Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pondering The Nature Of Bots

The Eve Online community is in an uproar over the recent exposé on botting (the use of programs to automate the actions of capsuleers without the player needing to be at the keyboard) and RMT.  CCP’s Unholy Rage campaign highlighted the negative effects that botting has on Tranquility’s performance and the increased isk flow from mission botting in null sec space that the Dominion sov changes made possible contribute to (and perhaps even drive) inflation in the economy.  While others look at the serious consequences of botting, I’d like to examine the role-play aspects of the problem.  What is the nature of the bot?

By definition, a bot is a capsuleer who does not control his or her own actions.  Instead, the bot is controlled by a computer program that governs the pilot’s actions for most if not all of the pilot’s waking hours.  I use the term “waking hours” loosely, as the program places the capsuleer’s brain into a dream-like state and allows the pilot to function up to 23 ½ hours out of every day.  While the bot is vulnerable to other capsuleers while the program is running, the superiority of the capsuleer over the normal population is such that even at a reduced level of effectiveness bots can still defeat non-capsuleers handily.  The ability to operate 23 ½ by 7 gives the bot the ability to generate income far above the average capsuleer, and in New Eden, isk equals power.

Are bots capsuleers who should be pitied or despised?  Myself, I cannot imagine willingly undergoing any procedure that would allow a computer program to take over my body.  My personal belief is that bots are performing their activities against their will.  How could that happen to near-immortal and powerful pod pilots?  Are the bots recruited by unscrupulous individuals with promises of godhood only to be tricked into never-ending slavery once they complete their capsuleer training?  Does a conspiracy exist in the cloning facilities that steals clones and captures capsuleers as they jump from clone to clone?  Are bots just unfortunate people seized in pirate or slaver raids selected for eternal damnation?  Or perhaps the bot has changed clones one too many times and is so mentally unstable that he thinks he is a ship and putting him in the dream-state is a blessing instead of a curse.  In the cruel world of New Eden, putting a mentally crippled pod pilot like that to work would not surprise most hardened spacers.

Perhaps I’m mistaken.  History is replete with examples of those who made a bargain with the Devil himself for wealth and power.  Having given up a measure of humanity for the wealth, power and privilege of being a capsuleer, some may see giving up even more of their humanity for even more wealth worth the sacrifice.  Perhaps the dream-like state is a form of addiction that capsuleers can only experience while flying their ships.  Or perhaps the bot has incurred so much debt that the only way to pay it back is to submerge his humanity in order to perform an endless isk grind.

Either way, the vast majority of capsuleers, at least publically, rail against bots and their masters.  And with good reason.  Bot masters are nothing but slave masters.  I should say worse than slave masters, because at least ordinary slaves will eventually receive the release of death from their bondage.  Bot slaves can only hope for the death of their masters or perhaps death at the hands of a CONCORD strike force targeting the bot and all its clones.

What about the technology that makes the creation of bots possible?  Where does it come from?  Do the control programs come from Jovian space?  Rumor has it that Jovian-based alliances like CCP Engineering are working toward eliminating the 30 minutes of downtime bots experience every day so that bots can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Or does the technology come from the Sansha Nation?  Has the sale of the technology to ruthless corporations and alliances in null security space funded the recent incursions by the Sansha into Empire space?  Perhaps Sansha is selling more than the technology.  Perhaps Sansha is selling the bots themselves and the raids have been “recruiting drives” to meet the demand.

What is the truth?  Most take the simple way out, don’t look beyond the surface and try to shoot the bot.  Others, like CONCORD, engage in investigations and attempt to eliminate the problem with extreme prejudice.  But has anyone bothered to look at the life of the bot?  I’m sure powerful forces would prefer we didn’t.

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