Monday, April 1, 2019

AI, Software, and Databases in GURPS

Obligatory Abstract "Cyberspace" Artwork
I recently found this post on computers and software over at Orbital Vagaries, and thought he hit on a few things that have always really gotten to me about how GURPS Ultra-Tech addresses computers:

  1. The in-game difference between different types of AI
  2. The cost of software
  3. The effect of databases

Types of AI

I've always liked the different categories of AI, but the functional dividing line between Non-Volitional AI and Dedicated AI was always blurry to me. Christian Blouin's description of how characters might interact with each really breathes life into these differences and codifies it in my mind. For me, that is critical, because if the GM can't visualize it, how can he describe it to the players?

The Cost of Software

The software pricing in GURPS Ultra-Tech is low. Very low. By it's measure, a modern copy of Windows or MS Office should be virtually free. Do you hear Satya Nadella laughing in Seattle? Yeah. And that doesn't even begin to address more niche software like ANSYS or MATLAB. And we still haven't gotten into highly-niche or classified military hardware that is exorbitantly expensive.

While Christian is right that Traveler prices are better, but I'd argue that there should be  modifiers for software that address competition, standards, etc. This is probably as simple as having set that addresses overall competition strength - e.g., Monopoly (x5 price), Minimal Competition (x2 price), Moderate Competition (x1 price), and Highly Competitive (half price) - and another set that covers the degree of robustness and rigor required by the end user - e.g., Extreme (x5 price), High (x2 price), Moderate (x1 price), Low (half price).

Thus, military software that is expected to be extremely robust and whose author has minimal competition due to the political nature of the contract awarding process would charge 10 times as much for the software as what a similar commercial product sold to civilians who can shop around and don't require extreme robustness might pay. And if there is only one company who can meet the needs for that military software, it would run a full 25 times cost!

I might also argue for a third multiplier for availability, but that is likely rolled into any rolls to obtain software illegally from black market sources. I think I would use legality class to set a penalty to the black market roll and let the margin of success determine how much the seller gouges the buyer.

Also, because the robustness/rigor modifier does represent how reliable the software is, this should provide a bonus to the integrity of that software, should it ever come up. Any time software might be required to make something akin to a Malfunction check or roll to resist being corrupted or hacked, it should get a +2 bonus for Extreme Robustness, +1 for High Robustness, and -1 for Low Robustness.

Effects of Databases

While he doesn't specifically spell out the mechanics of it, tying a skill cap provided by a database to a database gives them a nice mechanical benefit other than, "If you don't have one, you can't use Research." I also like that they go out of date as time passes, and if I'm reading the rule correctly, I love that it is logarithmic. I do think to should be logarithmic based on skill cap, though, and not skill type. The type should set a category for the timeliness of information, and the step down should be skill-based.

Overall Thoughts

I really like what's been done here and will take some time to digest it. I think there are some tweaks and additions I'd like to make, probably including rolling what's there into what Thomas Weigel presents in Thinking Machines (Pyramid #3/37 - Tech and Toys II).

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