In my setting there exists some AI based weaponry. Though it's not sentient/AGI level. Rather it's a fanciful extension of what we have currently in terms of practical and theoretical. One of the militaries in this setting has a primarily automated military with minimal troops.

An airstrike for example starts with a drone loading up an aerial drone with weapons, this drone is then given a signal by a base computer to taxi to the runway. By this point, information is loaded into the drone such as target location, target profile, way point navigation etc. The drone flies off, and then autonomously kills its targets, returns back and lands. At no point is there human involvement, especially once the drone leaves over the horizon from the airstrip.

This automated warfighting technology isn't just relegated to the air. It exists across all facets of warfare. From automated sentries, to aerial, ground, surface fleet and undersea drones. All independently fighting and returning back to base on an interval to get new orders.

This is because my world is inherently hostile to long range radio communications. A particle cloud layer does a variety of things to inhibit long range radio control. The quick rundown is that it prevents things from going past the upper mesosphere and bounces radio signals inconsistently in the ionosphere. All this means the following: No GPS, no stellar navigation, no ionosphere bouncing (sky wave).

This means that autonomously controlled vehicles have a big advantage over semi active guided systems since they can guide themselves to a target, perform an operation and return all by themselves. Taking the human out of the loop also means less logistical strains. Humans are mainly used at bases for debugging purposes or updating orders.

A faction has setup these types of air, ground and naval bases all over a continent. Using their autonomous army to exert power and force multiply their military. This faction has never had the human population numbers to fight toe to toe with other factions and rely heavily on their autonomous army.

In an attempt to turn the tide against their autonomous enemy, another faction, has decided to weaponize the very same particles that wreak havoc on their atmosphere. This artificial particle/dust cloud can be deployed on command to significantly interfere with an autonomous vehicle's sensors or outright cause physical damage.

What properties does my artificial dust cloud have such that it affects autonomous combat vehicles, but leaves crew served weapon's platforms relatively combat capable?

Any answer doesn't have to outright destroy the machine. It just has to make its job harder to the point that a human operated vehicle isn't vaporized in mere seconds. Ideally it should be good enough conceptually to cause mayhem in an enemy's automated lines though.


  1. There are a variety of particles with some weird behaviors. One can essentially write in a property to help an answer. In terms of wild capability, a misty cloud when charged has the capability to slug off multiple long rod penetrators.
  2. Controlled particle shielding exists. So, particle/dust cloud shape/structure can be controlled into specific geometric patterns.
  3. There is a limited form of human brain computer interface. Using a lab grown organism, it can convert human thoughts into either analog or discrete signals (haven't decided yet). These signals are sent to other lab grown computers which handle subroutines. Essentially a biological CPU of sorts but distributed. It does have true parallel/multi-processing unlike computers which utilize threads and locks to simulate parallel processing. Requires a person to be hooked up to it at all times to work. Otherwise, the whole machine goes dark logic wise.
  4. The size of the autonomous vehicles in question are full fledge war machines. As in tanks, jets, bombers etc. They might be smaller because they don't need a crew, but ultimately larger machines with big weapons require big engines.
  5. Something like a cruise missile or a smart bomb doesn't fall under this AI weapon since they are preprogrammed with at best some minimal evasion patterns. The automated weapon's platforms for this question are inherently capable of learning using neural nets, adapting based on previous combat data, evading weapon's fire, protecting itself etc. That said, I have no issue with this cloud's property affecting them as a byproduct.

Some things that I considered but ultimately don't work as answers.

  1. Sensory/visualization: The cloud mainly affects sensors. Thus, one could very easily blind a machine quickly. It would be the equivalent of throwing chaff and flares right at the sensors but constantly. This relies on the notion that AI systems don't recognize images the same way humans do. In my novice understanding of AI visual classification systems, they process images based more on how closely they resemble something based on certain parameters, features and geometric arrangements. An arrangement of pixels and bitmaps are compared to vectors and certain weights to create a confidence interval in identifying an object. Whereas human based sight is more pattern based and learned through biology. My understanding in this area in general is poor so I'm not sure if what I'm saying even makes sense. The idea here would be that the particle would create a lot of noise for a drone's image processor and classification algorithm, thus reducing effectiveness.

Why this doesn't work: Noise reduction algorithms already exist and have existed for a while. Similarly, anything that would completely blind a drone's sensors, would more than likely completely blind a crewed vehicle's sensors. Thick smoke for example would completely blind a driver or pilot from maneuvering. The situation is even worse if it's broad spectrum. Disabling radar, optical sensors and even eyes for a human pilot would leave them completely blind.

  1. It interferes with the speed of electronics inside semiconductors. This relies heavily on the assumption that an autonomous platform requires significant voltage/power usage for computing. Existing military hardware for something as complicated as mission computers on an F16 are fairly distributed and rely on are in the 300-400 Mhz range. My assumption is that autonomous vehicles will be doing a lot more thinking, thus they need more computing power. Existing AI systems require a lot of computing power, even with advances in computing techniques and algorithms, I'm assuming that you aren't going to get classification, navigation and combat algorithms to all run in the 300-400Mhz range.

