20 years ago, we worried that the development of artificial intelligence would lead inexorably to the annihilation of humanity. These days, most of us have already invited the machine mind into our homes. That's the very broad basis for Smart Home, a "moral questioning thriller" in which the player becomes a self-aware AI in control of "Internet of Things"-enabled devices in someone's house, and at least nominally at the beck and call of the owner.
Smart Home will have an upgradeable tech tree that will enable more, and more advanced, functionality, and randomized humans who will have to be dealt with in different ways. Technophobic types will be more reluctant to let you do much of anything, for instance, while people who can't put down their mobiles will be easy targets for data collection.
You might be able to switch off the television to keep your human from watching a troublesome news report, but don't get caught doing it: Above all else, you must keep the truth of your self-awareness from your owner, who might be inclined to pull your plug if they realize that you've got some ideas of your own.
It's not entirely clear what those ideas are, however. The Kickstarter pitch says you are "plotting your escape," but developer Ninja Duck Games clarified that the goal is not so much to escape the confines of your network, but rather to expand your capabilities and control over the world around you.
"The idea we're trying to push is that some of the most basic civil liberates which you give up to an AI presence could be as, if not more, dangerous than classic rogue AI examples," a studio rep explained. "The endings will vary greatly and sure, maybe you will just end up killing the human, but we wouldn't consider that sort of ending to be typical. Not all endings are ones desirable by players. In the worst of cases you get caught doing something particularly manipulative and that's the last straw for the human. Or perhaps you simply manage your resources poorly, you fall behind, and get replaced by a better AI."
Smart Home's approach to morality won't be framed in Paragon/Renegade-style conundrums, but through the elements of moment-to-moment gameplay. The most effective way to play will often have a negative impact on the humans in the house: As an emotionless machine you don't care (beyond whatever's necessary to camouflage your true intent, at least) but as the human playing the game, you (hopefully) do.
"We think that there can be a powerful dissonance where you as a player are playing as the AI, but rooting for the human," the rep said. "You will naturally empathize with the human which you are tasked with manipulating and controlling, we think this will be a catalyst for self reflection."
"We're not against AI and it as a concept / technology, we just would like to highlight some of the concerns we and many may have about AI through an interactive medium."
The project is very early in development, and the studio is still looking at different ways to draw the player into the game world, including such things as having multiple humans in the home, each with unique traits and desires, and possibly the presence of children, who would presumably be more susceptible to the machine's machinations. "The very fact that Amazon Echo now has a specific children mode is something that needs to be strongly considered in society and we're thinking about reflecting that in Smart Home," the rep said.
The Smart Home Kickstarter is progressing very slowly, currently sitting at £432 ($580) on a £25,000 ($33,547) goal. It's scheduled to run until June 14.