Friday, December 6, 2013

340: AF Torture

ENTRY 340: AF Torture

"Everybody talks under hard interrogation. That's the problem: hurt someone long enough, intensive enough, and they will say anything to make it stop. Worse, torture distorts the process of recollection so that the key information you want is lost. The brain physically rewires itself! Memory associations in the ego shift and are destroyed! Lies and truth melt together until the subject cannot tell what really happened. You don't know what it's like until you've been in that chair. Your mind keeps working as they question you, it catches everything the interrogators say, rolls it around in its mind, and regurgitates it as the fantasy it thinks the interrogator wants to hear. The signal to noise ratio of hard interrogation is simply too high to be dependable. Fortunately, we currently have technology that makes it unnecessary. I want you to understand that, because there's nothing you can say right now that will make me stop. I'm not doing this because I want something from you. I'm doing this for fun."
- Ignacio Carcesa, voice journal

Most transhumans still register pain. All transhumans that are still sentient are subject to psychological manipulation and duress - lack of sleep, phobia exacerbation, traumatic roleplay scenarios. Torture is generally seen as a primitive and wasteful tactic whose hard limitations have long been recognized by professional military, security, police, and intelligence organizations, but as a toxic meme continues to permeate transhuman media and culture. Criminals, particularly amateur ones, still think that pain can get at the truth. Some even use pseudoscientific methods to inflict pain or debilitating circumstances virtually, torturing the ego rather than the body, or attempting to "prove" a subject is lying by measuring and analyzing non-voluntary physiological responses and behaviors. Their victims make good work for the psychosurgeons and therapists, but any success they see is incidental. Even the hardiest and iron-willed transhuman will say something if pushed, and the more stress that is applied, the more distorted the subject's memories will become - after prolonged interrogation, nothing the subject says can be trusted, and that's without the distorting effect of drugs and personal augmentations brought into play. No pharmaceutical or narcoalgorithm is guaranteed to make a subject tell the truth, and when combined with pain or stress is likely to distort the subject's memories and perceptions even more. Even the threat of death and dismemberment isn't the stressor it used to be for many transhumans, where backups, vat grown organs, and resleeving are a way of life.

Fortunately for interrogators, transhuman forking technology presents much more reliable alternatives. While programmers cannot yet dissect forks apart to find specific memories, they can treat an ego backup as a ROM construct - a snapshot of the target at a specific time, from which infinite copies can be made, each a separate entity with no information being passed between them. At that point, the problem of interrogation begins to borrow techniques from hacking and decryption. A common technique is word association - set up an automated virtual scenario with ten thousand copies of the same ego and you can perform a frequency analysis on the results, and use that to refine your technique. After a few thousand repetitions of the procedure and the forks will have revealed considerable information - all without the original ego even being aware that it has spilled any secrets at all. Some intelligence operations even go for repetitive roleplay scenarios generated by genetic algorithms - each failure or rejected scenario causes the next scenario to be refined and retried on a new fork from the original backup. With time dilation protocols, the perceived time in each of these scenarios can run into months or years on the part of the subject, while minutes or hours pass in real time - a good interrogation programmer can just set a scenario to run automatically and go home for the night. Military field interrogations are less subtle; hasty and aggressive pruning is performed on the forks in an effort to eliminate traits like loyalty or dishonesty, and the result is subject to a direct and straightforward series of questions.

Using Torture

There are only five basic scenarios where player characters will encounter torture and interrogation in a roleplaying game: threatened with torture, being interrogated, interrogating someone else, witnessing an act of torture, and viewing the outcome of an act of torture (the victim, the recordings, etc.) None of these scenarios are generally considered fun, nor should they be. Interrogation is, at the best of times, the equivalent of an extremely stressful job interview; torture is simply sadism dressed up as necessity, and sometimes not even that. Torture is more than just physical or mental pain - it can be cumulative mental stress from lack of sleep, forced humiliation, extreme temperatures, prolonged exposure to stressors (an annoying song, spiders, darkness, small confined space, etc.), - and that's just the traditional tools in the arsenal of interrogation. In Eclipse Phase, torturers and interrogators are limited only by their means and imagination, sending egos to virtual hells for artificial eternities. The bottom line is that none of that stuff is nice, and none of it is guaranteed to work. While threats of violence may have use in your game and interview-type interrogations may be roleplayed, it is advised not to hype the validity or efficacy of these methods, or go into visceral detail about actual torture - if players and gamemaster get into a contest of who can squick the others out, no one really wins.

Fork interrogation is a different ballgame; no less cruel in many ways, but more reliable and with fewer visible victims, as the forks are typically deleted after interrogation. The focus of fork interrogation is not to cause pain, but something closer to an extended hacking attempt against the target ego, and should be played as such. Again, the question is not if the subject will reveal some crucial bit of information, but when the interrogators feel they have sufficient statistical likelihood that the data is valid (or at least that the subject believes it is). Fork interrogation adds another wrinkle to the already complex issue of ego backups, forking, and resleeving - because if the antagonists can get a copy of the subject's ego, then it is essentially only a matter of time before they have virtually all of the character's secrets and information, and the actual character will never know about their "betrayal."

No mechanics are provided for torture and interrogation because this is not a skill contest at which any character can conceivably "win." A successful Intimidation Test can make someone talk, but it won't make them tell the truth. Fork interrogation, likewise, only deals in statistical probabilities - there is no absolute guarantee that the information derived is going to be completely true and accurate, only a likelihood brought on by analysis of a large set of raw data - the math can be crunched by an app, the software and processing is rarely anything special; a successful Programming or Psychosurgery Test might speed up the process, but it cannot improve the results. Characters subject to interrogation or torture should receive mental stress commensurate to their experiences.

1 comment:

  1. On the lower tech side of interogations with backups, you could just use the backup as a reset button. No fancy parellel attack, just a chance to try different interogation approaches (good cop bad cop, threats of violence, religious/patriotic appeals, etc.). Heck you can claim to be an ally and iteratively improve your cover ID even learn the sign-countersign by taking the initial sign given to you in one instance and giving it in the next so the subject gives you the countersign.

    I prefer to use the threat of torture as a way to make certain organizations objects of fear for PCs and NPCs. No one wants to flip on Nine Lives because they will put at least one instance of the traitor into a virtual pit of eternal torment while selling pruned forks as disposable sex slaves to rich sadists.

    Enemies can also send a traumatized and broken infomorph in a small server to serve as a warning. While a clean backup of the subject likely exsists, what would you do with the broken copy?