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Other questions about this are on this meta post.

Context
In an act of war, an advanced, extraterrestrial species has designed the machina plague - an infectious nanobot pathogen - to wipe out the human race. They will release 10,000 nanobots on January 1st, 2017. Every bot will be located inside one nondescript, human host in Haneda Airport, Tokyo. Release will be at local time.

Spread:

  • Bots are dormant for one hour after infection before all symptoms occur simultaneously
  • Plague is bloodborne
  • Nanobots reproduce with iron, manganese, lead in blood
  • Hosts infect the bloodstreams of other humans using fangs
  • Only humans can be infected, but other animals may be prey
  • Bots coordinate with other hosts' bots in proximity; no attempts to infect hosts

Host Changes:

  • Bots lobotomize the host brain; preserve feral instincts and locomotion
  • Bots reroute nutrients inside the body to form fangs, tubes
  • Hosts prey on animals for food
  • Bots repair host if injuries are deadly or life span is exceeded

Weaknesses:

  • Decapitation separates brain from body, meaning no acquiring food; bots eventually become dormant
  • Stake through the heart stops blood flow; organs die before bots remove stake, causing eventual death
  • Hosts hide from sunlight, which reveals the structures beneath their skin
  • Nanobot communication signals can be detected - identifying a host
  • Signals can be jammed, making hosts attack each other thinking they're more humans
  • Strong EMPS may quarantine large areas as a last resort

The first question in this series:
Assuming the scenario provided in the context is feasible, will this disease be able to spread across 90%+ of the global population? Why or why not?
If not, what changes must be made to allow this type of spread?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd let them take the Lead from my blood any day... $\endgroup$ – Harry David Nov 22 '16 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ does the "disease" have a dormant period or is it basically you get bit and you turn into a cyber-vampire within a few minutes. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 22 '16 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @John See first bullet under "Spread" $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 22 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I didn't make the connection between symptoms and transformation, still thinking too much in terms of disease. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 22 '16 at 2:42
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At the beginning, it would be assumed that this is a VIRUS, a biological pathogen and would be treated like a plague.

The infection point of Japan is an island... once the effects are known (within an hour) there would be widespread TV broadcasts, and the area(s) of infection would be under quarantine.

Even if infected individuals are able to board airplanes, the news would be faster than travel. And in fact, the airplane would essentially be entirely infected with the possible exception of the pilots. Which would mean that those planes COULD be shot down to avoid spreading the plague anywhere else.

Essentially the 1 hour infection period to visible signs (and obvious change in behavior) is MUCH TOO FAST. Pathogens that are that quick are more likely to burn bright and fast and spreading quickly, but can easily be defeated by removing the source of the fuel. Think of a wildfire that runs into an area which no longer has fuel such as a parking log, freeway, ocean, etc. Unless the pathogen is able to hop the barrier, it will die quickly.

To make it work, you would really need two separate things...

  1. for the incubation period to be longer so that it avoids detection for longer
  2. an alternate deliver method other than the violent (and obvious) fangs

I would expect that nanobots would have some intelligence as well as a "desire" to survive. In fact, the network communication between multiple hosts could be considered some sort of hive intelligence. As part of the survival technique, while moving into a new area (including the initial infection point), the nanobots COULD slow down the incubation period.

For example, a bite might be able to inject 1000s (or millions) of nanobots into the new victim. But a spray of nanobots might also be able to infect people, even surviving on surfaces for days. Once a person picks up even a single nanobot, it might take much longer for that one nanobot to replicate enough duplicates to have the same effect as a single bite.

Also consider the effect of touch spreading the nanobots, especially before there are visible symptoms. An infected person touches the doorknob, spreading 100s of nanobots on the surface. Intelligently, only a single nanobot attaches itself to the next human to touch the knob... infecting 100s of people during the day.

Add to the weaknesses...

Communication wavelengths between hosts could be identified (radio signals?), and possibly jamming allowed. With enough sensors tuned, unaffected humans could be able to track infected individuals/groups.

Possible to render the nanobots inert in some way, such as an EMP?

Comparing Biological Pathogens to Nanobot...

Viruses seek to destroy and breed. Ultimately they exhibit self-destructive behavior when they so completely overwhelm the host. As they infect each cell, they rewrite the DNA of the host cell and use its own factories to replicate more of the virus... and once critical mass occurs, the cell explodes spreading the virus to other cells.

This nanobot infection has an entirely different approach... while it also wants to destroy (because that is their programming) and to breed, they do not NEED to. Once nanobots reach the levels of stability, they would not need to "feed" very often... only enough to sustain their energy requirements, which would be much less than replication requirements.

The nanobots do not require the cells... they only require the building block materials in the cells... which means they would destroy the cell walls first and break apart the components into useable building blocks for either energy or replication.

In addition, the nanobots do not ultimately seek to kill the host... they seek to remake the host into something their creators designed, and then sustain this new host in a symbiotic relationship INSTEAD of a predator relationship of biological viruses.

Conceivably, the nanobots could elect to augment their host and use the memories and abilities of the host to achieve their goals with greater results. For example, a host was previously a military general, and now the nanobot "network" has access to creative strategy and knowledge that is outside of the original programming. Certain behaviors couldn't be suppressed by the host... such as the craving for blood and to spread the plague, but after those needs are satisfied (fed) then other goals could be achieved.

The result is that humans actually have a highly intelligent foe that is far more devious than simply defeating a plague.

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  • $\begingroup$ My intent with the short incubation period is that it's not a lot of time to treat; you may turn before you can get help. Thorough answer though, thank you. Editing in weaknesses now $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 22 '16 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ First of all, I would expect that nanobots would have some intelligence as well as a "desire" to survive. In fact, the network communication between multiple hosts could be considered some sort of hive intelligence. As part of the survival technique, while moving into a new area (including the initial infection point), the nanobots COULD slow down the incubation period. If quarantine officials know the infection period is 1 hour and they save a group of dormant infected people (after letting them sit for an hour) the nanobots could accellerate the infection and start their rampage. $\endgroup$ – Phil M Nov 22 '16 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Also consider the effect of touch spreading the nanobots, especially before there are visible symptoms. An infected person touches the doorknob, spreading 100s of nanobots on the surface. Intelligently, only a single nanobot attaches itself to the next human to touch the knob... infecting 100s of people during the day. $\endgroup$ – Phil M Nov 22 '16 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Those comments contain some good info, you could edit them into the answer if you want $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 22 '16 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ Very thorough / provides exactly what I need, thank you. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 22 '16 at 23:05
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Possibly, but its a stretch

Given this information, I would say this could be spread throughout all of Japan before it is cured, however the origin is on an airport in Tokyo. Tokyo is a really popular place and of course the capital of Japan. With this I'd like to assume that since its an airport it could spread to other parts of the world, and while the outbreak is distracting people in japan it could cause panic when it shows up in other countries. Possibly infecting that many people in time before its cured.

Now with the weaknesses listed the nanobots could very easily get countered if spotted quick enough, which leaves a really big stretch on them infecting 90% of the population before getting cured. Infect a lot sure but 90% is a big goal for it with these weaknesses.

How do you make it infect others faster?

There are several ways to do so, for one try to increase the incubation time in a person. Also you could make it infect like a virus. Take chickenpox for example, its a really fast spreading virus that is insanely painful.

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  • $\begingroup$ What would you do to get around the problem of unlikely domination? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 22 '16 at 1:36

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