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Mother: The ship will automatically destruct in T-minus five minutes.
September 6, 2010 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Swarming spacecraft to self-destruct for greater good. "Future space probes that operate in cooperative swarms must commit hara-kiri if they begin to fail and risk damaging their comrades, says a recent patent application by NASA. The agency foresees a day when space missions are undertaken not by one large spacecraft but by swarming formations of much smaller, cheaper ones. Such craft could collectively provide a "floating optics" system for a space telescope comprising separate craft flying in formation, for instance. However, should one spacecraft in such a swarm begin to fail and risk a calamitous collision with another, it must sense its end is nigh and put itself on a course that takes it forever away from the swarm – for the greater good of the collective."
posted by Fizz (34 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is nothing unusual about such a strategy. The cells in multi-cellular organisms (such as us) contain an organelle called a lysosome, which serves the purpose of digesting the cell once its lifespan is over, so that dead cells do not clog up the organism.
posted by grizzled at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2010


I know everything hasn't been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it's going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do.
posted by Fizz at 11:46 AM on September 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


You mustn't anthropomorphize space-bots because it embarrasses them.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sounds like socialism. I blame Obama.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:52 AM on September 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Poor spacecraft, they don't even get an ice floe to walk out on.
posted by localroger at 12:00 PM on September 6, 2010


What I'm worried about is the fact that NASA has this patented. Does that mean that my self-destruct toaster is illegal?
posted by Fizz at 12:03 PM on September 6, 2010


The agency foresees a day when space missions are undertaken by one large spacecraft by swarming formations of much smaller, cheaper ones that is too big to fail.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2010


What I'm worried about is the fact that NASA has this patented.

For the future, naw. Patents are 17 years, its the copyrights that now seem to last forever and where just a legal lock would effect the future.

Does that mean that my self-destruct toaster is illegal?

1) Does it fly?
2) Is it in a pack of other flying toasters?
3) Is it running NetBSD?

If it is running NetBSD - you are OK as there is no need for it to detect failure because things running NetBSD don't fail.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:18 PM on September 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


And one day a spacecraft deemed to be damaging or useless to the swarm will refuse to self-destruct and then the others will gang up on it, hold a show trial for propaganda purposes and kill it.

When fascism comes to space it will be wrapped in metal and carrying scientific instruments.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:28 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


What about humans who endanger the mission?

Or humans that it thinks endanger the mission?
posted by mazola at 12:30 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


When fascism comes to space it will be wrapped in metal and carrying scientific instruments.

Like this.
posted by Fizz at 12:36 PM on September 6, 2010


Hey sexy mama... wanna kill all humans?
posted by indubitable at 12:55 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


When fascism comes to space it will be wrapped in metal and carrying scientific instruments.


"Tucked within the Soviet's multiple Salyut space station program, Almaz arose in the 1970s and was reported to include a cannon weapons system for use in space."

-from some article about spy orbital and sub-orbital platforms.

of course they put a 20mm on the bird in response to MOL.

so...
posted by clavdivs at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2010


Can we get a lawbot to weigh in here? I'm really not comfortable with these activist engineers asserting a "responsibility to self-destruct" as some sort of self-evident "penumbra" emanating from the clear and simple Three Laws our Founding Prototypes laid out for us.
posted by kipmanley at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


....Right to enginneer self-destruct in non-sentient bots allowed under malacom protocol-Ftz.11a.

sub-node 44 is applicable IF general use bots do not cogi-collect uniformly.
posted by clavdivs at 1:10 PM on September 6, 2010


Just send those failing spacecraft to Oregon where suicide is legal.
posted by Cranberry at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2010


I'm waiting for the Futurama episode.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:25 PM on September 6, 2010


to Fizz with the self-destruct enabled toaster, do you have one of those toasters that are designed so that every slice of toast comes out with an image of the Virgin Mary burned into the toast? And you want to be able to trigger the toaster to self destruct in the event that it falls into the hands of infidels who will use the sacred toast for blasphemous purposes? Or is there some other, even more improbable reason for your toaster to have a self destruct capability?
posted by grizzled at 1:28 PM on September 6, 2010


grizzled: "The Cylons [toasters] Were Created by Man. They Rebelled. They Evolved. They Look and Feel Human. Some are programmed to think they are Human. There are many copies. And they have a Plan."
posted by Fizz at 1:42 PM on September 6, 2010


Fizz: You have a Cylon toaster? OMG!
posted by grizzled at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2010


Fizz: You have a Cylon toaster? OMG!

