Hacking the Cortex: Actually about Cortexes.

Cortex Banner

For the next few installments of Hacking the Cortex, I’m going to be changing gears and talking about the IKRPG. Odds are, this kind of random change of pace will happen in completely unpredictable ways based on my awfully fickle moods.

The topic I want to look at for the next few articles is warjack behaviour. While there is certainly a strong element of “a wizard did it” with regard to the functioning of warjack cortices, I always prefer a chunky scientific core to my magic – I tend to assume a certain amount of physical realism when fireballs are being thrown, and thanks to my training I’m totally incapable of discarding psychological realism when sentient characters are involved (Don’t expect my orcs to be mere monsters. Orcs are people too!)

As such, I’ve been putting quite a bit of thought into how warjacks might think, learn, and behave.

Warjacks are probably the most interesting characters in the Iron Kindgoms in my eyes. If I could, I’d play one. And I’d speak entirely in noises generated by a steam train soundboard.

They are artificial intelligences, so my first thought was to treat them like “real world” AIs – that is, as computers with codified routines to determine their behaviour. But in a discussion about “reprogramming” cortexes for use in trains over on the big boards, someone posted this from Doug Seacat

Cortexes are really nothing like computers. Warjacks can’t really perform some of the simplest mathematical equations done by a calculator, yet can intuitively grasp the physics of the world by similar instincts as we use when catching a ball or throwing one. They are most certainly not adding machines. They are in some ways far more extraordinary and also less systematic. They are simulated brains, not calculating machines executing lines of code. They are more trained than programmed. Cortexes are best at controlling things that approximate bodies, but not so great at many of the things we use computers for.

Tests with cortex controlled boats demonstrated a problem of them trying to slam and throw other boats. Didn’t work out very well.”

This paragraph totally blew my mind. It made warjacks orders of magnitude (Pop POP!) more interesting to me.


Because now they sound like organisms. They suddenly seem to behave in ways that are infinitely more organic and human.  In this little paragraph, Doug invoked the two psychological theories that are currently occupying the whole of my Research Brain.

Needless to say, the geekout was fairly epic.

The first parts that drew my attention were

Warjacks can’t really perform some of the simplest mathematical equations done by a calculator, yet can intuitively grasp the physics of the world by similar instincts as we use when catching a ball or throwing one”


Cortexes are best at controlling things that approximate bodies”

Be still by beating heart. What does this mean? This means that warjack cognition is embodied. Embodied cognition (in its radical form) is probably the most exciting development in psychology in the 21st century. It’s… hard to explain in one line, but in short, the idea is that the body and the environment and the brain are a dynamic, coupled system which assembles itself into a task-solving machine that runs on dynamic, on-line perceptual information. And it rejects the idea of “mental representations” being a neccesary part of cognition. I’ve only discovered it in the past year, so all of my thoughts on it are new and excitable. I’m going to talk about it at length in a fortnight’s time, because I think it might take that long to assemble my thoughts into digestible form without wandering off on tangents about all sorts of things.

The second part that drew my attention

They are more trained than programmed.”

What’s that, more opportunity to talk about Learning and Skinner and Sidman and…?

Yeah, I’m on board. That will be the focus of next week’s article.

But you might be asking yourself “why do I care”?

I think that giving your character’s warjack (on an NPC warjack) a good personality is one of the things that really makes the IK setting sing. Warjacks are what make IKRPG not just another fantasy setting, and as such they deserve extra attention. I’m really motivated to put a lot of thought into how they might see the world, interact with it, and most importantly, develop. The bits about Rociante’s personality emerging over generations are amongst my favourite bits of fluff ever, even though it’s only a handful of sentences.

I’m looking forward to this next run of articles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the inevitable result is that I end up running an IKRPG game this summer to put it all into practice… Which will probably add a whole lot more grist to the mill for fluff focused Hacking the Cortex articles if you guys enjoy them – let me know!

Te Nosce,

Anthony/ I_Avian

Read more from I_Avian and the rest of the Overload Online crew at threediceoverload.wordpress.com.
We’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

Author: I_Avian

Anthony began his Warmachine journey on the raggedy edge between Mark 1 and Mark 2, playing just enough Mk1 to be certain that Mk2 was a good thing, and just enough field test models to lament what might have been if Mulg had remained at 11pts and Stalkers could still Leap. Some of his early trials and tribulations were documented on Lost Hemisphere, which was also home to a short “Storytime with I_Avian” series which now continues on Overload Online. Anthony channels his constant urge to talk about Psychology into a series of articles about “the mind game” aspect of Warmachine and Hordes. For a brief moment in time, he was a Hunters Grim player, but WTC duties have brought him back into the cold, cold, embrace of Cryx.

Share This Post On

To discuss this article, please visit the Muse on Minis forums.