After the Paris Convention of 2037, robots in warfare have been globally forbidden in use of primary or secondary combat roles, and across the Earth nations began to disassemble their automated units. The political backlash of reverting to sending citizens into combat has been severe, and scientists, politicians, and military officers have began to look for an alternative; even with advanced warfare, wars are still ultimately won and secured by placement of infantry(*).

(*) This point can be debated for modern warfare, but as it certainly is a popular modern viewpoint in various militaries, we're going to go ahead with it as an assumption for this question.

After a tough political battle, the people of the nations of NATO--by a comfortable majority--have signed off on a once controversial project. With the citizens, politicians, and media (mostly) supporting them, NATO scientists have begun to theorize and develop lab-grown humans to fulfill military roles. They're not citizens, they're not natural, and public opinion accepts this as the 'lesser of the two evils.'

The biological engineering baseline--as allowed by current technology--allows engineers to grow a clone of a human in a chamber. The growing process can be speed up 8x currently (allowing a biologically 16-year-old male to be made in 2 years), however the clones are in stasis during this period, and come out with no knowledge or skills beyond that of a newborn. They emerge with the free will, mental capacity, and variety of personalities of normal humans.

The process isn't cheap currently, at \$1 million (in today's dollars) a pop if left in the vat until 16. Compare this of the figure of costing (very approximately) ~$300k (today's dollars) to raise a child to 18. The scientists reason that this price could be reduced if specific effort went into this effort.

This is a starting point, but things need to improve.

In this Earth remarkable scientific advancements are possible, but all research and engineering must be prioritized; they can't research and develop everything, simultaneously. Further, NATO wants to get these lab-grown soldiers in deployment as soon as possible, with new batches with new advancements deployed as an iterative process. Each generation of soldiers should, theoretically, be better fit to serve than the last.

How should the scientists prioritize this soldier project? What advancements should they focus in the short term, and what advancements in the medium or long term? What would the iterative cycle of new soldiers look like over the decades to come?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In the "Old man's war" the genetically engineered bodies are also born without any consciousness. Scalzi resolves this in two separate ways: 1) By transferring the consciousness of old people into the new bodies and 2) By integrating a computer in the brain of each soldier which is preloaded with knowledge. When the body wakes up, the computer temporarily takes over and provides framework around which they can build their own self. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Sep 7 '16 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @ventsyv That's a really interesting idea. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Sep 7 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Another place, I read that about colonists that are grown in-situ once their ship arrives around the planet they want to colonize (which is in a different solar system). As the bodies grow, the brains are plugged in a computer which teaches and trains them for their respective jobs/responsibilities. I imagined that being a bit like being inside the loading program of the Matrix but controlled by the ship's computer. Once the colonists are 18 (or maybe 21, I forgot) they come out of their vats fully trained. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Sep 7 '16 at 17:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see... a number a problems with your premise. 1. People are not okay with robots, but are okay with clones? People are way more squicky about clones than robots. 2. Any government who spends $1 million per soldier is going to be defeated by a government who lets the citizenry spend $300k per soldier and drafts from their population. 3. A physical adult who is a mental child will take 18 years to mentally become an 18-year-old. Need a neural bootstrap (computer, biopackage, something). 4. Define "robots". If it's remotely piloted by a human, is that a "robot"? Seems more viable. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Sep 7 '16 at 18:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You still need a better definition of robot, then. "Non-scientific, popular opinion" says a remotely-operated tank isn't a robot. It is: 1. not autonomous and 2. doesn't look like a robot. Anyway, we're also talking about two different things. A treaty is going to have a very specific definition of what a robot is (which, in all likelihood, would have "autonomous" as part of the definition, making remote operation fair game). The public is going to freak out about things that are orthogonal to the treaty definition, which is a different problem. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Sep 8 '16 at 18:23

Short term: figure out how to train the soldiers "in utero" somehow. Provide false memories through electrical stimulation of their memory centers or something. Having a physically 18 year old with the brain of a newborn is pretty useless.

Alternatively: keep the accelerated growth and keep them in an active training facility sort of like Ender's Game where they would simply grow at a phenomenal rate. This would be more realistic anyway since muscle memory and physical fitness training could be worked on, not just mental preparation. If you keep them in a tank like the Matrix, the soldiers will be totally helpless and unable to move for (at best) months after they are removed, and actually growing up immobilized might do irreparable damage to a soldier's physique.

Longer term: since you are already growing clones and your society is ok with it, you can feel free to mess around with them genetically. This leads to all kinds of potential avenues like more efficient oxygen use (better running and swimming), denser muscle strands (like an ape, say) which would lead to considerably greater strength. You could start to tinker around with a "Frankenstein soldier" to gain a competitive advantage over your adversaries.

Even more freaky: assuming you can maintain this "they are not really human" fiction, genetically design them to reproduce very rapidly in the conventional biological way and set up even larger housing facilities... now you are back to 19th century slavery (more or less) but with all kinds of modern techno-terms to justify it. That way you could produce a whole ton of them for a fraction of the cost of growing them and none of the issues inherent with the "18 year old newborn with basically zero muscle development" tube baby process.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I really like this answer, and was the kind of response I was hoping for, for what you both did and didn't focus on, and your explanation of your choices. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Sep 8 '16 at 20:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They will also have to be trained how to deal with civilians, since they've never been civilians and never hung out with civilians, so will be clueless as to why those folks don't act all military and soldierly. Meanwhile, if the public don't consider them human, then they won't want the clones sleeping with their daughters (or sons). Better turn off their sex drive! (Unless you opt for your 'even more freaky' option). $\endgroup$ – DrBob Sep 10 '16 at 15:18

Assuming tech is advanced enough, the easiest thing would be to develop a bio-neural template, So that a machine can just be fed raw material, and pop out fully grown, fully trained soldiers. (maybe even store multiple templates and randomly merge them for each soldier)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.