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"Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 02:35   #1 (permalink)
Shas'Vre
 
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Default "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

I've often pointed to the design of crisis suits as sort of an artistic whimsy on the part of the earth caste - there is no functional reason to design crisis suits that way, but it is done purely as service to form, showing prodigous manufacturing and design capabilities - the finished product is not always dictated by needed form, but also strongly by aesthetic value.

I've just read an interesting article that more or less confirms my idea. Others usually counter by saying that it is easiest to design an interactive body that conforms to the user's body, but... well that seems not to be entirely true.

I was reading this article, an exploration of "dangerous ideas" that some of the scientific community identified as such. The relevant entry is on page 7. Scroll down about halfway to Jaron Lanier, the guy with the dreadlocks who looks like he plays WH40k. I won't post the article here for fear of copyright issues. It is pretty heavy reading, so I'll summarize it below. If you want to try wading through it, you should first know what a homunculus is.

The whole point is that it is pretty easy for a complex and evolved being to control an object shaped differently than its normal body. The Tau, far more advanced in virtual reality technology than our current society, would surely have stumbled onto this little tidbit. Unfortunately, the phantom-limb issues seem to suggest that they haven't, which is a major fluff plothole (though, as with most plotholes, it can be explained away through clever rationalizations.)

Some of those justifications would include the Tau being unable to design a system that wouldn't cause phantom-limb problems (ridiculous, it seems you would have to try very hard to create such a system... did anyone believe it when people got killed inside the Matrix?) A second rationalization would be that Tau are not very evolved creatures, without a diverse evolutionary history to draw on... though this depends on the idle speculation of the guy who wrote the article being correct. Finally, a rationalization Wargamer and the "Tau are not squeaky clean" crowd might like - the Tau did not bother to develop a proper virtual reality control system at all, but rather slapped in a quick hackjob. This would mean reading only massive brain activity for use in controlling the battlesuit, and placing no safeguards for electric feedback into the brain... which is the only way a user could possibly be hurt. I find this out of character with the Tau, as well as being unlikely - after all, it puts Tau at unnecessary risk.

Like railgun threads, this might not be entirely on-topic with Tau posts... but I think enough people read this forum that some would be interested in it. ;D
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 02:42   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

Arrggghh! I'm a 97% science student and I'm getting migranes from reading this. DireStrike, why don't you write it in plain High Gothic so that even the Gue'vesa can understand it! ;D (well...being just a gr.10 student might not make me understand this...oh, well...)
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 03:17   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

So even though a battlesuit isn't exactly like a Tau body, the Tau nervous system can adjust to control the strange thing?

And then you bring up phantom limbs... for those without the appropriate knowledge, in the current day, this is the sensation of feeling a limb that has been removed/not there. This is in part because the nerve - receptors in the brain that give the "right hand elbow" feeling are attatched to your, say chin. This is because our nervous system is highly flexible.

So, would using a battlesuit give you a phantom limb: possibly. But, for those who experience them in Diplomat 2k, a strong brain stimulus will convince the mind the limb has indeed been cut off. So I wouldn't say it is a serious problem...
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 04:13   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

I think its a very cool read. Basically the tau could have developed a battlesuit that wasn't of human design because humans are able to adapt to a different body with added control points.

For example, you could have an extra arm on the suit and the mind would be able to adapt to controling that arm.


Perhaps this is because we only use 10% of our brain? Maybe the extra 90% is so we can adapt.
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:01   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

This is a really neat idea. Humanoid robots are so common in Science Fiction, but it is rare that we step back and think about why they should be shaped so.

Humans in 40k are certainly able to map their brain functions to non-humanoid systems. Practically every servitor mentioned in the fluff does this do some extent. It is possible that the Tau just considered their own form (bipedal with two arms) to be optimal when designing the battlesuits. Given their vague arrogance in certain things, this is not out of the question. It is also possible that the form of the battlesuits predates the current control system. Perhaps the earliest Crisis suits were just mechanized armor like the Stealthsuits, and then just got incrementally larger to accommodate more weapon systems. The new Stealthsuits seem to suggest this type of progression.

It is also interesting that the Eldar chose to make Wraithguard and Wraithlords bipedal. Perhaps the spirits are less adaptable than living brains?
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:03   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

Very few pieces of military equipment are designed with aesthetics in mind. If a design decision comes down to a choice between a sleeker tank, or one that has a 2% higher chance of surviving a missile hit, practicality trumps prettiness every time.

