Mike Stone

Mostly The Lonely Howls Of Mike Baying His Ideological Purity At The Moon

Some Thoughts On Free Guy

02 Oct 2021

I just finished watching the movie Free Guy. I’m going to try not to get to deeply into spoiler territory, but just in case, you’ve been warned. Also, this post is going to be a lot different than my normal posts since it’s mostly just a brain dump after watching a movie. You’ve been warned about that too.

If you’re not familiar with Free Guy, the movie’s main protagonist is an NPC whose AI is advanced enough that he begins to evolve. He even realizes at a point in the movie that he is in a game (after being told by one of the actual Players in the game). In the movie, the NPCs are AIs that are designed to evolve over time. This raises some pretty significant questions.

First, how we treat NPCs in video games. This movie definitely makes me think twice about how I treat NPCs in video games. While I don’t think there’s anything anywhere near the AI shown in the movie, it still makes me feel like I’m the asshole by treating the NPCs as disposable. It’s kind of the same feeling I get about throwing away or donating toys after watching the Toy Story series over and over. It could be that sometime in the not too distant future the AI behind NPCs could progress to a point where today’s behavior towards them would be looked upon as reprehensible. At that point they become more like a background actor that plays a role and then goes home at the end of the day. Our treatment of those AIs would need to understand that transition. Will we even know when that happens though? I feel like we wouldn’t.

Second, and this is a line of thinking that really breaks my brain. Once an AI becomes sufficiently advance that it’s impossible to distinguish it an actual living being, the ethics of everything kind of gets squishy. In the movie, the AIs inhabit a shared world. Players from all over the world can login to the same world and interact with the same NPCs. Honestly it had a very Fortnite-ish feel to it, which I think was intentional. Would you want the NPCs that you’re dealing with on a day to day basis to be interacted with by the worst that the Internet has to offer? That could cause some serious need for therapy for those NPCs.

If you don’t, you’d need to create those NPCs in a single player game instead of a MMORPG. Maybe I’ve been watching What If…? to much lately, but a single player game with artificially intelligent NPCs starts to look and feel a lot like a multiverse. The same characters exposed to different stimuli and varied scenarios developing in different ways. But would this even be ethical? Logging out of the game and shutting down the computer would essentially be “stopping time” for those NPCs. What if you log out for days, weeks, months, or years? What if you never log back in?

If you do want to the world available in the cloud and have those NPCs exposed to the Internet as a whole, some of the questions about the ethics of a single player game are answered. In that scenario there are complications too. Think of all the nasty stuff you’ve seen on the Internet. In the case of a MMORPG scenario, you’re condemning an intelligent being to literally living with some of the worst filth of the Internet.

There are even more things to consider about the lives of the AI in the game. The NPCs are designed to play a particular role in the game. One NPC is the business woman, and one NPC is the homeless guy. If we look at that as disposable code, it’s not a big deal. If you look at it like you’ve defined the lives of living beings, it starts to feel like a big deal. You’ve given one NPC the good life with the fancy car and the amazing house while the other warms their digital hands in the simulated cold with burning garbage. Since we literally control.. well… everything in that universe that doesn’t need to be true but if we want it to reflect the universe that we live in it does.

I guess I can stop here, and just say that I really enjoyed the movie, but maybe it made me think about a lot of things that it probably never intended. Maybe the answers are much more obvious to people smarter than myself. I look forward to hearing from anybody who has the answers to my question in the Mastodon Thread.

Day 32 of the #100DaysToOffload 2021 Series.

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