RE: Nanotech Arms Race

Billy Brown (
Thu, 28 Jan 1999 18:39:44 -0600

> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Nanobots can simulate robots any time, and the simulations
> can do things that blunt robots can't.

and I wrote:
> Yes, but that only gives you a gross mechanical approximation of a larger
> robot. If you want any kind of specialized equipment (and you usually
> will), your nanobots can't simulate it directly.

> Give me a day or two to work up a good example of the kind of
> system I'm talking about, and let's do a comparison of capabilities.

So here's where I put up:

Let's consider a robotic weapon system designed to take and hold territory on the surface of a terrestrial planet - the RGCS (Robotic Ground Control System). Its mission is to defeat opposing devices from the nanoscale up to a mass of a few tens of tons, terraform the battlefield after the fighting is over, and then maintain a watch for lingering traces of hostile nanotech. It operates as part of a complex armed service which includes aircraft, orbital fire support systems, and who knows what else - I suggest for the sake of simplicity that we stick with comparing it to other devices that operate in the same environment.

The RGCS is about the size of a modern tank, with a similar mass. Most of its outer surface is covered by a layer of armor a couple of inches thick. It is powered by a small nuclear reactor, so it seldom needs to refuel. It carries a general-purpose nanofabricator, and a variety of specialized fabricators designed to quickly mass-produce specific devices (see below). It can use these systems to reconfigure its internal structure as needed - I think 10-15 minutes for a major alteration is pretty reasonable.

The RGCS can deploy stubby legs and walk at a modest speed, or grow treads for faster movement across relatively flat terrain. It can also fly at subsonic speeds by deploying large arrays of micro-scale ducted fans (they look like very thin wings).

The RGCS is protected against macro-scale attacks by a substantial layer of diamondoid armor. The protective value is increased by micro-scale inclusions of depleted uranium, and probably a variety of other materials chosen to make it as opaque as possible. The surface is covered by thin alternating layers of various non-reactive materials to improve its resistance to disassemblers.

Active Defenses vs Nanobots:
The RGCS mounts several high-power UV spotlights, which are used to kill diffuse swarms of nanobots out to a range of several hundred meters. Its surface is protected by a sprinkler system loaded with a variety of corrosive fluids, and by a swarm of defensive nanobots. All openings in the armor are guarded by micro-scale UV weapons and swarms of defensive nanobots. The interior is patrolled by micro-scale sensor platforms, which can call on a reserve force of micro- and nano-scale combat robots to deal with infiltrators.

Active Defenses vs Macro-Scale Attacks:
The RGCS mounts an array of point defense lasers for destroying projectiles and small robots. Their effective range should be at least several hundred meters against anything complex enough to be a threat.

Offensive Systems (Short-Ranged):
The RGCS mounts a large particle beam weapon for destroying targets that have enough armor to resist the lasers. If all goes well it should never be needed, since its range is limited to LOS - but it pays to be prepared.

Offensive Systems (Long-Ranged):
A force of several hundred small aircraft (total volume of a few cubic inches each) is based inside the Offensive Systems RGCS. They are capable of supersonic flight for short periods, and can be equipped with a wide variety of weapons (miniature missiles, lasers, conventional explosives, microbot and nanobot swarms, antimatter bombs). Their usual mode of operation is to irradiate the target area with tiny antimatter bombs, then drop swarms of nanobots to mop up. The RGCS manufactures these aircraft, of course.

I could go on with production, communication and reconnaissance capabilities, but I suspect you see where this is all going. What do you think?

Billy Brown, MCSE+I