Garbage Spiders: Future Robots that Efficiently Piece Together and Monetize the Past

October 15 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Security   Year: 2020   Rating: 6 Hot

Atop a garbage heap amidst the expansive Westchester Landfill an iRobot Refuse Quantifier (iRQ) deftly went about its lucrative business.

Credit card receipt: inconclusive. Candy wrapper: M&M logo, no fingerprint. Check fragment: inconclusive. Candy wrapper: M&M logo, no fingerprint. Candy wrapper: Almond Joy, smudged fingerprint, image stored to temporary cache. Comb: zoom, hair strand: 92% match. Load level 2 protocols. Letter fragment: stamp fragment, zoom, puncture, contaminated sample. Product box fragment: Nintendo Wii logo, burnt, no data. Shredded tax documents: inconclusive, coordinates tagged in case of reassembly contingent on identity correlation.

The mechanical spider legs pumped and the little scavenger-bot systematically inched left, establishing a better focus point for its frontal laser array. The iRQ began scanning the next set of coordinates.

Tax document fragments continued. Shredded letters – stamp, saliva, contaminated. Faded notebook: pen indentations still palpable, scanning Page 1, correlation 18%. Load notebook sequence.

Shifting the bulk of its weight to its hind legs, the spider freed up the instrument-loaded fore-pincers and carefully commenced flipping pages.

Page 2: read ink, map indents, cross-reference Page 1, revise correlation, 64% – nearing identity threshold. Flip. Page 3: read ink, unique phrase discovered, initiate semantic sub-routine #22. Page 4: undecipherable complex symbols, snapshot, map indents, revise correlation… Sub-routine results registered. Revise correlation, 69%. Resume indent correlation, 73%, identity threshold reached. Regional identity match: subject #D471D-MZ. Persistent video commence. Ping spiders. Stream information to local node.

An identity match for a primary target had been established! Power surged from the tertiary battery outward as the spider maxed both input and broadcast. But something was wrong. The swarm network was not responding. Thus it was highly probable that the iRQ was now invisible to its peers and ultimately its owner.

Re-broadcast for 3 seconds. No ping back. Defensive algorithm, blend. Scan for disruption, risk assessment. Attempt new frequencies. Multiple frequencies inoperable. 84% deliberate disruption, 62% location awareness, evasive algorithm.

Mustering all possible speed, the quantification spider took off in a zig-zag pattern, frantically seeking visual contact with one of its peers. Chances were that such contact would come inside of 30 seconds, as there were spiders positioned roughly every 33 meters all across the surface of the landfill. But that did not guarantee communication. In fact, in quant-bot terms, 33 meters was tantamount to 5 kilometers for a healthy human runner.

Evasion duration: 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 6 seconds. Evasion phase two, advanced tumble. Evasion duration: 8 seconds, 10 seconds, 12 seconds. Still no contact. Evasion phase three, direct sprint. Shadow anomaly detected, offensive indicator, hop extreme left.

Whoosh. Something shiny and aerial with outsretched limbs just missed the spider as it dove sideways to protect its life and precious information. The spider quickly regained balance, recalibrated and resorted to its last-ditch emergency communication protocol: an audio burst that would surely result in its capture or death, but that would convey to its peers the value an coordinates of D471D-MZ’s information cache.

Audio broadcasting. Continue evasion. Post-threat duration: 0.2 seconds, 0.4 seconds, 0.6 sec…

Thhhwack!! A crush of metal claws enveloped the spider mid-transmission as a second Gull Anti-Quantifier (GAQ) skillfully scooped up and disabled the harvester. Smaller appendages with diamond-tipped drills quickly tore through the titanium hull, seeking to disable the batteries before the spider could either dump its information or self-destruct.

Capture confirmed, wiggle 100% ineffective, commencing data delete. Data delete: 10%, 20%, 30%...

