makes for a more boring movie…

…but it turns out that flying a modified space shuttle of square-jawed expert miners to implant a big nuclear bomb is not the best way to deflect an asteroid. Instead, use “mirror bees”:

The best method, called “mirror bees,” entails sending a group of small satellites equipped with mirrors 30 to 100 feet wide into space to “swarm” around an asteroid and trail it, Vasile explains. The mirrors would be tilted to reflect sunlight onto the asteroid, vaporizing one spot and releasing a stream of gases that would slowly move it off course. Vasile says this method is especially appealing because it could be scaled easily: 25 to 5,000 satellites could be used, depending on the size of the rock.

Maybe this could be the sequel to WALL-E?

9 thoughts on “makes for a more boring movie…”

  1. Could make a good movie.

    You build your swarm of mirrors using an experimental technology that interfaces an ion drive to a biological computer, the excuse being that it’s easier and cheaper to build an intelligent maching by combining a machine with something that’s already intelligent; instead of figuring out how to build a brain, you use a pre-existing brain and make it do what you want.

    Since you need a swarming behavior, your source of brains is something that naturally exhibits that source of behavior; say, honeybees or something.

    Honeybees fly out and do their job, saving the earth.

    Whis is only the first part of the movie.

    Because, you see, once we launch something in deep space and its done its job, we forget it; life moves on and the Voyagers continue to drive on out to deep space.

    Except these aren’t just any old space probes. They’re intelligent. So they’ll Do Something.

    And there’s your movie: Frankenstein meets Deep Space One.

  2. Awesome! Reminds me of that Lobsters short story, too.

    you know, now that I think about it, this also reminds me of some scifi book I read recently about using squid as space explorers, but I cant remember which it was. It was fairly recent. argh …

  3. Ya know, the more I think about this, the more promising it seems. But I think it’d need to be a book; a movie couldn’t do it justice.

    Here’s the setup: Sky surveys discover a comet that will destroy Earth in 25 years or so. There’s a short window in the orbit a dozen years from new in which a gentle nudge can spare Earth for the foreseeable future, but in order to get something there, we have to launch NOW.

    Because of the distances involved, the swarm can’t be controlled from the Earth; it needs to have a modest amount of on-board intelligence. The AI labs aren’t there yet; they’re close, but we don’t have time to wait. But there’s this funny guy in the back room with his Natural Intelligence machines built by combining insects and robots. He can get something going quickly enough.

    An existing space probe design is pressed into service with a few modifications; ion rockets and a bug brain box. The bugs chosen are natural swarmers, because the swarming ability can be pressed into service. Probes are stamped out, modified, and launched. But we won’t know if they’ll work for a dozen years.

    Life goes on. AI makes progress. Due to this selection, NI becomes a viable technology and progresses. In a dozen years, there’s a ferocious commercial rivalry between AI, Inc. and NI, Inc. for the future of technology. NI is smart and robust, but since they weren’t designed you don’t *really* know what they’re going to do; this is worked around by control boxes descended from the primitive ones used in the space bugbots. AI is smart and you know what it’s going to do, but it’s fragile; too far out of its design parameters and it breaks down.

    Into the middle of this bitter rivalry comes the arrival of the space bugbots to the asteroid. Things go off without a hitch and Earth is saved. NI Inc. wins the commercial battle, AI Inc. folds and the technology collects dust; it’s only of interest to esoteric grad students at engineering schools.

    Since the mission is accomplished, the space bugbots are forgotten and life goes on. The founder of NI Inc. dies a wealthy, happy man. Our fighter planes are now flown by bird brains. Elephant brains drive our trucks cross country.

    But although the space bugbots have been forgotten, they are not dead. They’re still out there, they just no longer have a mission. Beyond, that is, building a hive, finding flowers, and reproducing. Reproducing? Sure. Life Finds a Way. And perhaps the original space probe pressed into service with minor modifications was designed to mine asteroids, refine the ore, and return finished products to Earth.

    A few more decades pass and now humans are exploring the Solar System. Building space colonies. Moving beyond the confines of the Earth.

    But They Are Not Alone.

  4. Oh yeah. Forgot a couple of minor details.

    About the same time the bugbots arrive at the asteroid, there’s an accident involving some sort of AI machine resulting in major loss of life. Ultimately, this is traced to a misplaced semicolon. So NI, Inc. wins the battle because it comes down to “We Saved the Earth” vs “Oops! Sorry ‘Bout That”.

    Although NI can’t be completely controlled, it never turns out to be a big problem until the space voyagers encounter the bugbots. The occasional elephant-brained truck going on a rampage never really happens more frequently than the occasional accident due to a misplaced semicolon, so to the average person it’s not clear that one technology is “better” than the other. Yeah, the PETA nuts protested the NI, but they’re nuts anyway, so all they can do is keep open a small niche for the study of AI.

  5. PETA is ultimately defeated by pointing out that the brain is kept alive. NI Inc. forces PETA to decide whether an animal’s brain is more important than its body. Eventually, the saner portion of PETA relents when NI Inc. ensures that the brain removal and encapsulation is humane and the animals involve don’t feel pain due the procedure (they can, of course, still feel pain due to sensors on the robot, but that’s just a status report no different from when an animal receives bona-fide pain).

    Disposing of old, obsolete NI equipment remains a thorn in the side of NI, Inc., however.

  6. “the saner portion of PETA”

    truly, a fictional future 🙂

    Seriously, this is an awesome outline. We should flesh this out more as a collaborative project.

  7. Well, I don’t know how many more ideas I have…

    It strikes me that the reason the bug part of the bugbots can reproduce is that the primitive NI technology at the beginning doesn’t allow for the actual *extraction* of brains; instead, the brain is merely severed from most of its connection with the body and wired up to the circuitry. The body still supplies basic life support for the brain and therefore remains intact. The bug therefore still has all of its “equipment”, if you get my drift.

    Perhaps it somehow becomes important that AI technology is neglected when NI wins the commercial battle. Maybe it’s difficult to build a rad-hard NI, so when the bugbots arrive at the asteroid not all of them have survived the journey and it’s not clear whether enough made it to do the job until they succeed. The push of humanity out to space to meet the bugbot descendants is delayed because they have to catch up on the AI technology to build the spaceships. This gives the bugbots more time to breed and build hives all over the moons of the outer planets.

  8. Meh. The rad-hard thing is lame; it doesn’t work because all you’d have to do is put the NI inside the spaceship where the people are.

    Maybe we can save the moral about the dangers of monoculture for the disappointing ending of the final book in the trilogy…

  9. Although the subplot might be saved by the safety issue. Bird brains flying passengers around Earth isn’t a problem, because you can include psychological evaluations in the routine maintenance. But what do you do if you’re a few years away from home and your dolphin brained mission computer starts going all “I’m sorry, Dave” on you? No, if you’re going to lock yourself into a tube for a decade or two, you *really* need to know what your mission computer is thinking. And you can always include a few programmers in the crew to deal with misplaced semicolons…

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