Mature nanotech weapons
From Wise Nano
This page is for discussing offensive and defensive technologies, strategies, countermeasures, in a future with reasonably-mature molecular manufacturing available to both attackers and defenders.
Important questions include:
- Will offense or defense be more powerful?
- Will the average human need up-to-date defensive technologies, the way computers need anti-virus software today (and usually don't have it)?
See "Is there a superweapon?" for discussion of short-term scenarios where one side has molecular manufacturing and the other side doesn't. The question there is: Is there a weapon (or weapons system) that can give a country/group an overwhelming military advantage vs. today's state-of-the-art weapons?
See Ultimate Weapons for discussion of whether the concept of ultimate weapons is intrinsically dangerous and misleading.
(Moved here from "Is there a superweapon?" by Chris Phoenix, CRN 15:45, 2 Nov 2004 (CST) since this is a longer-term scenario.)
(A short story...)
Jack was about to take a bite out of the hotdog he'd just bought off the street vendor when he was collared. There was a quick tap on the back of his neck instantly followed by the sensation of something wrapping lightly around his neck and a low snick as the collar permanently joined its ends. The hotdog vendor didn't even notice, it happened so fast. And he wouldn't notice now either - Jack's new collar immediately blended invisibly against his skin, and dragonfly wings dissolved in a small puff of dust behind his neck.
His stomach twisted in cold shock. How had it gotten through his defensive cloud - he had the latest design update from the LiveFree group. The thing should have been swarmed and neutralized before it got within a meter of him. But that was water under the bridge now.
The vendor gave him an odd look as he threw the hotdog away untasted. So who had him? What would they want? He knew from the news that he need only ask. As he walked shakily away, he quietly gasped out "Collar ID?". Instantly the small-AI in the collar responded, its voice slightly tinny as if it had not quite finished integrating its audio transducer into his jawbone. "Jihad NorAm greets you, recruit. Allah has blessed you with the opportunity to serve. Reject his blessings in any way, and you will instantly be slain. For now, you will continue living your worthless life as usual until called upon. Do you understand?"
"Yes", sighed the new slave-soldier glumly. "I understand..."
Directed to its target by another collar-slave, the collar is programmed with the latest anti-penetration countermeasures purchased from the 'l33t m4f!4. Any attempt to tamper with or remove the collar will cause the limited on-board AI to trigger the high energy microbomb in the collar to irreparably shatter and burn out the victim's brain. Refusal to obey any orders will have the same result. Collars can communicate when in close proximity, using low power directed optical signalling to relay orders - two slaves are simply directed to a seemingly random place at the same time.
Once captured, new slaves are quickly put to work "recruiting". Typically a new slave recruitment target is a trusted friend or family member of the attacker, to make scamming through defenses easier. (In Jack's case, it was a former lover whose access he had sentimentally failed to sufficiently deprecate. She targeted the new collar on him, and brushed through his defenses without triggering an alarm reaction.) Whole families are captured, to minimize chances of foolish escape attempts or exposure.
Another slave job is monitoring and snitching on other slaves - with spot checks by the master organization, and "educational demonstration" executions that leave the slaves uncertain how much the AI in their collar can detect and how much they are being monitored by humans. In this, it emulates the practices of a police state - creating conditions under which a collar slave can trust no one.
Objections and Countermeasures
This device assumes a rather high level of nanotech. Not just manufacturing, but as you note, on-board AI. It's not clear in such a scenario what would be the use of human slaves, when robot slaves would have higher physical performance and faster reaction times.
From Jack's point of view, the collar *might* be a superweapon--though I bet ways to disable it would be figured out pretty quickly. But it is not a superweapon in the sense of providing a combatant organization an overwhelming force advantage with no effective defense. It takes far too long to spread. It has to work through essentially unaugmented humans. If it became a serious threat to society, it could be countered pretty easily. (Lasers targeted by image recognition could burn it out of the air.)
One countermeasure might be a "poison pill" defense - I have a device surgically implanted, that I can't turn off, that broadcasts its presence to potential "Collar-ers". Upon detecting that I have been Collared, it will broadcast a record of the Collaring event with my location and identity to the police. If I am collared anyhow, it will record any interactions with other Collared slaves and broadcast the Collared slaves' images to the police as well. By destroying the covert nature of the attack, the weapon would be largely countered, though it might cause some deaths. Unfortunately, this defense is only effective if Collaring has already become common enough that people "take the pill". That would imply that the Collar had already been used with some success somewhere. And of course, this doesn't do much to defend one if citizens are Collared by their own government.
The availability of cellular sized machines for medical purposes could easily be modified to act as a destructive technology. A micro-submarine capable of injecting materials into cells would be able to deliver genetic material with 'novel properties' such as unstable reproduction and rapid genetic mutations/recombinations to avoid the body's immune system response. To overcome the possibility of similar medical devices already within the host, the micro-sub could come attached with its own defensive systems intended to destroy any mechanical system (other than themselves and the sub with which they were previously attached) or immune system responders (white blood cells).
The idea that the replicator could be used as the weapon is reiterated here, the pseudo-viruses need not be in large quantities to fatally infect the host; the effects of one may spawn the replication of an army of deadly replicating cells.
- The 'replicating cells' would be essentially biotech, not nanotech. So it's not clear that the initiator would be nanotech rather than biotech. Biotech weapons could be horrific, but nanotech shouldn't be blamed for them. See Talk:Mature_nanotech_weapons for discussion of this.
If an attacker were able to engineer these weapons to effect only specific gene sequences (or become dormant in the presence of certain genes), we have a possible tool of genocide; infect an entire country, various countries, or a continent that resists your unquestionable supremacy and use a pre-programmed timer to annihilate all infected people simultaneously and then self-destruct the micro-subs within minutes of infection to ensure that the domino effect has in fact been initiated and then rendered untraceable. Another benefit of having these systems self-destruct is that they are then made harmless to the attacker who is too far away to be reached by their own weapons.
Objections and Countermeasures
With the availability of cellular sized medical devices comes the possibility of different responses to mechanical or cellular attackers. Various systems of response would undoubtedly be more likely to destroy intruders than a single system acting on its own. One such system could be designed to destroy cells that don't comply with the host's genetic profile (in conjunction with white blood cells), another system might seek objects that don't have a semi-permeable membrane or that don't have a recognizable 'shape' (or they have a shape that is prohibited). Still others might destroy metallic systems that are not already supposed to be there, or they might recognize different energy generation systems, emissions, interactions, etc.
It seems that such weapons would necessarily need countermeasures already within the host. If the host wishes to survive they may need to be 'immunized' against specific types of attacks, which would likely evolve faster than their countermeasures.