So I'm writing a video game similar to Rez and in this game a self-aware female AI running a spaceship gets her emotions fried (even though her shielding is powerful and emotions are firewalled and shielded, etc.) and you have to hack into her as one of the crew on the ship and fix her.

I don't want it to be a virus, I want it to be a space phenomena like a nebula that can electrocute her or something and fry her emotions. EDIT: Electric based. Space lightning, etc. ahoy

What do you think? What should happen?

EDIT: Going with a CME


closed as primarily opinion-based by Renan, Vincent, elemtilas, Cort Ammon, RonJohn Dec 2 '18 at 5:33

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 2 '18 at 12:18

Attack of the Cosmic Rays!

I think you should start with the Attack of the Cosmic Rays! - a single high energy particle (coming from space and reaching computer here on Earth) can flip bits in computer memory, causing all sort of errors.

However, I would expect your spaceship to have proper shielding against radiation. Including everything that could be harmful for the crew, in particular when their ship is outside the natural protection of a planet. That means that high energy photons, electrons, protons, alpha particles even muons would be covered.

Addendum: About the ionized nebula gas. It is to be expected. If the ship is particulary vulnerable to it, I would blame it on human error: bad ship design.

I would not expect to have dedicated shielding against neutrinos. That would be very inefficient. Instead, there are technologies for error detection and correction that can deal with single bit flips.

Let us say, all that failed (which is very unlikely, but there are many neutrinos, and I am underselling it). The problem is usually in working memory, then the solution is simply to reboot the system.


You could work in reasons why they cannot reboot the system, for example the computer could be working in something mission critical and we do not want to lose progress.

Alternatively, you could work in reasons why a reboot does not work, for example the problem has already been committed to persistent memory. They try a reboot and it does not work. And restoring a backup would mean losing too much.

Or you could work in reasons why persistent memory was what was compromised. In which case, the problem is detected after a reboot. This could make it seem like human error.

On high energy events

If something so drastic happens that can affect her emotion core, it can affect any electronics on the ship. Either the ship has proper shielding, and then nothing special happens. Or the ship is better of avoiding the event or going dark while it happens.

I am aware that a high energy event could dramatic, which is useful for storytelling. On the other hand, without a high energy event... you can have the crew slowly figure out that something is wrong... for when they notice, it would have happened an unknown time in the past, and they would not know the spread of the compromise.

However, you can split he event in two: the first is an accident that results in her shielding being compromised (that part could be human error, or not), the other is external high energy event. For example: a micro meteoroid hits the ship while traveling at relativistic speed compromising the shields, then radiation can enter, such as the ionized nebula gas.


Even if the problem can explained only by the high energy event, I would consider it a mistake to be where it would happen. If there is any way to predict it, a fly path away from it should have been found.

Thus, we need something really hard to predict (we know Coronal mass ejection happen in periods of high stellar activity, and there are signs that a star is near the point it will go Supernova, so we can avoid those)... in that case, I want to suggest Gamma-ray bursts.


Ah, all of that is without considering her an AI. Let alone an AI with emotions.

Being the damage on the emotion core only helps to divert the attempts of the hacker to discover what is up.

It is a convergent goal of AI to survive (so it can perform whatever task it has as goal), and thus, AI does not want to be shut down. She will resist and fight against any attempts to reboot her.

Addendum: Futhermore, the AI could decide to destroy the backups to prevent the hacker from attempting to restore them.

Considering the emotion core damaged, every emotion she displays could be justified to some degree... For instance when the hacker is trying to fix her: She could be happy that they are doing it, sad that they have to do it, ashamed that they get to see her like that, guilty because of the trouble she caused, disgusted with humans messing with her internals, angry that they are trying to alter her, afraid of what will be her, surprised by the skills of the hacker... heck, she might even behave as sexually aroused. I suppose it is best to write her as inconsistent.

