Spore Technology

Spore Technology
Image from Steve Bowers
Spore tech release in orbit

Spore tech is most notorious for its military uses (q.v.), but is much more common in ordinary industry or research. It is frequently used where environments are hazardous and the risk that an individual unit or individual will be destroyed is high. Extreme heat, particle radiation, or strong kinetic energy such as an orbit within a planetary ring system or placement in a stormy atmosphere or hydrosphere are just a few examples of such environments. Spore tech is also used when a large number of bots, neogens or vecs is needed in very short order; in such cases they are "seeded" in large numbers into the appropriate environment. The resulting units usually produce additional spores when they are mature, usually with a very short generation time. The effect of sporetech in any case is that the population is either stable in difficult circumstances or else grows and spreads rapidly from a small number of initial units, according to the design of whoever deployed the devices in the first place.

A "spore" is a biotech, dry nanotech, or syntech device that is extremely small but is capable of "growing" into a full sized bot, vec or neogen. The result may be anything from the equivalent of a simple plant or semi-sentient machine to a sentient but non-sophont bot or organism or even a full fledged person. Most spores preserve the programming or (if applicable) the mind-state of the parent model. Spores are usually as small as the local technology allows, and are extremely resistant to whatever hazards the spore-bearing unit is most likely to encounter. Spores with extra protective layers and a significant "start-up" package of materials are sometimes called seeds instead. If the spores or seeds receive the proper signal (or, in some cases, cease to receive such a signal) and are in contact with a suitable substrate, they will begin to grow a new unit. In the case of nanotech spores, the developing body will search for appropriate elements, either by developing a "larval" form and moving about or by growing extensions resembling fungal hyphae, or by growing some other collecting and or harvesting device. Energy for continued growth is gathered in a variety of ways appropriate to the environment: anything from solar panels to generators that exploit movement in the atmosphere or hydrosphere, tether tech for orbits around planets with magnetic fields, to whatever else may be appropriate. Once it has grown large enough, a spore device may even grow/assemble a small fusion plant. The developing body may be camouflaged (in the case of military or surveillance spore bots) or may be otherwise protected from hostile beings or a hostile environment until it is fully developed. The pace of growth varies considerably according to the purposes of the designers. Some spores are designed to develop rapidly, either so that they can to accomplish a task quickly or so that they can overwhelm an extremely unfavourable environment or some form of sophont opposition. Others may "lurk" half-developed until an appropriate time and then take action, sometimes en masse.

Spore technology is widely used in the initial stages of terraforming, and of course biotech spore technology is essential in the later stages. It is also used in the more hazardous sorts of mining operations on rocky bodies. Sporetech balloon devices are used to harvest elements and compounds from the more turbulent gas giants. A sporetech swarm of synsects is often used to gather information where the mortality rate for individual units is high. Security devices often use sporetech, since if somehow an intruder destroys the original units their descendants will survive to report whatever they have recorded and possibly to take other appropriate action.

Sporetech devices are often vectors for biotech, dry nanotech or synanotech "goo", whether that be "grey", "khaki", or "blue". Most notoriously, primitive early spore tech devices were a factor in the Technocalypse, and according to the records that have been pieced together they may well have been a major factor in prolonging the subsequent Dark Age. Some seem to have "gone bad" through accident or when those supervising them were killed or driven away, but it appears that others were maliciously altered, or were designed in the first place for alternative military or terrorist use. For instance the macroscopic delivery system for the troublesome "grey goo" that was resident in the atmosphere of Venus, and threatened other parts of Solsys as a result, had its origin in early sporetech that had been intended to be the first stages of a terraforming project. There have been many similar incidents in the millennia since.

Some vecs and sybonts with Neumann capability reproduce using some variant of the spore technology. Often these are the descendants of military or mining vecs, and some of them are capable of prodigious reproduction. Such beings can quickly overwhelm a system's resources if they do not restrain themselves.

