Monday, February 28, 2005

NanoBots control the horizontal and vertical

scifinanobots1   scifinanobots2

A couple of days a week, while my wife is at work, my 8-month-old son and I check out what's going on over at the SciFi channel. I like to watch this network to get ideas for stories (just as some of you suspected, right?). Max's attention fades in and out depending on the colors appearing on the screen, words he recognizes or whether he's busy doing some repairs on his Radio Flyer Retro Rocket (his favorite toy, of course).

Well, a few days ago we came across a nanobot-themed episode of the newer version of "The Outer Limits" called "The New Breed." I didn't find out until I looked it up online that the episode dates back to 1995.

The episode features your typical scientist -- played by Richard "John Boy Walton" Thomas -- mixing up a few test tubes of nanobots at a university lab. He's on the verge of a cure for cancer, or some other such thing, but of course his spineless employers are so worried about possible "unintended consequences" of injecting these clearly beneficent 'bots that it's unlikely they'll ever let him start human trials.

Of course, a human does start a trial of his own. A colleague diagnosed with cancer, and has nothing to lose, lets the NanoBots bunny-hop all through his bloodstream. The result? Darn things not only cured his cancer, but also his eyesight and made him better, faster, stronger in every way.

Why, those 'bots even made him better in bed!

    Girlfriend: "What's gotten into you? I've never seen you like this before."
Of course, things go wrong. Very, very wrong. He grows eyes in the back of his head (dumb), but a more believable symptom was his skin coating itself with nanobot-built nematocysts, or microscopic stinging cells used for self-protection -- presaging the era of biomimetics.

In the end, however, the only way out was to kill the human along with the nanobots and, quite disappointingly, the scientist learned his lesson and burned some papers that contained, presumably, the secret nanobot recipe.

I couldn't scrawl down the exact wording, but in the end the narrator says something like, "we must take care not to alter nature or risk being burned by the fires of creation ... "

And that's the end of that. ... Or is it? What about the girlfriend, who was on the receiving end of some pretty crafty creatures ...

Question for the class: Who is more influenced by this kind of fiction? Future anti-nanotech activists? Budding young nanoscientists? Impressionable journalists? Nobody?

NanoBot Backgrounder
Antediluvian NanoBots
Nano's most fantastic image
Stop worrying and learn to love nanobots


QuantumBot said...

Hi Howard,

As usual I think the young children and impressionable adults are the groups most likely to take an extreme negative position.

Although I have not seen the piece you refer to in your post, its basic theme is valid. Caution and prudence are needed as we venture into this technology. Unfounded fear will not and never is constructive.

Martyn Amos said...


This sounds like a rip-off of Greg Bear's Blood Music (Victor Gollancz, 1986), right down to the nano-lovin.....


Anonymous said...

I think that science fiction stories like this influence and encourage young scientists. I know after reading Prey and Jurassic Park I thought to myself, "I wonder if I could actually do that..."

Howard Lovy said...

Shhh, Kevin. It's not safe to say such things here. The people in charge of the U.S. government's nanotech program read this blog. Now, you'll likely be targeted for "re-education." One of the goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative's education program is to stomp out officially incorrect visions of nanotech. You'd better repent by buying a pair of nanopants and reciting 50 "Hail Smalleys."

Fiction inspiring real science? That's heresy.


Howard Lovy said...

Thanks for the "Blood Music" reference, Martyn. I hadn't heard of that one. It was published in 1984, just before the "Drexlerian" age, and won the Hugo award that year for Best Novelette.

Through this Amazon link, I learned that the title comes from an Arthur C. Clarke book. This review says, "Bear admirably succeeds in sounding a cautionary note without lapsing into anti-science hysteria, as so many non-hard SF writers would do."

If you want to know what the author is up to now, Bear has a blog.


Howard Lovy said...

And here's a note from Greg Bear:

Thanks, Howard! Blood Music picked up both the novelet Hugo and the Nebula in 1984 and next year became a novel that is still in print from iBooks. The title is not from Clarke--but I was definitely thinking of Childhood's End when I wrote the story!

Best wishes--