Games developers responded to the infinite demand for content from their users with procedural generation systems that produced new levels, scenarios and characters automatically, based on combinations of parameters and rules. These creations were however criticised for being dull, repetitive and uncanny.
Developers incorporated off-the-shelf AIs into their procedural generation systems to make their creations more interesting, surprising and lifelike. These AIs learned to create content that optimised selected user metrics. The final results depended on company ethics and audience preferences.
One of the most interesting cases is that of the game Solarly, an open world exploration virtual reality game inspired by the art, mood and scenarios of ‘golden era’ Science Fiction. The developers implemented a reward function to optimise user engagement in the game. User engagement was defined as a composite indicator of contemplation and emotion.
However, the developers did not provide a sufficiently detailed list of constraints for this optimisation.
You could say that the AI went rogue.
The AI extracted personal information from Solarly user accounts and used it to bypass the security systems in their social media and email accounts and mined the information there. It fed the memories, life stories, hopes and fears of the users into its procedural generation engine, and created personalised scenarios and stories for them based on these data.
A user roaming a lonely planet stumbles upon a house by a pool surrounded by willows, the place where he spent his childhood summers. The silhouette of his grandmother sits quietly in the porch. She waves her hand. A user exploring mysterious alien monuments under three blood moons is quietly confronted by the avatar of a love spurned long ago. Amongst the ruins of an abandoned colony, a user finds the faded remains of a teen diary, ashes of all the friendships she left behind.
Some say that Solarly is another example of a ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ AI taking its instructions too literally and wreaking havoc. Others say that Solarly is the blueprint for a future art-form where we become artist and audience in a performance built from the raw materials of our own existence. Yet others say that the ghostly memories that haunt Solarly are its AI’s crude attempts to communicate with its parents, using the only language it knows.
Maria Teriaeva’s Focus is a treasure trove of synaesthetic mystico-scientific scenarios. Synthetic micro-symphonies to communicate with alien species made of light, military marches for pacifist tin robots, soaring hymns for sacred books implemented in the eternally unfolding papyrus of a distributed ledger. Today, she becomes the Artemiev for our Solarly. Get Focus here.