The Gull’s drills made rapid progress and quickly disabled tertiary power. As they tunneled further into the spider the Gull commenced sending brief power bursts through the hapless critter, looking to take out the OS as its micro-digits neared the core.

Data delete: 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%. OS shock detected. Commence self-destruct…

Kaa-blaaaamm!! An unexpectedly strong explosion ripped through the spider and outward toward the Gull. Both creatures were rendered to infinite shiny shards of metal, silicon, plastic and glass as the expensive little spider was forced to play the Mutually Assured Destruction card.

The sudden activity immediately captured the attention of any of the local Gull Net and Spider Net agents that had not already reacted to the initial audio broadcasted by the now obliterated iRQ. The broader race was now on to locate or destroy the high-value information that had obviously caused such an expensive casualty. At the direction of their human controller, a very concerned but optimistic landfill speculator, all available spider bots swarmed the coordinates communicated by their defunct peer.

As the spiders quickly grabbed any info scraps available, the Gull flock responded first by marking all visible Spiders with smart dust, then proceeded to pick off the frantic little bots one by one. But there were not enough GAQs to hunt down the mass of fleeing scavenger bots, all of which were coordinated to ensure the survival of a small % of their peers.

Following a rapid and beautiful series of explosions, the swarm action died down. Gulls picked off any lingering spider and the human managers on the sidelines began to analyze the data that now came pouring in.

It soon became clear the information in question had correlated with the identity of one Mark Zuckerberg, a Web 2.0 billionaire who had risen to fame a decade earlier with a media portal called Facebook .com, certainly a Tier 1 target. But only time would tell whether or not the Spider Net had come away with any data or genetic information valuable enough to recoup the cost of the bloodbath it had just endured.

As his little creatures made their way home with their bearing fragments of Zuckerberg’s childhood information legacy, the greedy and unscrupulous landfill speculator rubbed his hands in nervousness and anticipation of a big pay-day.

For more on the rapidly growing Retro-Quantification market, check out this Top 10 List of Retro-Quant scenarios.

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. I think the gulls would be more appropriate if they were wasps. For instance, gulls don’t eat spiders, wasps do. In fact, a great way for the wasp to evade being blown up by the spider is if it had a stinger that injected either a virus or nanobots which would disable the spider (kind of like the wasp that lays eggs inside a spider). That way, all the data could be harvested.

    Posted by: martymcfly   October 16, 2008
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  2. Love the wasps idea. In reality I bet such insectoid robot battles would involve more than just 2 “species”, but I wanted to keep the scenario simple.

    To defend my Gulls decision. :), I wanted to have something that swooped down to pulverize the enemy. Also, keep in mind these spiders are 6 inches wide.

    The nanobots concept is definitely a way to go, but this particular Spider has a defensible core and outer immune system most vulnerable to forceful drilling and crushing. :)

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   October 16, 2008
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  3. Speed is critical for the predator because killing a spider after its periodic data share with the mesh is a small victory. Killing it before it transmits seems easiest with crushing, drilling, or enveloping (in a Faraday Cage). Infection is elegant, but probably much slower. So yes to gulls and no to wasps.

    And we have plenty of time to develop the spiders: Landfills contain little oxygen just below the surface, dramatically slowing decomposition. Here’s an excerpt from page 89 of Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte: “Anthropology students digging in drier [than New York’s Fresh Kills] landfills have discovered forty-year-old hot dogs that look just like the ones currently sold in the Times Square subway station. Seventy-year-old newspapers can still be read…”

    Of course, to get to the anaerobic layers, spiders would have to dig, and then focus on whatever they unearthed because it would then be subject to familiar decomposition by oxygen-loving bacteria, fungus, and animals.

    NASA Ames has a fascinating laboratory atop a building in Mountain View, California, growing microbial mats. Stratified by colors, an ecology of microbial species feeds on the waste material of the species closer to the surface, where a species can breathe oxygen and harvest sunlight. See

    Posted by: miguelaznar   October 16, 2008
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