For this, my first Total Spinfoil Theory in some time, I thought I would revisit one of my earliest topics; Exos. Why they were built, how they functioned, and what changes about them when made Guardians. This post is not meant to debate the ideas of numbering and resets, but rather to reconcile them. I believe these are not so much competing ideas, but rather two sides of a fractured thought. We’ve been given pieces throughout Destiny and its sequel; what I’m trying to do is take those pieces and solve the puzzle. To begin, like I was taught in sketching, let’s start with biggest and most basic objects first – the concept of Exos.
From the Grimoire of Destiny (via Ishtar-Collective, emphasis mine):
Exo: “Built for a long-forgotten struggle, Exos are self-aware war machines so advanced that nothing short of a Ghost can understand their inner functions. They remain ciphers, even to themselves: their origins and purpose lost to time.”
“Ask yourself: what threatened your Golden Age ancestors so much that they constructed the Exos to defend themselves?”
Without going into the why just yet I want to focus on the what when it comes to Exos, War. Why were the Exos made for war? Any history major can tell you mankind takes the hands-on approach to conflict, so why invent a proxy? In the Golden Age of the Destiny Timeline, there are likely more people than ever, living longer than ever. Available bodies aren’t the issue. Technology and weaponry have reached a height that humanity hasn’t reached since, so equipment isn’t the issue either. To understand why Golden Age mankind needed to create the Exos for defense, I think, can be figured out with an introspection into the real world we live in today. Take the United States for example, today less than one percent of the population has been on active military duty compared to the nine percent who served in WWII.
There are many reasons for that gap in the US that I won’t cover here in depth- volunteer forces, nature of conflicts, etc. If we account for the presumed lack of terrestrial conflict, increased life expectancy, and quality of life during the Destiny Golden Age however, it’s not hard to imagine active military numbers plummeting to less than a fraction of a percent worldwide. Unfortunately, this gap between military and general populations creates a problem for the defense forces. There aren’t enough of the military to mount a defense large enough to protect everyone else should an outside force attack. And the Traveler has already proven to man that they aren’t alone in the universe, so how does Golden Age man prepare itself for eventual conflict? They didn’t say “we need to train more soldiers,” they said “we need to make them.”
What do you do when you can’t rely on training new forces, while the forces you have are very well trained but too few? You have a world class gunsmith but there’s only one of him. You have the best strike force, but they can’t be in two places at once. You have the ultimate spy, but she can’t do it alone. I bet you wish you could copy the forces you have, right? I think they asked themselves these same questions in the Golden Age as well when Clovis Bray said “you can.” Enter the Exo.
Developed, IMO anyway, from the Frames built by the Ishtar Collective (not to be confused with the Ishtar-Collective we use for referencing Destiny lore, so from here on out referred to as IC) the Exo units provide a solution to the great many problems facing Golden Age military personnel. They don’t have the same physical limitations as humans would. They’re more durable, they’re able to go places humans can’t, and they don’t require the same needs a human body does to keep operating. Presuming they function like the IC Frames, a military would overcome many of the obstacles presented by their dwindling capabilities except one. There still wouldn’t be enough bodies in the field making 1:1 facsimiles. Making a tiny force more durable doesn’t change the fact that there would simply be too much ground to cover, especially when you consider Golden Age man occupied not only earth but the entire Solar system. This, in my view is the biggest difference between Exos and their IC-Frame/Proxy counterparts; Exos aren’t remotely connected to a person, they’re autonomous. They don’t need someone remotely controlling or monitoring them to operate. The biggest advantage I see to autonomous operation in the case of the Golden Age military problem though, is there’s no reason you couldn’t make more than one unit. Why though, should we have reason to believe the Exo’s number reflects this multiplicity instead of their resets? Let’s look back to the grimoire from Destiny to try and answer that.
Excerpt from The Grimoire of Destiny (via Ishtar-Collective, emphasis mine):
Lord Timur: “Damn you, Exos!” The whisper game abandoned. “Do you even ponder the before? Or that number etched into your ‘flesh’? Do you see yourself in your dreams? Th—”
So, we’ve known from the beginning that Exos have a number attached. We also know that Exos undergo resets in their lifetime, most famously recounted by Banshee in the tower where he wonders how many resets he’s had as he counts to his number of 44. But why would the number of resets be etched in the Exo’s chassis? We know that the Golden Age had access to paint, and probably shaders(which are essentially liveries) like we have in-game. Why then, would they physically etch the number into the exo for each reset? Anything I can come up with to reason it out sounds like a stretch of the imagination. It’s just not practical. If we consider the number represents something else however things start to make a lot more sense.
If the number doesn’t reflect each Exo’s resets what else could it reflect? Let’s go back to our most basic concept when regarding exos, “self-aware war machines.” When we consider the numerical limitations of the Golden Age military and the fact that the Exo program was meant to address it one explanation (IMO) rises above the rest: What if the number etched into them reflects their production number?
Think about the possibilities. That super spy can work with herself if no one else can get it done. That strike force can be deployed to multiple fronts simultaneously. That gunsmith can be stationed at every base you have. Your military forces would be limited only by your production. Now defending a system where a fraction of a percent is ready and able to defend it becomes a lot more manageable. The possibilities don’t end there though, what if you could collect and share the mass experiences of each unit? Link them together to maximize their collective experience, making them even better soldiers. How would they go about doing that though? I think the answer can be found in the real world’s military and the emergence and deployment of drone technology.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article I will be over simplifying very complex systems. This article isn’t meant to go in depth on the military technology further than is necessary to understand the concepts at work.