That said, there are some good design reasons why humanoid is a terrible shape for a combat vehicle. Chief among these is its high surface area - for the same weight, your armour is spread thinner, and more easily penetrated. Attempts to justify battlesuits (mecha, gundam, omnimechs - anything of that ilk) usually centre around the perceived advantages of a form that is similar to the pilot. The idea is that the pilot's reactions and nervous system are shaped by decades of experience and millions of years of evolution to be perfectly suited for controlling their own body, so if you try to make them control something wildly different, they will do so with far less than optimal efficiency.

The piece that DireStrike linked to suggests that humans are much more flexible in mapping their motor responses onto a different body than I was previously aware. Depending on the degree, this may more-or-less completely invalidate the above argument. If a human mind can control a low-to-the-ground lobster-bot with plenty of redundant legs, why force it to control a battlesuit that stands out as a target against the skyline, and is crippled if it loses so much as a single leg?

Incidentally, how are Tau suits controlled? I don't recall any indications as to whether they're completely manual, with levers and screens and so forth; entirely mental, with a direct connection to the pilot's brain for motor control and sense data; or somewhere in between.
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:08   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

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Originally Posted by Abanim
Incidentally, how are Tau suits controlled? I don't recall any indications as to whether they're completely manual, with levers and screens and so forth; entirely mental, with a direct connection to the pilot's brain for motor control and sense data; or somewhere in between.
If I remember correctly the pilots sit in a fetal position and control through a matrix like port to the base of the skull.
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:15   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Abanim

The piece that DireStrike linked to suggests that humans are much more flexible in mapping their motor responses onto a different body than I was previously aware. Depending on the degree, this may more-or-less completely invalidate the above argument. If a human mind can control a low-to-the-ground lobster-bot with plenty of redundant legs, why force it to control a battlesuit that stands out as a target against the skyline, and is crippled if it loses so much as a single leg?
I'm not sure if it exactly the same concept, but think about driving a car (those of you who are old enough to drive). Once you have been doing it for a while, your brain starts to eliminate the intermediate steps necessary to control the vehicle. Your brain starts thinking in terms of turning the car instead of turning the steering wheel to turn the car. Or think about playing video games. The human brain is able to quickly and efficient map muscle movements in the hands into actions in a virtual environment. Do you think about moving your thumb to hit the button which corresponds to block, or do you think "block!" and your brain makes the connection subconsciously? It is a fascinating topic.
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:20   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Amaliel
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abanim
Incidentally, how are Tau suits controlled? I don't recall any indications as to whether they're completely manual, with levers and screens and so forth; entirely mental, with a direct connection to the pilot's brain for motor control and sense data; or somewhere in between.
If I remember correctly the pilots sit in a fetal position and control through a matrix like port to the base of the skull.
I'm pretty sure they're mostly manual. Of course the Tau could have some sort of neural interface... but its nowhere in any fluff that I know of. I'd say manual control. Perhaps like the cargo haulers in Aliens?
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Old 10 Jan 2006, 07:36   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: "Homuncular flexibility" and battlesuit control WARNING: Science!

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Originally Posted by Khanaris
I'm not sure if it exactly the same concept, but think about driving a car ... Or think about playing video games.
It's a similar concept. The main difference, I think, is that you're working with a relatively small subset of the human mind's usual inputs and outputs. With video games, you receive all your input from vision (and maybe sound) - and only the small segment of your vision that encompasses the screen, at that. Meanwhile, your outputs are mapped to the set of nerves that control your hands and fingers - which I'd guess are more flexible in their reflexes because we've had a few million years of evolving them to use tools.

A bicycle is another similar example. I was actually thinking of this general subject when I started cycling a few weeks ago. (No, I never got around to learning to ride a bike before now.) There's a learned reflex you need in order to be able to stay upright, where you twist the handlebars when you feel yourself starting to tip. This runs completely counter to the balance reflex we spend the rest of our lives learning, where we use our legs to keep ourselves upright: but you can become quite proficient at it in a few hours.

I was speculating as to why we are able to relearn such basic reflexes, and the best explanation I could come up with was that it was so that we were able to adapt quickly to injury. (A wound to your leg may make you fall over, but give yourself a few minutes to feel what's wrong, and you'll be able to improvise a limp that keeps you moving without crippling yourself further.) Jim Bower's explanation in the linked article - that our nervous system is still partially adapted for the bodyplans of our distant ancestors - seems plausible, too. I wonder what sort of experiment would figure it out...
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