By ahoodedfigure 8 Comments
AI (Artificial Intelligence)
We're pretty much alone in the universe. We try to personify all kinds of creatures, inanimate objects, even ideas, and we even pretend we understand more about our fellow human beings than we probably do (although we can still be sadly predictable at times). Most of us wander through life trying to find someone we relate to, grasping through the void until we reach some comfortable equilibrium and hold on as best we can (assuming your hearts are still in it). While finding someone else, be it friend, companion, lover, or conversation partner, is largely a crapshoot, the idea that we can CREATE something intelligent has fascinated us ever since we created automated machines that can theoretically grow in complexity over time.
The computer really is the greatest augmentation humanity's managed to piece together, and I feel like we're barely scratching the surface of its potential even now. Some progressive-thinking researchers are already making strides in primitive technology that at least mimics human knowledge acquisition, and while many argue quite well that even if artificial "life" (whatever that is) is possible within an electronic environment, we're not really close yet, it's hard not to jump the gun a bit and say we've already got artificial intelligence around us. I can't tell if that's over-selling machines or under-selling human intelligence, but there you are.
In the real world, a phrase I'll continue to abuse because you know what I mean (even though everything is in the real world, sorry to say, whether we make it up or not. All the stuff my nightmares have created over the years will cease to exist when I die, but that doesn't mean that those virtual monsters somehow fail to rate just because they're subjective), Artificial Intelligence tends to refer to the rather esoteric quest for a thinking computer, or at least a thinking-like behavior. We're often tempted to push this term into places it doesn't belong, like talking about any old computer being intelligent, but this is largely understood as joking, personification, or naive hopefulness.
In games, however, Artificial Intelligence winds up being a word we throw around for ANY independent game behavior. We freely talk about the AI of the dudes we shoot, the opposing nations or heroes, the way animals spread across a map and kill each other or us. But notice how it often applies to the personified. It's less likely, I think, that you would describe a complex process where an environment is created to be Artificial Intelligence by itself. It has to somehow be reactive, and we often have to be able to relate to it in some way. Yet if you have a procedural generation engine that fits everything together, that's probably some of the more intelligent things a computer program can do, it's just that we often think of these things as just strings of equations... and they usually are.
It seems like we really haven't nailed down what intelligence actually means, so we fall back on the animus, the spirit in the machine, that feeling that we're connecting to something, however stupid or blind it might be. We can even be forgiving toward an AI if it's pitiful, or assume it's cheating if it's kicking our ass. The weird thing about Artificial Intelligence, both within games and without, is that it may not be easily personifiable should we actually achieve it. It may "think" in ways that defy easy explanation, even by the people who create it.
I describe things in terms of AI myself, no use in denying it. And I actually find it a useful term, even in describing complex systems that wouldn't usually be described as intelligent. But that's in part because I don't believe in the separation between humankind and its tools. I believe there's a continuum between what we are and what we create. So when I think of Artificial Intelligence, I also include the safeguards and features the designers put into the game as virtual extensions of their intelligence, however flawed or incomplete they might feel. Artificial Intelligence then, is a reactive, descriptive term for how we interact with a machine running on its own. It still, in a way, reflects its creators.
I'm reminded of the Deep Blue chess tournament against Gary Kasparov. Kasparov himself said, and I think rightly, that it wasn't just Deep Blue he was competing against, but also the programmers, who were adjusting the machine throughout the course of the tournament. You want to talk cyberpunk, think about this: Kasparov was playing against an amalgam of computer scientists and a machine, all at once. Freaky, huh?
So, is Artificial Intelligence abused as a term? Yes, but only in a strictly technical sense. In another way I think we'll only benefit from realizing that machines are an extension of us. We'll learn more about ourselves that way, and the potential of our creations to embody our essence. For all the frightening visions we often see in fiction when we talk about machines taking on human aspects, I think there's great potential for transcendence there, too. Describing the behavior of in-game characters as AI doesn't feel so far afield to me, if you take the long view.
Any terms you all can think of that have taken on new meanings in video games? You find these changes irritating, or improvements, or something else entirely?