A military drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV), functions through a handful of technologies you might already be familiar with. A combination of computing hardware like single-board computers (a Raspberry Pie is a great example of an SBC), exterior sensors, actuators, and software allow for many interesting possibilities. From autonomous flight and remote monitoring to shared flight data. Drones can even coordinate with one another to create shared flight patterns live (flying in formation for example). Impressive technology for sure, but how does it apply to our discussion on Exos? Once again, I think the explanation begins with Exo basics. I.e. what Exos were built to ultimately be, war machines.
Mankind’s military tactics and operations, no matter where they come from, all tend to build on proven concepts. This isn’t to say military tactics and concepts aren’t fluid, just that they tend to keep good ideas. With that in mind we can consider things thought of as good ideas today and apply them to the groundwork of future applications. If a combination of hardware, software, actuators, and sensors allow for autonomous unmanned vehicles, why not autonomous Frames? If it’s a good idea to deploy an autonomous unmanned vehicle with remote monitoring and networked communications, why not deploy that with an autonomous robotic soldier? If data sharing allows for better operational execution for a drone, why not an Exo? Drones and Exos, if we look at them both from a utilitarian perspective, are in many ways more alike than they are different. It follows then that the good ideas that can be, are, applied to both.
Now if you’re like me, even after considering all that you might still be thinking something like “I’m just not convinced the numbering doesn’t reflect Exo resets though. Aside from what Banshee-44 says in game there are a few allusions and mentions about resets. Not to mention that the more resets there are, the more fragmented the Exo can become. And guess who’s a great example of that? Banshee-44.” Those are all great points of why resets and the Exo’s number are very likely related. Why do the two ideas need to be mutually exclusive though? What if there’s a situation where both are true? Let’s reconsider what we can glean and re-approach the subject.
Remember the UAV generalization I gave above? I mentioned synchronization between drones. What I didn’t mention is that this syncing is also done between missions. Flight data is shared across UAVs to improve performance. Much like Multiple Man, these units are going out separately then learning collectively when they regroup. I believe this concept is not only important, but can be linked in direct fashion to another piece of Golden Age technology made for the expressed purpose of war: Frames.
From the Grimoire of Destiny (Via Ishtar-Collective, emphasis mine):
Ghost Fragment: Last Exit: [u.2:02] Dahlia’s the last ‘jack standing, then. Maybe it’s for the best. New frames have trouble data-linking with her and Arcite. The two of them have been around since the beginning, and their heuristic systems keep rewriting everything.
Frames data-link with one another to share the experiences of the older Frames with the new, and to collectively learn. The longer a Frame exists, the more data it can accrue. The new Frames have a harder time syncing with the older Frames because the hands-on approach all Frames are designed to learn through has the older Frames re-writing their own systems to the point it becomes too much for the new Frames to handle. I know that’s a mouthful but I think it sounds extremely familiar. Where have we heard something like that before? Exos.
As this article is already very lengthy I won’t get into too much detail about the popular reset theory involving Exos. To summarize it though, Exos have a reset function. This reset has something to do with the Deep Stone Crypt. The higher number on the Exo, the more resets they seem to recall (as we mentioned with Banshee-44 earlier). The more resets they seem to recall, the more fragmented their personality becomes. These facts are correct, but instead of this process happening to an individual Exo consider if it happened to many. What if each time they rolled out a new Banshee, they synced his mind with the mind of all the Banshee’s who had been deployed already? Just like the UAV and Frames, I’d like to submit that Exo systems are performing the same syncing task. Just like Frames, I submit that the further along in production the Exo line is, the harder it is for new, or higher numbered, Exos to data-link with the older.
Unlike Frames however, I believe Exos can no longer perform this data-link function and the process fails for them. I see this reflected in their stories of their dreams about the Deep Stone Crypt. If we consider that the DSP is a process of data-linking memories from various Exo units (like all the Cayde units syncing their data for example) and the fact that the DSP appears to Exos in a dream means we can then suggest that the process is not unlike REM sleep. During the REM sleep cycle dreams are a byproduct. Much like the transitioning of memories from short to long term during our REM cycle, it would follow that digital human brains like those Exos possess would behave similarly during a time when their systems are also introducing new items into their own long term memory. Since the task is performed regularly, it would also follow that the DSP dream would become reoccurring for Exos. The fact that whatever the DSP is (be it a server, process, or place handling both) is gone however could also explain how the dream has become a nightmare. Data is getting sent off and a reset process is failing all while the human psyche in the middle of all these system processes is being affected. It sounds terrible when it doesn’t work. I think though, when it did work, the experience must have been unique. Going to sleep one night and waking up with new experiences and wisdom sounds nifty; Especially for the early Exo models who could handle the transfer. That leads me to explaining why I chose the title of this article.
The name Man O’ War isn’t just a nod to what Exos were developed to do, but also a nod to how they function. I chose the name Man O’ War because in a way their systems remind me of a creature from nature, the Portuguese Man O’ War. You might recognize the Portuguese Man O’ War as a jellyfish, but it’s actually what’s called a “siphonophore.” Where a jellyfish is a singular multicellular organism a, siphonophore is a colonial organism made up of individual animals called zooids who all work together. Where the siphonophore’s parts are connected physiologically, the Exo’s are data-linked. Much like the siphonophore the Exo is not just a single robotic unit of war; The Exo is made up of a multiplicity of individual memories and data.
Written and submitted by Taylor-B-