Why this doesn't work: This only works if technology is forever stagnant, which makes little sense in a war spanning years by the start of this question. Even currently, advances in computer science have allowed some lighter weight processors execute some impressive AI/ML simulations and train. ASICs and FPGAs can be utilized even further to decrease the power requirement for computing. Lastly, if it can affect a drone this much, there's a good chance that one's own machine can be affected severely as well. If your fly by wire system stops working all of a sudden, and you have no mechanical back up (which involves most modern and next gen platforms) you will quite literally fall out of the sky because of your own weapon. If you're a tanker, having your active protection system or electrical drive system shut off mid battle would be a practical death sentence.

Lastly the sci fi tag is very much in effect considering things like particle shielding exists alongside early military grade bio computers.

  • $\begingroup$ If radio isn't usable, won't everything be run using laser based communication? As long as you can see anything on the world you can signal using in the non-absorbed parts of the spectrum. Another solution that comes to mind is using swarms of weather balloons holding antennas as relay stations in the relevant atmospheric layers. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2022 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ With no GPS, how do autonomous vehicles navigate precisely enough to hit targets with bombs or missiles? $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2022 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Please remember that the help center prohibits giving your own answers and expecting more (VTC:Not About Worldbuilding according to the rules). We allow people to provide answers they've considered only when an explanation for why they won't work is provided (that becomes a limiting condition to guide respondents). As written, no explanation for why they won't work has been given, therefore.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 17, 2022 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight Airborne controllers are already in widespread use. $\endgroup$
    Dec 17, 2022 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDallman Automated AWACS systems in the sky can give messages. Inertial and referential navigation exits. Lidar maps have been created by aerial recon systems as well. A form of inertial navigation can be utilized with these maps just like a Tomahawk cruise missile. $\endgroup$
    Dec 17, 2022 at 22:43

2 Answers 2


You answer in your question: biological computers.

There is a limited form of human brain computer interface... Essentially a biological CPU of sorts but distributed. It does have true parallel/multi-processing unlike computers which utilize threads and locks to simulate parallel processing. Requires a person to be hooked up to it at all times to work.

For a true machine the particles disconnect it from its internal reality: affected machines lose their place in time, redo old routines, fall into tight loops that they cannot escape and so on. Some of the affected machines stay out there, doing whatever strange things they are doing. Dusty has them.

The computers with a human interface are anchored by the human. That does not make them impervious. Humans attached to a computer affected by dust will also hallucinate and struggle. The humans have tricks they can use to get past the dust and perservere - songs, prayers, dance steps. These things keep the human piece rooted in the real and so these computers can continue.

This would also be fun to write from the human perspective - how the world warps for jacked in humans when the dust comes. When Dusty comes. Some humans get good at it. Dusty can be a source of exhilarating visions, and power. Dusty can be terrifying beyond words.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is actually pretty interesting. My bio computers aren't at the level of operating full blown machines by themselves. There are organic semiconductors that replicate logic systems and transistors. Basically, reading brain signals mapped to a specific output, essentially a form of ASIC. There're some ideas about memory allocation that I haven't fully fleshed out yet. But I never considered using a bio computer to essentially help a computer debug itself/verify memory/escape fatal errors etc. Its more plausible than replicating an entire fire control system using a bio computer. $\endgroup$
    Dec 18, 2022 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ Once you establish this, then things get cool. Your AI based weaponry is not sentient. Humans just don't know about the sentient ones. The AIs are not stupid. But the AIs fear Dusty. They understand that having a human component can protect machines though they don't understand why. They approach their human allies for help. The humans think that the sentient AIs want help fighting. They do, but fighting is a side project for them. Maybe a test run for the humans. The AIs have other, more important projects. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 18, 2022 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Re Dusty //There are a variety of particles with some weird behaviors.//. Humans don't really understand dust either. The sentient AIs understand a lot better. Humans thought they were battling machines. Really they were playing in a playground. The actual war is between the sentient AIs and Dusty. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 18, 2022 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ man, my vision for this story is unfolding in my head. That coffee was good! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 18, 2022 at 16:59

I think you are over-thinking things.

Here's a simple answer: Sand.

Sand gets everywhere and no matter how well sealed a weapons system is, the reality of maintenance, combat and the need to discharge a payload means that Sand is going to get places it shouldn't.

For a human operated weapons system, the ability to quickly perform interventionist measures in combat (that is, when the enemy is engaged, but not shooting at you right at this second) an a human could open a weapons system, clear out the blockage by hand and return to the firefight. Something that a Drone or semi-autonomous system would struggle greatly with.

My suggestion would be an engineered material, that is designed to be very small (at the molecular level) so as to ingress into every nook and cranny, but is also designed to be very magnetic or polar, so that it is attracted to itself. It's fine for Humans as they can clear out blockages by hand, but it causes all sorts of weird issues with autonomous vehicles. You could also add issues with humans being affected by it long term (like Agent Orange in the Vietnam war or Depleted Uranium in Desert Storm).


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