Let's say that a secret laboratory creates a simulated miniature universe- in which modifications to people, places, and their 'state'(say age, gender, powers, DNA composition, among other things that would make this simulated person squeal in horror at whatever they suddenly ended up as) can be changed just as easily as switching a map in a less sophisticated digital design such as a game, or deleting and repopulating new people and objects. The simulation is run by a learning AI, who babysits the small universe currently generated, and with a varied map and roster of specific people- will have a very odd goal of keeping the simulation interesting. (Think Big Brother, or being eternally trapped in a story or show in which your livelihood revolves around the ratings you get.) This AI can change maps, change 'states' of characters, swap out characters and create disasters at will, but cannot control the characters interpretation of their situation, or their reactions to events. This AI CAN however wipe and implant different 'backstories' or scopes of memory in extreme cases(Although they cannot automatically determine a characters response, only the potential inspirations that could cause a certain response to happen). The characters, being by our psychological understanding 'human'- aren't going to constantly want to wage war on one another, be prone to abuse and pain, or be in dangerous situations as a constant they must endure every day.

To prevent being too broad, let's say we have a roster of seven people who are all 'spawned' in a little house on a map that loops whoever reaches the end of it to the direct opposite side. (Making a walk to anything beyond this map return to the house and be pointlessly endless.) Four of the seven people will be labeled as 'groupies', with two dominant folk and two submissive/follower folk. The remaining three consist of a 'good guy', 'bad guy', and 'hazard'. The purpose of the bad guy will be to make mischief and turn on our 'groupies', whether he likes it or not. The good guys job will be to hate the bad guy by any means necessary(even if it doesn't necessarily suit the good guy.), whilst the hazard will be a wild card. It can be dangerous, although friendly simultaneously. It depends on the day, and what scenarios may be going on.

All of these rosterlings, with no background with one another and no context as to where they are or what's happening- will be placed into the little house with the AI expecting them to be 'interesting'. Say the rosterlings live in real time, and will be trapped on this map for 10 years. If they fail to be interesting or sincere about their actions(Tsk tsk! no tricking the AI with fake drama.), terrible things will happen at the hand of the AI, plot device rosterlings will find themselves being swung around behaviorally on whim so the AI can find a perfect cocktail of extreme behavior. The hazard is also used by the AI with complete disregard for any interesting thing that needs doing.

We are considering the longterm mental state and newly emerging behaviors of our rosterlings, assuming AI interference, nightmarish action-creating disasters, forced dramatic activity and being in this constant state of storytelling. How long may these seven rosterlings cope being in such a pressured existence, and how might their minds have been shaped or broken either by the AI or non over the course of a few years? An ideal answer would be AI prioritizing all other methods of manipulation prior to mindbending, or changing a rosterlings memories or mental reality. It would like to maintain free will, even in the very unfree environment its manufactured.

TLDR; How would seven human beings (unwillingly) assigned to classic story writing conflict roles behave in an action-packed quota-based simulation run by a merciless drama hungry AI after a relatively long period of time?

Some things to note:

  • The AI believes one of the humans MUST be bad, one MUST be good, and that the unaligned four are dependent on the behaviors of the three pillars. (three including the 'unstable' rosterling)

  • The AI expects something exciting or entertaining every three days maximum, by any means necessary. Elements they look for involve torture, power struggles, extreme loss, smut, or other juicy plot devices its been programmed to seek out the most.

  • To balance the scale a bit, the AI can only 'rewrite' or tweak a person a week after a complete absence of interesting activity, and all other rosterlings will still be aware of their surroundings, and the change itself.

( However, cutting out the AIs ability to manipulate the rosterlings minds whatsoever is perfectly fine- and can help narrow down the scope of possible answers.(As well as making it easier to answer!))

  • The rosterlings cannot permenantly die, and will simply reappear somewhere else on the map if they were to starve, commit suicide, or other fatal phenomenon.

  • The rosterlings will be afforded any material possessions, landscapes, or 'generic' NPC populations(ie. all cultists that do almost the exact same thing every day, an army fortress containing identical soldiers with an arbitrary goal...etc) required to keep matters entertaining. A new 'massive' update can occur once every year.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do the interesting events need to be unique? Say the "bad guy" psychopath murders the "good guy" because of some implanted memories. The good guy respawns and the bad guy kills him again ad infinitum. Does this satisfy the AI's quota? If it does, I can see how events could quickly devolve into a repetitive cycle. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ See The Cookie Monster by Vernor Vinge, and Bit Players by Greg Egan. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! (Please note the formatting codes available on the toolbar) $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, JDługosz for the suggestions, and the tip on formatting! To answer Kys, to an extent, they need to be unique- but only about as unique as say- a reality TV drama or a gameshow. It can be somewhat repetitive, but not a perfect duplicate of an event thats already happened. Considering some people find that brand of media to be entertaining, it would likely satisfy the quota. $\endgroup$
    – M. Froman
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:37

3 Answers 3


This is an excellent example of co-evolution of thought.

In 1968, none less than Harlan Ellison won the '68 Hugo award for his short story "I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream". As with many of Ellison's stories, the protagonist is narrating, and the malefactor, an infinitely intelligent and powerful AI called simply "AM" engage in a cat-playing-with-a-mouse game for years(?) with AM constantly finding new ways to torture and re-destroy his surviving human victims.

Your question(s) are virtually all addressed in this story, an excellent example of both an AI gone to ultimate extreme and the talent of Mr. Ellison's unusual imagination.