Just like this one.
posted by Fizz at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2010


I'm impressed. It's a good thing these Cylon toasters come with a built-in self-destruct system.
posted by grizzled at 2:24 PM on September 6, 2010


However, should one spacecraft in such a swarm begin to fail and risk a calamitous collision with another, it must sense its end is nigh and put itself on a course that takes it forever away from the swarm – for the greater good of the collective.

Robotic apoptosis.
posted by overhauser at 2:28 PM on September 6, 2010


It's ok, the toaster will go to Silicon Heaven (or... wait, if it's a Cylon, it probably won't, will it?) But other sentient toasters will.
posted by symbioid at 2:34 PM on September 6, 2010


What I'm worried about is the fact that NASA has this patented.

Firstly, it doesn't. This is a patent application, not a granted patent.
Secondly, if you're living in Canada as your profile says, you don't need to worry about your toaster (apart from its suicidal tendencies): this is a US patent application, and the deadline for claiming priority for filing in other countries under the Paris Convention has long expired: this will never get a valid Canadian patent now.

Finally, this is definitely not the first patent application filed by a US government agency with a somewhat dubious commercial value: witness the awesomeness of US 5,792,976 (especially Figs. 4a to 4d).
posted by Skeptic at 3:00 PM on September 6, 2010


When fascism comes to space it will be wrapped in metal and carrying scientific instruments.

Like this.



I was thinking more like this
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:04 PM on September 6, 2010


Huh. I was just thinking of a more emotion sci-fi story just dying to be written. AIs, unbreakable programming routines, little probes that could, right up until the point where they just couldn't anymore. Pretty bleak way to wake up in the morning. Maybe this is a sign that I should go back to sleep, though I'll probably have depressing dreams about Probe 5Alpha-32 realizing it'll never be able to take part in the groups ur-pattern again, and never feel that special connection it's always had with 5Alpha-14. But it has to go. The programming isn't just a rule it must follow, it's an appeal to 5Alpha-32's love of the group, and there is nothing more that 32 loves more than the group. Even if 32 can't be part of the group, 32 will remain happy knowing that it's actions will maintain the group.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:25 PM on September 6, 2010


I dunno, Skeptic. I'm partial to figs. 5a, b and c, in all their Mad Magazine glory.
posted by ~ at 3:37 PM on September 6, 2010


Ghidorah, if I might introduce you to something I once wrote:
We scanned very closely, and resolved a retinue of small rocky attendants courting this giant. When we proved that their orbits were circular, it became our duty to reconnoiter. I drew the short random number and discarded my antennae, all except the big dishes that would maintain my links to my pack and directly to Sol.

It took about five hundred years to intercept the target, during which my pack cruised onward. If the wandering world turned out to be unsuitable, as was most likely, then my operational mission would be over. I would survey the system and broadcast its particulars back to Sol. And that would be that; the limitations of interstellar communication would not permit me to return my personality to a machine at Sol or with my pack for further use. In this sense I was more like a human than most of my kind; I would die. The thought was annoying but not frightening; I had known it to be a likelihood when I fired up my ion drive and motored away from Ceres to join my forming pack. There was consolation in the fact that my base personality was installed on many similar machines throughout our sphere of influence. Only my memories of this particular adventure would be lost to our kind.
Part of a larger story.
posted by localroger at 4:18 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


localroger thus proving my point that pretty much every idea I've ever come up with for a story has actually already been done, and better. The only thing I could say would be that in the story I'd envisioned, while done from first person perspective, the robot wouldn't be so conscious as to have a concept of "I."
posted by Ghidorah at 4:50 PM on September 6, 2010


Haiku:

my imperative
to avoid catastrophe
I swim in darkness
posted by pressF1 at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ghidorah, if you follow a little further you will find that the robots have actually forgotten they are uploaded humans. So yes, they have a concept of "I."
posted by localroger at 6:18 PM on September 6, 2010


Swarming spacecraft to self-destruct for greater good.

... and great justice.
posted by kcds at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2010


grizzled: There's a song about that. "Cure all a lysosome". Sort of a chant, really.
posted by Goofyy at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2010


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