In my “Dream of the Future” post I mentioned nanotechnology wars, and I have since decided to start work on this entry giving more ideas around nanotechnology and military implementations as they might work or appear. Recent developments have been increasingly interesting.
Nanobots could be controlled by radio signals.
Since a nanotechnology radio receiver was announced last year I have been thinking in more depth about nano-wars and nanotechnology in general. It was one thing to make microscopic machines, but another to achieve the capability to communicate with them. You can’t hook a wire up to them – it would have to be extremely tiny, and interfacing to human-scale equipment would involve special challenges. Not that I don’t think those challenges are already being addressed – I’m sure they are – but radio eliminates problems associated with scale, up to a point.
The only difficulty I can foresee in using radio to communicate with nanobots is where we would need to receive signals from them. Nanobots, by their nature, are extremely low power devices, and that would limit the power of any radio signals they could generate. On the other hand, I have receivers that can achieve a usable signal-to-noise ratio using signals in the neighborhood of a microvolt, so, with a sensitive enough receiving system in close enough proximity, the reception of nanobot-generated radio signals seems quite possible. (Note – I haven’t done even the preliminary math on this, yet, but will update this post when I have more information). So, given the ability to communicate with and command the actions of nanobots, greatly increased utility can be achieved, leading to some interesting visions.
Radio communications capability suggests that nanobots could carry out distributed processing tasks. One nanobot might be too simple to do sophisticated computing tasks, but large numbers of nanobots in communication with each other might be able to do much more. Specialized nanobots might work in concert to achieve highly sophisticated tasks, yet be invisible to the human eye and difficult to detect with radio or other equipment.
Nanobots could be built to fly by floating on air currents or hitch-hiking on larger flying objects or life forms.
When nanobots are created with not just the ability to communicate by radio, but with the ability to float on air currents, another host of possibilities arise. A faint haze might rise up from the ground as a horde of nanobots takes to the air on a small thermal. Trying to move on the surface would be too slow to be practical, and military deployment would require a way to transport them, or a way for a nanobot army to move itself. This might also be accomplished by an integration of scale, with sub-100 nm bots carried by more sophisticated bots orders of magnitude larger. Certainly, more complex integration of nano-machines is inevitable, and a great deal can be done at a scale still imperceptible to humans.
Nanobots with GPS receive capability could use it to navigate close to a given destination, and then proceed to their target using visual and radio inputs. It is possible they could sense airborne chemicals (smell) and be guided in that way.
Nanobot power sources could be diverse.
Light powered nanobots might have to cease or cut back on their activities if light went away, and then revive when it returned. If powered by received radio energy or electromagnetic fields, they might be able to sustain their activities as long as those signals and fields are present. Issues of scale are important here, as little voltage could be developed with such tiny antennas unless the energy field was extremely strong. Chemical energy is possibly the best alternative, especially if the nanobots are associated with a biological host that can provide the appropriate chemicals.
Could nanobot armies pose a danger to life forms?
This brings up the “Nano-Terminator” scenario, in which nanobot hordes learn to “think” for themselves and build more nanobots on their own. If programmed for self-preservation they could be extremely dangerous to life forms, and an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of significant magnitude might be required to disable them, though jamming of their radio systems might render them temporarily helpless or unable to do the distributed processing required to be very active.
I can foresee hordes of nanobots moving and working in unison, commanded by radio signals encoded for security and under control of humans. Like any other tool, they could be used for good or bad purposes. Buildings could be assembled at a molecular level by bucket-brigading nanomachines, or disintegrated, nibbled away by armies of nanobots. It might look as if the buildings were rapidly decaying, being turned into dust without any visible cause. Similarly, people could be attacked, their bodies eroding in a matter of hours to months. It might look as if someone was aging extremely rapidly, like a vampire in a movie after it was exposed to the light of the morning sun, until the disintegration became so severe … well, I’ll spare the gory details, but it could be pretty sickening. It might be more effective for nanobots to circulate in the bloodstream until they recognized a critical nerve cell which they could attack, causing the victim to suddenly fall down dead.
I realize this is scary stuff, but now is a good time to be thinking about it, as at least some of it is likely to come about. I will keep thinking about this and write more in the near future. I’m sure there are others out there, some certainly in the employ of the military industrial complex, with similar ideas.