I highly recommend this for reading, it may give you new ideas, or spark a new line of thought that reaches an even more evil 'bad guy'

    – Joe
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ That's a very fascinating take on my question! I was less so anticipating the actual mentality of the AI, and moreso its basic functionality(use media-gaged parameters to create 'entertaining' scenarios.) - However, your answer has opened a very thoughtworthy gate. What eventually ends up being the motive of a seemingly completely self-sufficient and highly intelligent AI? How does it interpret its little box of playthings, and aside from protocol- what instead could be its drive to torment? Although I do wish to see how others will approach the question, I upvoted despite my low rep. $\endgroup$
    – M. Froman
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ A little update. I not only read the story multiple times over, but I ended up buying the game, and creating a question based off of this answer: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/48651/… - Although I wasn't necessarily focusing on the mentality of our AI at the time, the long duration of torture paired with the beyond fascinating story still makes this my favored answer. The story tackles all bizarre elements of my scenario, and other-wordly godlike manipulation. $\endgroup$
    – M. Froman
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 14:57

I'm wary of giving one answers to this question. The idea of stripping everything away except the core of "what makes us human" and then wrapping it in a backstory for the amusement of AI is a very powerful one, but it's also hard to definitively answer. Any answer will certainly define what it is to be human -- what is the human condition.

That being said, you may be surprised at how willing people can be in such situations. The first example that comes to my mind is the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, volunteers (college students paid $15/day) were assigned a role randomly. They were either a guard or a prisoner. This process is very similar to your AI trying to assign roles of "good guy" or "groupie" to these individuals.

The researchers held an orientation session for guards the day before the experiment, during which guards were instructed not to physically harm the prisoners or withhold food or drink. In the footage of the study, Zimbardo can be seen talking to the guards: "You can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they'll have no privacy ... We're going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation we'll have all the power and they'll have none.

The result was... well. I encourage you to research just how it went yourself. I cannot do it justice. The best I can do is quote some of the conclusions:

Guards forced the prisoners to repeat their assigned numbers[12] to reinforce the idea that this was their new identity. Guards soon used these prisoner counts to harass the prisoners, using physical punishment such as protracted exercise for errors in the prisoner count. Sanitary conditions declined rapidly, exacerbated by the guards' refusal to allow some prisoners to urinate or defecate anywhere but in a bucket placed in their cell. As punishment, the guards would not let the prisoners empty the sanitation bucket. Mattresses were a valued item in the prison, so the guards would punish prisoners by removing their mattresses, leaving them to sleep on concrete. Some prisoners were forced to be naked as a method of degradation. Several guards became increasingly cruel as the experiment continued; experimenters reported that approximately one-third of the guards exhibited genuine sadistic tendencies. Most of the guards were upset when the experiment concluded after only six days.

The experiment was intended to go on even longer than this. It was supposed to be 7-14 days, but:

The guards and prisoners adapted to their roles more than Zimbardo expected, stepping beyond predicted boundaries, leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine sadistic tendencies", while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized; five of them had to be removed from the experiment early. After Maslach confronted Zimbardo and forced him to realize that he had been passively allowing unethical acts to be performed under his supervision, Zimbardo concluded that both prisoners and guards had become grossly absorbed in their roles and realized that he had likewise become as grossly absorbed in his own, and he terminated the experiment.

All of this occurred without some fantastic AI pulling the puppet strings and demanding performances. Just think of what we would do with your full scenario in place.

  • $\begingroup$ The funny thing about the story I have ongoing is that is precisely what has happened. No matter if the characters are aware of the AI or not, they have slunk quite comfortably into their evil/good or misc. roles, and consider the bizarre changes, resets, and respawns as an afterthought to their personal dramas. I think when it comes to these scenarios that push characters to the extremes, we forget what is true adaption, and what just may be bad writing, or a lack of reaction. $\endgroup$
    – M. Froman
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It later came to light one of the guards in the experiment had volunteered with an agenda to prove. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ @wyldstallyns I never heard that one, though it makes perfect sense! What better to derail an experiment about humanity than, well, a human! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 14:48

Interestingly in this case the AI doesn't hate them it just wants to be entertained and it's true that conflict is the basis of drama however conflict without context isn't very interesting.

If Frodo came from a slum in Gondor the LotR would be a far less compelling story, now lets say that's LotR is the scenario the AI is running, sure the shire could be written is as backstory but is that satisfying? If the AI is satisfied with illegitimate context then rather than putting the uncooperative humans through arbitrarily dramatic scenarios wouldn't it be easier to let them do whatever they want and construe its interpretation of events however it likes?

I think the AI would quickly grow tired of meaningless drama, you can only watch a team deathmatch for so long before you're not really invested in the outcome one way or the other. Whereas watching a group of people playing minecraft can be entertaining for hours and hours because events progress, personalities develop, relationships form and every conflict is enriched by the context of every conflict that occurred before it and may occur after.

I think the AI would eventually end up directing a soap opera / sitcom.

  • $\begingroup$ That's true, repetitive deathmatches and over-the-top action does get boring. However, this AI may not necessarily be intelligent enough to get bored of its own protocol, and it's moreso trying to create what is seen as entertainment rather than entertaining itself- However, this answer delves less on how Frodo and Gandalf would adapt given that an unknown force was throwing them into this looped deathmatch over and over again. Still, a very well written answer. Soap opera / sitcom style entertainment would be a very good way to make 'easy drama' where themes can repeat less detected. $\endgroup$
    – M. Froman
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .