Vir's Archive

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Little Robots, Big Setting Issues


TDE is set in 2191, and considering that time point its necessary to think about nanites and their impact on the setting.  Nanites are a bit of a problem, I think.  I want to keep TDE grounded in the real world, and as I have mentioned earlier, just shy of transhumanism and the singularity.  Nanites could potentially break those goals - especially if taken to the conclusion other SF has flirted with.

Often in SF, Nanites are the stand-in for magic. They can do literally anything and represent unlimited possibilities.  They are presented as a technosoup panacea to the setting's ills.  To give credit, a lot of SF authors and writers explore some really challenging aspects to society using nanites as the leverage.  There is some cool stuff that has been done in SF, but my concern is that nanites can and would overpower TDE's other tech if allowed to run rampant as in other SF settings.

There is also the problem that I just don't see the unlimited possibilities of nanites.  I do think they will be a powerful tool -- but a cure all?  No.

The problem with nanites is their dispersed nature.  For nanites to be really useful, they will have to network with one another at a bare minimum, and likely still need wireless communication to a larger memory core to operate.  In civilian situations, this wouldn't be a problem in most cases.  Industrial and manufacturing applications seem especially likely to use nanites.  Medicene would alos really benefit in TDE with advanced nanite intervention -- heck, anything that involves lots of delicate work would be good for nanites.

For TDE, where the focus is on the military and espionage, nanites are less than ideal.  Nanites would be vulnerable to outside intervention - just like modern bluetooth is ripe for hijacking.  nanites would be too small in most cases to have the robust operating and system requirements to function only on on-board/internal processing.  As a result, nanites would have to be in near constant communication with each other to create a dispersed or hive-mind processor that builds on the community to make it more powerful than the isolated processing power of a single (tiny) nanite.  Nanites would also likely need outside communication with other computers to do ost advanced missions and applications 

In a hyper-connected world like TDE, having the equivalent of bluetooth serving as the communication process for millions of microscopic robots is a recipe for really bad news.  Nanites would be very vulnerable to malicious hacking.  Since I expect combat hackers to be a core mission for some of the PCs, the utility of nanites would be limited in a combat environment.  They would just be too vulnerable. Even non-combat applications like industry and manufacturing are probably very aware of how vulnerable nanites are to outside intervention and limit their exposure to outside contact.

With those limitations in mind, I've been brainstorming what the applications of nanites would be in TDE.  This is what I am thinking:

- Surgery: Fusing even the smallest bio-connections like nerves would be pretty routine.  Just about any wound, no matter how severe if serviced by a trained surgeon with a full suite of technology - could be solved.  Biomods and advanced cybernetics - anf complete body rewrites would all be possible due to nanites.
- Field surgery: An aerosol can full of nanites that can communicate with a portable med database would be super useful.  Really nasty wounds would still be difficult to solve in the field, but with enough time nanites could at a bare minimum stabilize the nastiness of combat injuries.
- Construction: Most industrial construction would use nanites.  They would be particularly helpful in reinforcing any defects as well as detecting those defects in the first place.
- Field repairs: If someone isnt in the middle of a firefight, nanites would be useful to help with any basic repairs.  Spray some on a broken rifle, go and do something else (like return fire) and come back a minute later to see the rifle repaired.  The key to this is to understand that in a firefight the nanites might be hacked and the rifle might not get repaired -- which is an acceptable risk for most soldiers.  Nanites would be especially useful in this application for vehicles, who could have nanites deploy to repair damages as they occur.
- Recon: Chances are at some point using nanites for reconnaissance is going to fail due to passive defenses (ECM, Black IC, active hijacking) -- but the risk/reward is pretty high.  In a situation where the recon must happen, nanites would not be the preferred tech.  Instead, hardened drones would be preferable.
- Shields.  Yup, shields.  I was thinking that capital ships would use nanites for all sorts of passive defensive applications - including orbiting around the ship to interdict incoming fire.  As combat draws close, the utility of nanites would decrease exponentially as hostile combat hackers and ECM could interdict the wireless comms needed to operate nanites.  But from a distance?  Yeah, nanites would be wonderful for reducing the ability of weapons to do damage.

The conclusions I come to reinforce the use of capital ships.  Capital ships could and would house a lot of specialized nanites, processors, and comms equipment to really make those nanites kick ass.  Between active shielding and combat repairs, capital ships would also have the resources to make nanites really useful at the large scale.  Teleoperation of nanites would maximize their utility - which would best be served aboard capital ships where multiple teleoperators could be housed and protected behind armor and long-range antennas.

So, the bottom line for nanites in TDE is that they would be super useful tools, but in combat they would have limited utility.  As an offensive weapon they would be severely limited, but in passive support roles they would come into their own.