  • $\begingroup$ High energy event. "the problem has already been committed to persistent memory. They try a reboot and it does not work. And restoring a backup would mean losing too much." that seems like it. She wants them to do it but her emotions are unstable. she's sad, ashamed, guilty, and afraid. but the crew wouldn't theorize as there's only one crew member and that is a young female hacker. $\endgroup$ – danny Dec 2 '18 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ also the GOAL OF THE GAME is to reboot her; you fix her emotion core then reboot her. the event is so forceful that even her shielding can't withstand it. $\endgroup$ – danny Dec 2 '18 at 3:58
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that last idea makes it seem less like debugging and more like brain surgery. Not sure I could handle working on a computer that's sprinting across the emotional spectrum, even ignoring the fact I'm totally dependent on it for my survival. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Dec 2 '18 at 4:07

'What could damage a shipboard ai's decision-making architecture without compromising the entire suite?'

You'll probably want to decide how exactly this AI has 'emotions' in the first place, it's not really plausible to have a binary system that reliably simulates human behavior, but that's an imo..and it will be from everybody until you refine the question a bit.

But maybe not. The ship presumably operates with electronics, and your crew is still alive, so the entire ship has not been compromised. This is the first difficulty and it's quite a big one. If the AI is responsible for managing the ship, navigating and etc, then it's core hardware would be shielded to the nth degree, especially if your society/world considers the AI to be an individual - not protecting it from electrical phenomena is negligent in the extreme.

Having said that, if your ai's architecture is producing & registering variations in nuclear forces rather than electric current, perhaps any external source of unpredictably shifting graviton emission might impact the hardware, and never having come across naturally occurring gravitons you'd of never bothered to shield your AI against them.

  • $\begingroup$ well she has an emotions chip for further depth in character i guess and she's got computer programs that simulate human behavior too; also yes her emotions are shielded and firewalled as are everything else and her core hardware but this is powerful. they consider her an individual too. it's electric current though. $\endgroup$ – danny Dec 2 '18 at 1:04

Semantic issues aside, the idea of what could damage an artificial intelligence is an interesting one.

In terms of something that could overpower circuit breakers and damage her/its systems via an overload, my money would be on something like a Coronal Mass Ejection from a nearby star. This is a giant spurt of plasma that sometimes results from a solar flare and carries with it an ungodly amount of electromagnetic energy. If the ship is in the path of one of these, it would have to be incredibly advanced to remain operation and I would have a tough time believing any level of vessel would be completely undamaged.

On the more speculative side of things, an artificial intelligence would probably have processing speeds that dwarf the thinking speed of humans. Normally this is fine, as the AI has dozens of eyes, ears, manipulators, and ways to occupy its time. However, if someone turned off all the input for a day or so, it would be like the AI had been buried alive. In that situation, the high processing speed would only serve to elongate the experience, making a single day seems like years of solitary confinement. That would certainly fry any advanced user interface (i.e. emotions) and turn her systems into the hacking equivalent of a schizophrenic minefield.

As to how the above could happen, some accident could work (including the coronal mass ejection idea), but you could make it human error. Maybe someone wanted to do something and didn't want it being observed or recorded, so they turned off the AI inputs without knowing the full consequences.

Well, that's my two cents. Let me know if I should elaborate on anything.

  • $\begingroup$ no not human error but some accident could work; human error doesn't apply because the only other crew member knows full well what could happen and all, i don't want it human error just some accident, and i want space phenomena to cause it. not human error. space phenomena. $\endgroup$ – danny Dec 2 '18 at 3:25
  • $\begingroup$ @danny I see. In that case, I think the CME would be a valid option. They're tricky to predict, and travel pretty close to the speed of light. If one is coming, a ship would have no choose but to try and endure it. If that's not your style, meteorites flying though the ship and busting some drives and hardware might to the trick. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Dec 2 '18 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ meteorites isn't something that's electromagnetic like a lightning strike or a nebula $\endgroup$ – danny Dec 2 '18 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ @danny a m̶e̶t̶e̶o̶r̶i̶t̶e̶ meteoroid could damage the shields of the ship enough to let something else affect the electronics, such as the ionized nebula gas you like. That is a way of splitting the event in two. $\endgroup$ – Theraot Dec 2 '18 at 12:00

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