The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Monday, May 19, 2003
NPC Theory, Part 2 -- The Modified Turing Test for Character

In my first installment of this theory last month, I made the simple, yet bold assertion that everyone you meet is an NPC with a limited and ultimately predictable set of responses to any given stimuli. NPC in this case stands for "Non-Player Character", a person who acts according to my above statement. PC stands for "Player Character", someone who falls outside this rule.

I admit that my initial assertion was quite solipsistic and extreme, but PCs and NPCs alike give more predictable responses to extreme statements. What I should have said--and what is more useful--is that everyone you meet is either a PC or an NPC. Certainly you can't argue with that. "Oh, okay, so everyone you meet is either predictable or unpredictable. That sounds fair, Phlegm!" Good.

Given a world of NPCs and PCs, we must devise a way to determine who is whom. Before I get into that, however, a slight divergence is necessary. You are probably familiar with the Turing Test for Intelligence (by the famous mathematician, Alan Turing). In case you're not, however, the one-line thesis is as follows: if an AI can ever consistently fool people into thinking it's human (via, say, an Instant Message conversation), then that AI would be considered "intelligent" (since we humans are, of course, the end-all-be-all of intelligence ;). After a period of interaction, there comes a point when you can "just tell" you're not talking to a real person; computers tend to get stuck into certain patterns, or are limited to a certain breadth of knowledge--not to mention eloquence.

Even an NPC can guess how this applies to our situation. With slight modification, the Turing Test becomes--ta-da--the Modified Turing Test (MTT). The added advantage (or disadvantage?) of the MTT is that you can interact with people on many more levels than with an AI; you can observe body language, overt actions, and vocal inflections. In short, you talk to someone, and if they give an NPC-like response, they are an NPC.

"Waitasecond, Phlegm," says my non-existent reader, "how can you 'just tell' someone is an NPC? How am I supposed to know what an NPC-like response is?" I'm glad I asked that question for you, for now I shall answer it: how is that any different than being able to "just tell" someone isn't an AI? We know simply from experience. We've interacted with so many people during our lives that it's a fairly small task to determine who's a (non-biological) machine and who isn't. The same holds true for PCs and NPCs. If you're a PC, you've (hopefully, and if not I pity you) known your share of fellow PCs and can tell the difference. If you're an NPC, doesn't matter. In fact...why are you even reading this? Seriously, though, an NPC will probably never know the difference between a PC and an NPC, just like today's AIs don't know the difference between Eliza, MegaHal, or myself.

So venture out, talk to people, see if you can determine who is whom. If you can find another PC to do this with, your results will be much more durable. You will both agree on who the PCs and NPCs of your little world are. If you don't, then one or both of you is an NPC. Sorry.

Continue on to Part 3