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Us­ing Early Ac­cess Astroneer to deal with the Sin­gu­lar­ity

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - There’s a wiki if I can’t re­mem­ber what a fil­ter does, for good­ness sake

Un­til this week, my most re­cent con­ver­sa­tion about Astroneer in­volved bump­ing into for­mer lead de­signer Ja­cob Liechty at GDC in San Fran­cisco. He was in the process of leav­ing the com­pany, and we had a fas­ci­nat­ing chat about his new work in AI safety.

Play­ing Astroneer roughly a year on, that chat came back to me. I meant to check in with the game’s progress and fid­dle around with mul­ti­player. What I ended up do­ing was lis­ten­ing to a 2015 episode of The Par­tially Ex­am­ined Life—a phi­los­o­phy pod­cast—fea­tur­ing Nick Bostrom.

Bostrom is the di­rec­tor of the Fu­ture of Hu­man­ity In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford. I came across his work when I used to write for Wired be­cause ques­tions of ex­is­tence and ex­is­ten­tial risk sit along­side ar­eas of rapid change (like AI) and can feed into how we al­ter leg­is­la­tion.

These ques­tions are a valu­able part of how we grap­ple with an un­know­able fu­ture and our own cul­pa­bil­ity or con­trol. De­pend­ing on whether you be­lieve in the Sin­gu­lar­ity they might be the most im­por­tant ques­tions we face to­day. But the con­ver­sa­tion can be­come par­a­lyz­ing—it in­vokes an in­con­ceiv­able level of change brought about by peo­ple and tech over which you likely have no con­trol.

Pot­ter­ing around in Astroneer’s op­ti­mistic fu­ture makes those ques­tions eas­ier to con­tem­plate. It helps switch off that vast shad­owy pow­er­less­ness which threat­ens to over­whelm the topic af­ter a while.

Right now there’s a dis­cus­sion of ex­is­ten­tial risk play­ing in my ears.

But it’s bal­anced by my hands be­ing plunged into Astroneer’s peace­ful fu­ture where we fig­ured this all out.

Utopia

In Astroneer, for ex­am­ple, there are no think pieces about the de­struc­tion I may be wreak­ing on the ecosys­tem, I’m not try­ing to nav­i­gate pol­i­tics, and the tech which is keep­ing me alive isn’t slip­ping out of my grasp. There’s a wiki if I can’t re­mem­ber what a fil­ter does, for good­ness sake.

I have a func­tional base and a back­log of mys­te­ri­ous lumps which I can an­a­lyse to gen­er­ate data. If I ac­cu­mu­late enough data, I can ac­quire blue­prints for craft­ing and ex­plo­ration op­tions. I’m torn be­tween a pur­suit of the shuttle which I can use to reach new plan­ets, or in­vest­ing in rovers so I can scoot around.

I could have tamped down my ex­is­ten­tial dread with any pleas­antly com­pelling game, but it felt like a vague con­tin­u­a­tion of that con­ver­sa­tion with Liechty to do it via Astroneer. It also led me to this quote in his exit post on the Astroneer blog:

“The thing I love about Astroneer is how the­mat­i­cally as­pi­ra­tional it is, both to its emo­tional depths and also to the sky, stars and be­yond. Hu­man­ity is cease­lessly me­di­at­ing the bound­ary be­tween its in­ter­nal ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions and its ex­ter­nal as­pi­ra­tions. These are ex­cit­ing times both for age-old philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions and for brand-new ex­plo­rations and fron­tiers.”

Astroneer is also just re­ally pretty.

PHILIPPA WARR

THIS MONTH Gazed at the Sin­gu­lar­ity and hoped it didn’t gaze back. ALSO PLAYED Obliv­ion, Swamp Al­chemist, Sub­nau­tica

Our main ex­is­ten­tial threat comes via cu­rios­ity.

Strange cav­erns yield more ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als.

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