Set in a distant future, every interstellar spaceship runs on antimatter propulsion which can achieve fractional speed of light travel. There is a doctrine stating that all spaceships with mass exceeding certain amount are required by law to install self-destruct button and concealed explosive charges throughout the entire vessel. The ship's powerful AI ensures everything is in order and eliminates any human error especially at times of crisis, the AI is aware of the self-destruct mechanism and schedules routine check and maintenance for every explosive charges on board. I'm wondering how can we prevent AI from initiating the self destruct and set off the explosive charges that even the crews are not aware of their exact location? Sabotaging the antimatter containment unit as alternative mode of triggering self destruct is prohibited and the AI is required to monitor the condition of all explosive charges and update the captain or who-ever in-charge.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand. You want to stop AI from self-destruct but you mention that sabotaging antimatter is out of the picture, but it seems you don't want either so why even mention that? Also this look very story specific question. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ Does this AI control any unconstrained physical tools like self repair drones etc? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ Why do your ships even need self-destruct mechanisms? If it's a doctrine decision, then it's an incredibly stupid one. Knowing that a self-destruct mechanism exists breeds distrust and discontent among both crew and sapient AIs. Furthermore, it's a terrible design decision: A self-destruct system would be the first place that any bad actor targets. Why smuggle a bomb aboard or preform sabotage when Maintenance Tech #5 can just find a pre-made explosive and set it off? Furthermore, what if it just randomly goes off? Any system requires maintenance and can fail, especially on complex starship. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ As for possible reasons to have a self-destruct mechanism, there really aren't many. If it's information security you're after, or preventing your crew from being captured and interrogated, then you've already lost the infosec game. Having data-storage systems slag themselves on command is fine and good, but what people know should be compartmentalized to a level where interrogation or capture makes little sense to a competent hostile anyways. If you don't want your enemies to get any critical information from you, don't put it somewhere where they can get it. That's basic info sec. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ Finally, why do you want to prevent your shipboard AI from setting off a self-destruct? If only the captain can do it, that's just as big of a weakness. Humans can be "hacked" or go crazy just as well as an AI can. Maybe someone hostages the captain's family or the captain's mental health declines to a point where he decides to take the whole ship with him. Moreover, if the AI is connected to the ship as much as you imply, then killing the crew would be child's play for it anyways. It could just open airlocks, subtly poison the air, foment a mutiny, or mess with the antimatter. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 9:19

2 Answers 2


Physical separation of monitoring and detonation circuits.

Assume your AI can take total control of everything it’s connected to. Because if it’s smart enough: it can. Therefore the only way to make sure it can’t detonate the bombs is to make sure it isn’t connected to them.

So give it all the sensor input it needs to monitor the bombs. This can be visual (to check for visible breakdown), chemical (to check for degrading explosives), even electrical (dumb multi-meters etc).

But make the firing circuit a separate dumb circuit. The simpler the better (both for security and dumb human performed maintenance). Unless the AI can manipulate a human into pushing the button or use some self-repair mechanisms to alter the circuit you’re golden.

If the AI can use repair drones etc to manipulate things then I’m sorry. You can’t prevent this. Notably because the AI could just build itself a bomb if it wanted. You could install further AI’s to try prevent such systems being co-opted, but then you end up with full scale cyberwars that your humans can’t control. And if those AI’s can be convinced the suicidal AI is justified then you’re in a worse place than you were before.

  • $\begingroup$ Give it the sensor input it wants, like how Keanu fooled Dennis Hopper in that one movie BOMB ON A BUS. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 22:26

To add to Joe Bloggs answer: a separate detonation circuit unconnected to the AI is a must.

As for the workings, you could have human preservation protocols. The self destruct cannot activate unless the signal comes from outside of the ship. The captain will have a portable detonator that won't activate unless it is X amount of distance from the ship. This ensures (ish) the captains survival in case of self destruct. If the ship needs destroying including its crew, the captain at least will need to leave in an escape pod to do so. One for this specific reason could be installed on the bridge. This would prevent both human error (to a degree) and the AI activating it.

  • $\begingroup$ What happened to the captain goes always down with the ship? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @infinitezero to be honest thats is just a myth to make the captain seem honourable. But if the captain is honourable, he'll ensure his crew is off-ship before he does anything. If he wants to die with his secrets, take a gun in the escape pod. $\endgroup$
    – Plutian
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 11:59

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