Monday, October 7, 2013

Secret Project 0

Date: May 17, 2098
To: Commanding Officer, DARPA R&D
Re: Project Proposal - Autonomous Cooperating Nannite Weapon System

The proposed system will consist of approximately one trillion (10^12) potentially self-replicating microscopic robotic devices with communication and cooperative capabilities.

It is theorized that a critical mass of about 300 billion (3 x 10^11) communicating nodes will produce a high level consciousness that can provide system level command and control for the overall system. Experimental data thus far shows that around 50 billion (5 x 10^10) simple nodes cause the spontaneous emergence of a simple animal awareness that 1) seeks self-preservation, and 2) learns from and responds to its environment.

A basic nanotech computer/robot with communication capability has been developed which can replicate itself from the environment. Replication requires between five minutes and an hour, depending on the richness of resources in the local environment. By creating a single such nannite and allowing it to reproduce itself, a 50 billion count network of nannites is generated in between three hours and three days. Up to now, the nannites have been initialized with a maximum count of 5 x 10^10 so when that limit is reached, they stop reproducing.

A simple enhancement of the current system is to raise the limit on the number of nodes in the system. Current scientific understanding indicates that the average human brain contains about 8.5 x 10^10 neurons. Currently available nannites are not as sophisticated as a human neuron, but it is believed that a larger number of nodes can yield a similar level of consciousness and intelligence.

Authorization is requested to increase the current limit in steps from 50 billion to 200 billion as a test. This should allow assessment of the rate at which consciousness increases relative to the increment in the number of nodes in the network.

Friday, September 20, 2013


He glanced down. Bad idea. Five hundred feet of empty space yawned beneath his bootheels. Dizzy, he quickly pulled his eyes away from the swaying spruce trees so far below.

He looked up, assessing the strength of the vines in his hands. They had slipped a bit when he went over the edge, then had tightened up and held his weight... so far. His grip and arms were strong. He could hold on for hours if he had to. The real question was how well the vines were anchored in the trees above.

He knew he could climb back up, hand over hand, as long as doing so didn't dislodge a vine from its anchor point and drop him into the canyon. And as long as the grizzly that had chased him over the edge wasn't still bearing a grudge. As if to answer his question, a set of claws appeared at the edge of the cliff, followed by the bear's snout. The bear regarded him sourly for a long moment, as if to say, "No fair!"

Looking at the cliff in front of him, he wondered if he could climb down the cliff-face to the bottom. Now the bear was reaching out over the abyss, trying to reach the bundle of vines to reel him in. "Quit that!" he yelled.

The bear paused and stared at him again. The message in the look was clear: "You don't get a vote." The bear reached again but the vines were just out of range.

* * *

The sun was just coming up as he opened the flap of his tent and looked out at snow-capped mountains marching away into the distance. The frigid air made him hustle to get his camp stove going for some heat. He quickly cooked and ate a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal, and fruit, then cleaned up the camp. Today was the day. He had to be ready.

The equipment was all set up. All he had to do was get the time right, take the pictures, and get out without being detected. Should be a snap. The convoy was scheduled to pass on the road below in two hours. Even with a nice long walk, he had plenty leeway to be in place well before the scheduled time, just in case they got fancy and went by early. He couldn't afford to mess this job up. Antonio was already peeved with him for foul-ups on his last two expeditions. And this boss was not the sort one wanted pissed at one. More than one colleague had already paid the ultimate sacrifice to Antonio's wrath.

He headed south along the back side of the ridge, the crest screening him from the road. After a mile, he came across the scuppernong bushes and paused to reinforce his breakfast. He had eaten about a dozen of the berries and was thinking it was probably time to head back when, from the direction he had come, he heard the sounds of a large animal moving through the underbrush.

At first, he thought it was just a mountain goat but the glimpse of mottled brown fur made him realize he was well and truly screwed. It was a grizzly bear and it was between him and his camp. The bear didn't seem to be aware of him yet, so he eased on down the path away from it, moving even further from his camp. Suddenly, getting back felt urgent. The bear continued moving his direction. He continued to retreat, cursing quietly to himself.

The bear seemed to be moving faster. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that it was looking right at him. It may not have been aware of him at first, but it clearly was now and was intent on catching up and examining this strange creature running away from it. He moved faster.

There was no way he could out-run a grizzly bear. They can do thirty miles an hour. He'd have to find some way of putting himself out of the bear's reach if he didn't want to submit to the up close and personal examination the bear seemed intent on administering.

As he broke into a jog, he noticed that the bear didn't seem to be trying to catch up but just pacing him. He saw the trees and vines hanging over the cliff up ahead. He could've sworn he felt the wind of the bear's paw swiping at him as he leaped over the cliff grabbing at the vines.

* * *

At first the vines dropped him toward the canyon like a bungee cable, but after ten feet or so, they caught and slowed his fall. There was a series of sickening lurches as the vines tightened their grip on the trees above, then stopped slipping. He found himself hanging twelve feet below the edge of the cliff and six feet away from it.

The bear was still pawing the air trying to catch the vines but not quite reaching. He reflected on what a good thing it is that bears don't use tools. 

He looked at the canyon wall again. Climbing down would not get him back to his camp in time to take the pictures, but neither would climbing up the vine rope to face the bear. He was stuck.