Microscopic robots might sound like the plot of a futuristic novel, but they are very real.
In fact, nanotechnology has been a point of great interest for scientists for decades. In the past few years, research and experimentation have seen nanotechnology's science develop in new and fascinating ways.
In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I delve into the topic of microscopic robots. The possibilities and capabilities of nanobots are something to keep a watchful eye on as research into nanotechnology starts to pick up speed.
In this episode, find out:
Important Links & Mentions
Today I’m talking about microscopic robots.
In the book Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, set in the future, wealthy people pay for life extension treatments. These are called “dechronification” methods and include infusions of “smart blood” which contain swarms of microscopic robots. These tiny robots are about 100 nanometers long and rejuvenate cells and remodel major organs throughout the body via the bloodstream. In this way the wealthy live for over a century.
That book was my first introduction to the idea of microscopic robots, also known as nanobots, more than a decade ago. Nanotechnology is more than a subplot in a futuristic novel. It’s an emerging field of designing and building robots which are only nanometers long. A nanometer is 1000 times smaller than a micrometer. Atoms and molecules are measured in nanometers. For example, a red blood cell is about 7000 nanometers while a DNA molecule is two and a half nanometers.
The father of nanotechnology is considered to be Richard Feynman who won the Nobel prize in physics. He gave a talk in 1959 called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The bottom he’s referring to is size, specifically the size of atoms. He discussed a theoretical process for manipulating atoms and molecules which has become the core field of nanoscience.
The microscopic robots are about the size of a cell and are based on the same basic technology as computer chips. But creating an exoskeleton for robotic arms and getting these tiny robots to move in a controllable manner has been a big hurdle. Then in last few years Marc Miskin, a professor of electrical and systems engineering, and his colleagues, used a fresh, new design concept.
They paired 50 years of microelectronics and circuit boards to create limbs for the robots and used a power source in the form of tiny solar panels on its back. By shining lasers on the solar panels, they can control the robot’s movements. In fact, you can see a battalion of microscopic robots in a coordinated “march” on a video linked in the show notes.
The genius of Miskin’s work is that the robot’s brain is based on computer chip technology. The same technology has powered our computers and phones for half a century. This means the tiny robots can be integrated with other circuits to respond to more complex commands.
The nanobot can be equipped with sensors to report on conditions in whatever environment it’s in. These are truly miniaturized machines capable of being injected through a syringe and still maintain their structure and function. And since they use the same well understood manufacturing process as computer chips, they are easy and cheap to produce. Millions of tiny robots can be made at the same time. The end result is electronically integrated, mass manufactured, microscopic robots.
Like in the novel Super Sad True Love Story, we could have smart blood with nanobots injected into our bloodstream. The nanobots could be used to deliver cancer drugs in humans right where they’re needed and avoid harmful side effects to other tissues. They could be used to reduce plaque which has built up in arteries, or for treating hard to reach areas of the human body with microsurgery.
And by the way, the author of that book, Gary Shteyngart, has credited his ideas to Ray Kurzweil, whom you’ve heard me speak of many times. Kurzweil is convinced that nanotechnology is the way we can someday merge humans and technology. As he explained just several years ago, “These robots will go into the brain and provide virtual and augmented reality from within the nervous system rather than from devices attached to the outside of our bodies. The most important application … is that we will connect the top layers of our neocortex to the synthetic cortex in the cloud.”
Leave a comment and let me know if you could access all its power and knowledge, would you connect your brain to the cloud? What if it meant you could store your consciousness in the cloud after you die? I’ve come across a short story called Remembrance which chillingly depicts this in the future. These may seem like crazy ideas, but microrobots are real and soon may be flowing through our bloodstream.