Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Traveller Tuesday Follow-Up: Idyll Speculation

Yesterday's post really struck a chord with some of the GMs in a Traveller discussion group. Here are some of the best comments!

Paul Nunes

[Idyll Hands] Would need to be heavy in maintenance bots and a control AI.

Then separate AIs (Ghost in the Shell types) that prowl datanets at high rates.

Probably would have to link to satellites in system that are already aggregating data via their own AIs.

The time delays for light speed transmission would make collecting data [difficult] let alone the lags of a orbital satellite transmitting a ground based intranet.

The recluse would need to be a uber-rich genius from a very high tech world to have the means to own any worlds data net. Just having codes isn't enough. Software would be the most major hurdle..... Everyone is going to have their own style of windows, unix, cobol, C++, etc. Any jump insystem would require the AIs update or teach themselves the local programming code before tackling 512k fractal encryption protocols.

I interjected

Although I don't know if it would need self-updating AIs if it has access to the Scout Service's comm network, which certainly must be standardized across the Imperium.

Paul continued

The Scout Network is probably linked with self propagating software patches........ Dirtside, Orbital, and Belter computer networks wouldn't have to conform necessarily, and in some systems where Imperial presence is barely tolerated systems likely would not.

Now, a satellite in orbit over a world that has a legitimate reason for being, such as weather or telecomms, could also be sniffing every level of the electromagnetic spectrum. The AI onboard would be sorting (like Carnivore) by keywords, origin, repetition the data for relevance and flagging for review. The satellite would then dump a copy of the AI into a transmission when queried with the right code sequence. That copy would be downloaded whole to storage onboard and aggressively file scanned by Intrusion Countermeasure AIs for hidden code, altered code, trojans, viruses, and outside source subroutines. After that the AI would report to a Triumvirate of superior AIs that would analyze and vote on the relevance or importance of the data, a 2 of 3 or 3 of 3 agreement would be required for the data to be flagged for second review or human action.

Ted Kocot

The question you have to ask yourself Paul, is, well, let's take a system where Imperial presence is barely tolerated and they're not conforming. When did they start not conforming? How much code is getting recycled even if they aren't in compliance with the standards? And most importantly, how many code monkeys and custom software firms can an eccentric information broker obtain a significant stake in over 100 years?

We're maybe 50 years out from when computers first became a common tool for business. But remember how in 2000 we suddenly desperately needed COBOL programmers and we needed them right now or we were all going to diiiiiie from the Y2K thing! Nobody was rewriting their 20 or 30 year old code then - just patch it and move on. And that's 20st century Earth where the biggest difficulty a programmer in Oslo will have in setting up a conference call with her colleagues in Osaka, Mumbai and San Francisco is getting them all in the office at the same time and the vast majority of your coders are still going to be alive.

Now think about a universe where travel across a sector takes more than a month in the fastest ship and some of your software is really old. If we're reluctant to rewrite code that works just fine now, how long do you think it takes them to update fundamental things? Insert yourself into the system early enough or deep enough and don't do anything that's going to leave too much of a "Hey, someone knows our every move!" smoking gun and you don't have to do anything to stay in the loop - just sit back and let them send your various and sundry agents new copies of the keys to everything.

Vinge created a profession - programmer/archaeologist - "where your job is to excavate the underlayers of the old programs your computers are running". Unless you're doing hard core New Era stuff with fears of the Virus at every turn, I'm guessing that programmer/archaeologist is going to be a pretty common profession in the Traveller universe.

Paul again

As for the ship...... This guy needs to be a talented and multidisciplinary engineer....... Software analysis, Facilities maintenance, robotics, heuristic computer networking, power systems, naval electronics, drive systems........

The ship would need a control AI / Damage control AI..... possibly another triumvirate voting system that is the hivemind of a fleet of semi-autonomous maintenance bots. Maintenance begins before something breaks. Bots would query sensors for accurate readings, Xray scan structural members for stress fractures, change filters, clean cosmic dust from exterior comm antennas, windows, lenses, etc, change filters and media in environmental systems.

That and be a fine pilot, astrogator, insystem navigator, ships systems engineer, communication officer, and cargo handler.

And now, some lovely rumors and speculation:

No one knows how True Tomas takes on supplies or gets repairs. The general theory is that since ships of this class come with a 20 ton launch, perhaps it is being sent to port for supplies.

Or possibly the Idyll Hands has a tortuga port somewhere.

Or maybe it meets with other vessels in the empty space between systems

Or perhaps everyone on board ship is dead, and it's run by an AI that thinks it's human... an AI back up of True Tomas, perhaps? An artificial copy of the long dead guy that was just meant to answer calls when he was sleeping.

Hmmmm. How many Idyll Hands are there really? The Aquemna is a VERY common design.... the hardest part would be spoofing the transponder. Which, given Paul's analysis above, wouldn't be that hard for someone with those abilities.

Or, to come at this from another direction - the PCs are hired to do something dull during some kind of scientific survey to some otherwise uninhabited systems blah blah snore - and all they have to do is refit a backup system or three en route. Four or five jumps and then back to where you started with a bunch of sorely needed credits. Literally, the GM is just GIVING the players a month or so of pay for rolling a few dice.

It's not until later they realize that their times spent in boring out of the way systems corresponded almost exactly with Idyll Hands' visits to nearby major systems. And that scientific surveys generally don't have money to just throw at things like refits in space. And is there any way to capitalize on that....

There could be all sorts of nifty lost data sitting ignored in its DB, which would probably log anomalies as a matter of routine.

I can totally see there being this BS body of lore built up around him:
  • He keeps transferring his intelligence into clones of himself
  • He's an Ancient device made to gather intelligence for their inevitable return
  • He's the last surviving TL16 Darrian, kept alive by advanced science
  • He leads the Ine Givar
  • It's a false flag by the Scout Service
  • It's a secret op by Navy Intelligence
  • It's a Zhodani psyop
  • He's Rasputin
  • He's actually a committee (Something like Anonymous, with more trigger discipline)
  • He's a project an investment concern manages to make sure they're always a little bit ahead of everyone else, but not so much that anyone would notice

Heh, I could also see playing it such that True Tomas and the Idyll Hands aren't directly related - like confusing UPS, with Amazon, with the companies that make all the stuff that you can buy on Amazon's website. So that when the players go to great lengths to pick at one string they find more strings leading to a whole different tapestry.

So, True Tomas basically rents bandwidth on the Idyll Hands?

 Or hitches a ride, hidden in the data.

Any or all of these might be true. Isn't speculation fun?

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