 2018 10:20 am

I have a sneaky suspicion that Traveller describes the humans that were left behind by the transhumanism.

There are still transhuman elements in the OTU - especially post AotI and T5 - but to a run of the mill human inhabitant of the 3I it will not affect them, because they can not afford it. Go all the way back to the original Spinward Marches supplement and you will find biological engineering of humans to adapt them to a world, MWM's Robots articles hinted at the role of augmentation and synthetics within the setting.

The very rich can afford the augmentation, the AI expert systems, the memory and personality transfer etc.

People born the old fashioned way into the slums of some TL15 arcology or asteroid settlement will not have access to that tech.

Also consider the expert systems that really run a starship - the small crew requirements imply a degree of automation and smart/expert system integration.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Reynard » Sat Mar 31, 2018 12:22 pm

Hmm, so the Ancients are actually humanity that borged themselves into the higher state of digital being leaving their primitive, savage underlings and their own weak physical forms behind. I'll bet that was a fun RPG!

Give me the Star Trek vision of the future in which technology is a tool and serves sapients so they can explore the universe as people.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Sigtrygg » Sat Mar 31, 2018 12:30 pm

Reynard wrote:
Sat Mar 31, 2018 12:22 pm
Hmm, so the Ancients are actually humanity that borged themselves into the higher state of digital being leaving their primitive, savage underlings and their own weak physical forms behind. I'll bet that was a fun RPG!
Nope, bioengineered Chirpers that would eventually end up as electronic/psionic constructs - see MgT SotA.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby paltrysum » Sat Mar 31, 2018 3:16 pm

Epicenter wrote:
Sat Mar 31, 2018 9:54 am
Perhaps there is a far-future "haves and have-nots" where the promise of cheap fusion power and nanotechs for all was ultimately betrayed by capitalism and market forces - nobody is going to generate electricity "too cheap to meter" since you can't make money off of it and it requires money to pay the techs to repair stuff and build the reactors in the first place. Who's going to give any of fancy nanoids to the poor? The poor literally have nothing to offer you. Nothing. No skills. No companionship. No work. Nothing your machines, cyborgs, and computers can't do better in every way.
So perhaps we vastly depopulate and the "machine population" is much higher, exponentially, than the human. But it's not really worth counting when we're not talking anthropomorphic (or even visible) machines for the most part—just the gears in the engine, they're everywhere, doing the things that the much lower human population wants them to do. Or maybe the mix of human and machine is so extreme that you can hardly tell where one ends and the other begins.

I've often thought that the Traveller supposition of worlds with tens of billions of beings was not at all likely. Like so many things in the game, it's a reflection of 20th-century thinking. We have a booming population problem and what we imagine is that it just keeps on booming. Never mind that modern, industrialized societies tend to lower their birthrate, often to below replacement rate. By 2050, Africa, the last continent to fully industrialize, is expected to have the largest population of all continents. How about after they fully modernize and industrialize? They'll naturally reduce their population, too. It also has to do with education: societies that educate women tend to have much lower birth rates. So Traveller's idea that humanity keeps breeding like bunnies is likely to be inaccurate.

If we were to create the technology to travel faster than light (jump, warp, whatever), intrepid travellers in vacc suits would probably do very little of the initial exploring. Robots would do it. No sense of wonder at alien vistas, no hard treks across an inhospitable world's surface. Just detailed satellite scans followed by a computer with wheels, examining selected surface areas in detail (or not; the satellite scans might be enough. "Nothing to see here. Just ore. Drop an automated mining facility and move on.").

The whole "capitalism in space" theory of Traveller is probably also vastly inaccurate. Each colony will probably 3D print everything it needs largely using the material on hand, of which there should be plenty in any system selected for habitation.
Last edited by paltrysum on Sat Mar 31, 2018 6:31 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby mac40k » Sat Mar 31, 2018 4:19 pm

The way I rationalize skills and human intervention is that even if true AI exists, and there are a lot of reasons why a society may stifle that development, it's still not practical or economically feasible for everything to use it. So just like we have auto-pilots on planes today, starships have autopilots as well that handle the routine flying, but every now in then (when it is dramatically important from a story standpoint), the human pilot has to take over and skill rolls get made.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Condottiere » Sat Mar 31, 2018 7:43 pm

We can google Do It Yourself videos on a wide range of subjects, from fishing to running a jump drive.

But you need experience to understand the nuances.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Linwood » Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:01 am

Another possibility is that at least some organizations may deliberately limit or restrict the spread of tech like 3D printing or AI in order to foster a continuing dependency.

Do not discount the potential influence of cultural or religious traditions on issues like population control either.
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Re: Thinking of getting rid of Astrogation, Medic...and ship computers in general

Postby Reynard » Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:16 am

There's no shame in a society that favors its members and creates a system that supports them with work and compensation that will cycle throughout such a society. Creating a system that favors resources and compensation to fewer and fewer people at the top at the expense of the rest of your population is not a healthy or productive society. Machines should aid not replace just because it exists. Star Trek did this. People do the majority of functions in society including that janitor near the Koboyashi simulation room. People push buttons and make most decisions and go outside and explore and the machines are behind the walls as aids. Over reaching computers, robots and cyborgs were always the enemy. That's my Traveller.

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