In Latin, nanus means "dwarf." In science, the prefix nano- means "one billionth" of something. