RE: [SL4] AI Ethics

From: Patrick McCuller (
Date: Mon Feb 21 2000 - 09:00:19 MST

From: "Patrick McCuller" <>

> Because Norn, Aibo and Catz personalities are mostly made of cute graphics
> and sampled sound effects, with a net connecting it all together that you
> sketch on a sheet of A4 with a big thick pen. They're about as
> conscious as moss.
> Aren't they?
> I was thinking more in terms of something that could actually deal with a
> simulated 3D world that it could see, feel and hear, something that could
> learn a basic symbolic language just from exposure, like chimpanzees with
> sign language. Still, as Patrick points out, the implications of Norn
> torture pages are frankly hideous.

        Though honestly I had no real experience with this sort of thing. So this
weekend I boght Creatures 3 and played with it for a few hours.

        First, the graphics are beautiful and compelling. The game is divided into
several large scrollable areas, called Terrariums. Each contains a 'home'
ecology with a number of interesting critters, most of which are bugs or
ground life. They seem to have some kind of simple ecosystem going, an
observation supported by observed predation and lifecycles. Also, there are
tools you can use to reintroduce most of the critters should they get
themselves extinct.

        The evocative background music and rich sound effects (I'm not trying to
get you to buy this game, really) combined with the graphics and continuous
motion (there are hundreds of living things in each area) make for a truly
believable environment. I was expecting to be fooled; I was fooled anyway.

        The interesting critters are the ones with 'digital dna'. They've got a
genome of unknown (to me) but apparently significant complexity that can
mutate from generation to generation, has crossovers during conception, etc.
Their genetic makeup controls how quickly they learn, how healthy they are
(there are several dimensions to health), how tough they are, how soon they
reach sexual maturity, how long they live (Norns seem to live about seven
hours) and other factors I haven't discovered yet.

        The Norns communicate using a very simple English. You can't teach them any
other language. You can teach them yourself by example or with the help an
automated instruction machine. The automated machine won't do your job for
you though. To make sure a baby Norn will follow your instructions in
critical moments (such as during a Grendel attack) you've got to spend time
with them, pointing out the names of things, and discouraging them from
wandering too far. From what I can see, subadult Norns will try almost any
action with any object, and tend to either repeat later if it had a positive
effect, or tend not to repeat it later if it had a negative effect
(including you slapping it.)

        The critters have at least a few senses - smell, sight, touch, taste, and
hearing. I'm not sure about the complexity of hearing, touch, and taste. I
don't think there is much to them.

        You get to name each Norn.

        Norns are on the whole cute, cuddly, friendly happy critters that like to
play together and usually smile a lot. But it was only after the third
generation of these things came around that I began to get deep empathy for

        They interact. They make observations - such as 'Zeek hungry for starch' -
and give each other suggestions based on their experience. They tell each
other how they feel, such as loving or disliking. They make mistakes. They
play with toys together (ie bouncing a ball). They usually wander around in
groups, but sometimes alone. If a baby Norn leaves the area, an adult will
often follow it.

        When adolescent Fooby one died, I was genuinely sad.

        I had originally wanted to see how it felt to slap a Norn around; I don't
have the heart to try it.


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