Trope-a-Day: Weapon of Mass Destruction

Weapon of Mass Destruction: Per the Ley Accords (i.e., the Laws and Customs of War), in descending order of aargh, you’ve got star-killing weapons (nova bombs, including specifically star-targeted strangelet bombs, twist-pinch bombs, and most hypothetical causal weapons), planet-killing weapons (large/fast kinetic impacters, including asteroid drops, planet-targeted strangelet bombs, and relativistic k-kill weapons, extremely large [strategic-plus] energy-burst weapons, including nucleonic and antimatter warheads, and self-replicating planetary-scale war machines [berserker probes]), and uncontrollable self-replicating infoweapons and memetic weapons (that affect systems beyond their legitimate targets, propagate themselves widely across the extranet, and lie dormant in archives to come out and kill innocent people ten thousand years later), and ecocidal weapons (merely large [strategic-plus] energy-burst weapons or ongoing bombardments with same, general bombardments with small kinetic impactors [smaller asteroid drops, de-orbited satellites/stations, or orbital k-kill systems], uncontrolled self-replicating weapons [autonomous goo, unchained bioweapons, technophages, and clanking replicators], global ecoweapons and phage weapons, or the use of persistent ecoweapons and bioweapons, salting nucleonic weapons [say, cobalt bombs], or chemical weapons likely to permanently damage or accumulate in ecosystems).

Using any of the first three types anywhere, or the fourth on a garden world, will get your entire polity blasted and governance wiped out even if it takes the use of otherwise prohibited technologies to do it; these are technologies that eliminate habitable worlds – and those are really goddamned expensive – or tend to run beyond any reasonable control.  Ergo, they’re the galaxy’s primary do-not-fuck-with list.

Mere tactical-to-strategic nucleonic/antimatter weapons, non-persistent chemical and biological weapons, incendiary weapons, cerebroergetic weapons, and nanoweapons are not covered by this treaty, or considered the equivalent of WMDs.  Not enough mass.  They’re all fair game.

Questions: Persistent Memetic Weapons and Machine Learning

1.  Referring specifically to The Laws and Customs of War:  What exactly is the difference between persistent and non-persistent memetic / infoweapons?  It’s obvious that the big distinction is inherent in the name, but, to be more specific, how to the people in charge of using such weapons ensure that they are properly “infodegradable”?

Very carefully.

Or, slightly more seriously, this is one of those occasions on which I invoke the “I just write about it, I don’t actually have a complete science of memetics stored away” clause. But I can safely say that there are lots of very clever people engaged in threading the needle between “Oops, our economic sabotage meme-weapon got a little bit out of hand and caused the Great Depression” (acceptable collateral damage) and “Oops, our economic sabotage meme-weapon got entirely out of hand and now half a dozen systems have to put up with bloody Marxists for the next half-millennium” (very much not, and the hearings will go on forever).

(Infoweapons, by contrast, are analogous to computer viruses, etc., and as such it’s just a matter of making sure you got your termination conditions and fail-safes set up right.)

2.  Regarding Powers as Programs and Skilled But Naive:  On the one hand, part of me thinks that, if you’re able to trade the raw skill itself by mnemonesis, the same should be able to apply to the experience as well, since that in itself could conceivably be boiled down to the knowledge of “what works and what doesn’t” and the memories that knowledge is associated with, and that, given the setting’s information technology abilities, these experiences wouldn’t be that much harder to swap than the raw skill knowledge itself.

(On the other hand, while typing that out, I came to realize that the idea that “to play as a virtuoso, you still need to practice like one” might still apply in practice even with that caveat I just mentioned:  In an almost evolutionary sense, the skills of yesterday’s virtuoso become the baseline for today’s practice, so that to be acknowledged as a virtuoso now you have to push out your skills even further than before.  Is that basically how it ends up working out in practice?)

The Doctor Who must be seeping into my brain, because the first thing I want to say here is:

“People assume that the mind is analogous to a computer with an attached database, but actually – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… thinky-winky… stuff.”

…in any case.

The first problem here is that experiences are really problematic to swap. That’s because a very large chunk of the mind (the “psyche”, or “incrementing memory string” in the local jargon) is your experiences and the way they shape your mind.

Remember, importing the incrementing memory string diffs is what you do to merge forks of yourself back together again. Importing a whole bunch of someone else’s experience-memories will change your identity – it’s hard enough to do this with your own without running into nasty cross-link problems – which at best will be enough to cross the legal threshold and turn into a fancy way to commit suicide and become someone new, and at worst is merely the fast track to committing suicide and become institutionalizably schizophrenic all in one move.

