For a story I'm working on, there is an old and advanced civilization consisting of three races, 2 organic and 1 artificial. An ancient enemy has returned, bent on destroying this civilization, and has hit upon a unique idea. They have created a virus that affects the Artificial life forms, forcing them to obey the commands of this enemy and turning them against their organic fellow citizens.

What I'm trying to get a handle on is how quickly it spreads, and how difficult it will be for the other races to stay ahead of it. So let's crunch the numbers:

  1. Assume approximately 100 worlds, 1/3 of which are homes to the AI life forms. Also assume they are evenly spread amongst the other planets.
  2. The virus can only be spread by physical contact. To this end, the enemy has created a Nano-swarm as a vector. Their role is to make contact with any friendly spacecraft and introduce the infection. While it will do nothing to the ship itself, or to organic life forms, any AI that interacts with the ship's systems will become infected.
  3. Assume no incubation period, or one only lasting a few seconds.
  4. While ships are FTL capable, this civilization also has a communication system that is for all practical purposes instantaneous, meaning other worlds can be warned that plague ships are en route.
  5. Once infected, the virus commands its host to do two things...to infect as many other AI life forms as possible, and to attack the organic life forms. In essence, what we are looking at an extremely aggressive Zombie Virus for Androids/Robots.
  6. EDITED: Once a ship has been taken over by the infected, the infected crew will immediately make for the AI home worlds, to spread the infection. If another vessel tries to prevent this they will fight back, though they will probably not be as effective in combat as an uninfected ship's crew.
  7. The organic races (with the full support of the non-infected AI's) will attempt to quarantine the AI home worlds. This being said...there's only so many ships to go around. Some hard choices will have to be made.
  8. On average, assume a 1-2 day journey from one world to the next by FTL.
  9. It will take time to come up with a cure, but a cure is coming.

So, my question. Given this data, can a Pandemic be stopped before it consumes the entire civilization? How many worlds will they lose? Just how ugly is "Galactic War AI-Z" going to get, before they turn the tide?

Note: The good guys do win...but that doesn't mean I plan on making it easy for them. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ re 2: are you saying that the ship's on-board computer shouldn't be infected but anything that interacts with it should? $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jun 21 '19 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ The Virus is engineered specifically for the AI race. The enemy has first hand knowledge of their Source Code, but not of the spacecraft's. $\endgroup$ – Hewholooksskyward Jun 21 '19 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ WIthout knowing how the spacecraft's AI operates, it's rather difficult to use it to spread itself. I'd prefer the term "asymptomatic carrier", if you don't mind that it's the virus's choice to not do anything past #6 to the ship's AI $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jun 21 '19 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ "Asymptomatic Carrier" works just fine for me, given the circumstances. :) $\endgroup$ – Hewholooksskyward Jun 21 '19 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ The details of this question are up to the needs of your story. In an perfect scenario, you could infect every single world before they even know there is a virus running rampant, and in a less perfect one, your main character can always be one jump ahead of the virus. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jun 21 '19 at 5:39

No matter if an infection is biological in nature, or if it's pure software, if it only spreads by physical contact, and it is known of, a civilization has no rights to be wiped out by it.

I can answer the question satisfactorily in three words: "quarantine, quarantine, quarantine" and be done with it. I could also note that it's the reason why a zombie apocalypse can never actually happen. Even if the laboratory of experimental medicine lets its test subjects run loose, the army can still mow down anything that tries to escape the city in question. But an AI has even less excuse than a biological system does.

Ideally, the robots that are about to interact with an infected individual would simply disable any drivers and hardware related to communication over physical ports. That the ports have privileged access to the operating system in the first place seems like a major oversight, but let's assume the precursors simply didn't think that anyone would abuse this wide open gateway that they have left open for themselves. Or maybe they thought they closed it, but somebody has found the key.

If the robots can't simply disable the relevant hardware through software, they should be perfectly capable of disabling it physically. Nothing can withstand localized heat of 3000 degrees celsius, not even an admin interface can. But that might also damage critically important circuitry in the vicinity. The next option is to cover the relevant area with some electrical insulation. Bonus points if the robots find an old stash of tightly woven flax fiber fabric and determine that it's enough to prevent physical access.

Yup. I said it. Make them wear clothes.

And if a T-shirt won't cut it, 1mm coating of polyethylene will. and if not, 1cm of plexiglass encasing the landing area will. You can involve the army to force landing ships to comply with the quarantine procedures if the need be. And if 1cm of plexiglass won't cut it, 100km of atmosphere will. They can't touch you if they can't touch the ground. Your rimworlds may lack proper orbital defenses, but your core planets are inevitably going to be armed to teeth.

This should definitely not count as physical contact, but even if they have nanobots that can re-enter atmosphere, you should be able to meet them halfway, head-on, fast. A rapidly expanding cloud of PCB shards doesn't function well as a Generic Nanobot Aerosol Targeting device. And neither are those nanobots capable of leaving the hyperspace / wormhole / warp bubble / whatever. Or entering it. Or creating it in the first place. And yeah, that totally doesn't count as physical contact.

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