1 December 2015 | The Worlds of Android

A Mirror to the Soul

Android Universe Co-Creator Dan Clark on the Androids of The Worlds of Android

#AndroidUniverse

She sent her red pieces against the white, disrupting the patterns of their movement. A red pawn caught the attention of a bishop, which in turn called in a knight. The red pawn was a ghost—a phantom trace to nowhere, sacrificial and harmless. More red pawns were intercepted by more white bishops. A frenzy of white knights attacked enemies that didn’t exist, and a hole opened in the server’s defenses. She sent in a rook and the chessboard collapsed.
     She was in.

…Access granted.

Sometimes in real-life, as in the high-stakes cyberstruggles between the Corps and Runners of the Android universe, one split-second makes all the difference between getting what you want and getting slagged. This is the case today, December 1st, as we punch through corporate servers and unlock a preview of The Worlds of Android.

With just enough time for us to rez it before the special The Worlds of Android pre-order window closes—and your opportunity to upload a copy of The Worlds of Android Pre-Order Premium is forever lost in the ether—Android universe co-creator Dan Clark provides us a look at the setting's namesake androids and how they serve as windows to the soul.

    Can a machine think?

                   Can it reason, compare, contrast, and respond?

          What are the parameters for true intelligence?

Story time: Years ago, FFG released a dice roller app for our Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system on iOS.

“But where,” the outcry came, “is the Android version?”

I wanted to post an April Fool’s announcement in response: “Well, there are no dice in the Android board game, but people really wanted a dice roller app for it, so we changed the rules and are now releasing an Android dice roller app. In iOS.”

Thankfully, we didn’t do that. But at the time, for me, the incident offered me a nostalgic glance back at my most-beloved game and most-beloved setting, one to which I never expected to return. Boy, was I wrong.

By now, you probably know the rest of the story: Android novels, followed by heist-game Infiltration, followed by Android: Netrunnereach offered another chance for us to visit the setting and look at it from a new angle. Over the course of time, it became obvious that the Android setting had legs, that we loved to play in it, and our fans loved to explore it with us. The Worlds of Android setting book was the next obvious step.

As the setting has gone through its many iterations, it has evolved. Some things have just flat-out changed from first appearance to final form, but others have been consistently core to the stories, with small refinements, for years and years—mostly, and I think most importantly, the androids that give the setting its name.

"Neural conditioning: A term for the process of using (usually non-invasive) BMI technology to stimulate a clone brain, which shapes its connectome, until it matches the desired braintape."

The androids—the bioroids of Haas-Bioroid and the clones from Jinteki Biotech—are absolutely fundamental to the setting and to many or even most of the stories that we tell within our games and books. They’re a reflection of us and our society, and a vehicle by which we explore the Android universe's main themes.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF BIOROIDS

…The actual construction of a bioroid begins with a series of braintapes, or digital models of the human mind. Each braintape is unique, and Haas-Bioroid’s computational neuroscientists distill and synthesize the desired skill sets and personalities from each in a process called neural channeling. This forms the blueprint for the bioroid’s optical brain, a complex network of linked microcom- puters that forms a series of neural path- ways similar to a human connectome—a diagram of all the neural connections on a cellular level. These microcomputers are what give the bioroid its personality as well as its ability to learn and adapt…

Androids are like us, but different. They’re tools created by gargantuan megacorps, and they're tools by which we can explore what it means to be human.

  • Clones have mostly human DNA and have bodies very similar to ours, but their brains are different. Additionally, their conditioning makes them surprisingly alien in manner and thinking. In some ways, a clone may have more in common with a dog than with a human being.
  • Bioroids have bodies that only vaguely resemble a human beings, but their artificial brains are lovingly-crafted copies of the real thing.

Here we have questions: Which is more human, the clone or the bioroid? And how human-like do either of these androids have to be before we find ourselves observing a distinction with no real difference? If one of the themes of Android is the question of what it is to be human, then androids are the most obvious example of that theme in action. (But not they're not the only example… There’s also cyberware, g-modding, transhumanism, the Temple of the Liberated Mind, and plenty of other stuff, too!)

The androids of our future are useful tools for exploring the rifts in our society today—the "othering" of minority groups, racial hatred, religious hatred, discriminatory hatred of all sorts, and all the old prejudices that the Android setting has thankfully outgrown. By making androids the oppressed minority, they become a stand-in for many social ills of today, and a vehicle for commentary.

If one of the themes of Android is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, then androids let us emphasize both sides of that equation. Androids are emblematic of how profoundly the world of Android has changed from the one we know today, and the hatreds and controversies surrounding them are the same as (or at least can serve as stand-ins for) the social issues with which we’re familiar.

Finally, androids allow us to examine the ages-old question of science-fiction: does technology improve human lives or diminish them? The question doesn’t have a simple answer, and androids show this. On the one hand, they’re incredibly useful and helpful, able to perform jobs too dangerous for humans, able to maintain perfect focus and function in stressful situations over the long term (think at-home medical care), and flat out more capable than humans in certain arenas. On the other hand, they come with a massive social cost, from the wave of unemployment created by their ubiquity to the ethical concerns that revolve around the ownership, buying, and selling of creations that might just be considered human.

There’s a reason that the only full-length trilogy of Android novels features an android as the protagonist. Androids, more than anything else, are the most fascinating and compelling centerpiece of the Android setting. At least, that’s my argument. What do you think?

::WARNING:: DESTROYER-CLASS SENTINEL DETECTED!

There's little time left. It's December 1st, and The Worlds of Android Pre-Order Premium ends tonight. Act now to pick up your copy – along with its special playmat and art prints – before the pre-order window closes and your connection drops.

In the meantime, you can visit The Worlds of Android website for an excerpt of the foreword by the setting's other co-creator, Kevin Wilson. Just be sure to also keep your eyes open for more previews of the book's art and information!

The server’s defenses had been good. Much better than she had expected. She set a timer, sending a mental signal through her BMI and into her skinsuit to terminate the connection in two minutes, the average reboot time for a defense grid like the one she’d just penetrated. Then she cut the time in half.

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