(There is such a thing as exomemory technology, but while that lets you experience someone else’s memory from their point of view, it doesn’t actually patch it into your mind as if it were your own. You can only learn from those what you would learn from watching the violin prodigy, not from being the violin prodigy.)

The second and bigger one, touching directly on the thinky-winkyness, is that the mind is encoded in what we can call a holistic, associative manner. Everything is interconnected with everything else, and it’s those complex interconnections that make (a) it very hard to comprehend, and (b) everything go smooth.

It’s easy – for values of easy equal to ‘requiring extremely sophisticated cognitive science’ – to scribe raw data into the brain as fact-memory. It’s rather harder, but possible, to encode skill-memories, and gets even harder when you’re talking about the need to go poking around in the cerebellum and all manner of other specialized areas to teach them what they need to know to go with the skill-memories, and that in turn becomes a dozen times more complicated when we have to get into how these interact with hormones, other glandular effects, and that any given body will not respond in the same manner as any other given body even before we start talking about neomorphic shapes.  But it’s possible.

Where it gets impossibly hard is in editing in all the millions of little subtle connections to every other part of the contents of your brain that would have been there had you learnt it in the conventional manner. And without those – and this is a poor analogy – you’re in the situation of someone who tried learning karate from a textbook. Or someone unpracticed with an English degree trying to write poetry for the first time.

(I mean, you can still turn in an expert-level performance, since you have the skills, but that’s not the same thing as having them fully integrated into your self. Like the trope write-up says, it’s about integration and synthesis, about building all those connections that let you do things without having to try to do things.)

Now. That all being said – this is a technological restriction. If you have access to all the powers and power of a Power, in the Vingean sense, and thus are or have a friendly mind which is capable of not only comprehending yours in every single aspect and fine detail, then they can re-envision you as one possible person you would have been had you known these things all along and spool that straight to output. It’s easy for a Power to do that. They write software of greater-than-human-mind complexity every day of the week and twice on Nyxis.

But the gods are very busy, and have better things to do than come running every time someone wants to have learnt kung fu.


Trope-a-Day: Rape, Pillage, and Burn

Rape, Pillage and Burn: Happens in various places with various less-disciplined armies, much as it ever does in history (well, probably with less rape, since there are rather more cross-species wars).

The Imperial Military Service, on the other hand, is extremely rigorous about averting this particular trope, to the point of giving any one of their own they catch playing it straight a public field execution right there (see: Kill It With Fire) and being sure to pay the market price for any materials they need to acquire locally.  (The reason being, ethics aside, that even back in the day when the Empire was going out conquering its own world, it knew perfectly well that the asset value of its conquest was very dependent on it being annexed in a not-wrecked state and with a population that at the very least hasn’t been provided with many, many reasons why they shouldn’t consider cooperation and assimilation.)

This is a military tradition now, of course, and one which they’re happy to share with anyone on the other side who forgets that War Has Rules (see: Laws and Customs of War).  Something that’s particularly important to remember if you hire one of those mercenary companies that promises to sell you the Glorious Military Traditions of Eliéra… because those may just include setting fire to commanders who seem a little too fond of atrocities.

Trope-a-Day: Private Military Contractor

Private Military Contractors: Lots of them, especially since the Laws and Customs of War in the Eldraeverse recognize mercenaries as legitimate combatants (it should be noted that the Imperial sense of honor takes no issue with fighting for money as long as you stay bought; loyalty to one’s contract is still loyalty, savvy?), and there isn’t any particular rule about them only being able to sell their services to their host polity, or indeed, only to a polity, either.

The grandmother of them all, of course, is the Mega Corp Ultimate Argument Risk Control, ICC, which both supplies its own military and security forces, and brokers the services of other mercenary companies.  It can supply everything from local security (down to bouncers), public police services, regular mercenary companies (up to army-sized), privateer starships, naval task forces, and even strategic defense solutions.

But there are plenty of smaller (but still large enough to be effective – see NGO Superpower) mercenary outfits around, especially out in the Expansion Regions.  If you need to hire some force, you will have no trouble finding someone to sell it to you.

Oh, yes, and they’re called mercenaries. We don’t do euphemisms.

Trope-a-Day: Combat Referee

Combat Referee: The Presidium of the Conclave of Galactic Polities, who like galactic stability, but know that they can’t – even on those occasions when they all agree – eliminate all the wars within their ambit.  They can, on the other hand, keep wars relatively small and prevent anyone from going “too far” by enforcing the Laws and Customs of War with a ready and a heavy hand.