The creation, design, and use of sporetech devices of any kind is usually heavily regulated in civilized societies, even more so than the release of other kinds of self-reproducing machines or organisms. Historically, sporetech has led to many unfortunate accidents. Some of the most interesting, especially those resulting in "wild" mechosystems, or botworlds, have been preserved, either for study or as a warning. Ordinary citizens may be entirely prohibited from from designing or deploying sporetech by local authorities. Any user or designer who is permitted to operate is likely to be subject to oversight by the local polity, and may need to meet some rather strict licensing standards regarding in terms of eir personal skill and maturity and in terms of the range of devices allowed.

  • Aerovores (Gray Dust)  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev, adapted from a paper by Robert A. Freitas
    A form of goo replicator constructed almost solely of CHON (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen), and hence able to replicate relatively rapidly in a standard Terragen-like environment using only atmospheric resources and powered by sunlight.
  • AW (AutoWar seed)  - Text by Thorbørn Steen
    An AW or AutoWar seed is a missile launched into an opponent's solar system, often without eir knowledge. The emergence of the autowars is sometimes aligned with the arrival of an extra-stellar invasion fleet, but especially against foes of lower tech level autowars are quite capable of taking over or eradicating a system entirely on their own
  • Caretaker Seed  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Caretaker God ISOs are known to replicate quasi-neumann fashion using seed-like devices.
  • Dusters   - Text by Michael Boncher
    Particulate Matter Sprayers.
  • Goo  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A general term for replicators, especially but not exclusively small replicators, often with the implication of hazard from possible uncontrolled replication. A nanoswarm capable of spreading and growing, particularly if it has escaped its original parameters, is commonly referred to as goo.
  • Military Spore Technology  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Spore technology is a common defence and self-preservation strategy employed by many devices operating in hostile environments. A spore device, typically a bot or vec, periodically releases numerous small "spores" that quickly conceal themselves and then go dormant for some period of time or until they receive an activation signal or, conversely, cease to receive a signal. At this point, the spores begin to rapidly and often stealthily replicate and then construct a duplicate of the original combat unit.
  • Nanoseed - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Nanotech "seed", a self-contained and sealed capsule containing assemblers and replicators either pre-programmed with templates or instructed from an external source. The seed is "planted" on a substrate, and activated with energy or a nutrient spray. It then grows into the desired product, using locally acquired resources and ambient energy (e.g. sunlight) or in the case of some large nanoseeds, a small amat battery.
  • Nanoswarm  - Text by Stephen Inniss and M. Alan Kazlev
    Also as goo, nanobot swarm, or simply 'swarm'.
    [1] A very large number of nanobots or nanotech microbots acting in concert as a swarm entity.
    [2] A large-scale disaster involving self-replicating nanotech devices or entities.
  • PackRat Spores, AKA '____' Spores  - Text by Daniel Eliot Boese
    A multi-instance clade of aioid dividuals who attempt to spread themselves by launching "spore" copies to other star-systems.
  • Polemovore - Text by Anders Sandberg
    A creature that eats war, or more specifically the self-replicating weapons left behind advanced wars. They were postulated as an explanation of why the whole universe has not been overrun by autowars or turned into strange matter viruses by now.
  • Seedtech  - Text by Stephen Inniss, Steve Bowers and M. Alan Kazlev
    Large, self-replicating sporetech units
  • Spore Hunters  - Text by Daniel Eliot Boese
    Professional hunters who target self-replicating technology.
  • Von Neumann Sculpting  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Artform whereby replicating machines are seeded onto a planetary surface to reshape it according to some plan, or possibly the machines themselves make up the art. This can range from laying down patterns of trails to sculpting entire mountain ranges into portraits. Somewhat controversial due to the environmental impact, but popular in the MPA.
  • Warseed - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Interplanetary Age proto-warchive developed by theThe Cult of the Exsanguinated Giraffe.
Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 22 March 2006.

Additional Information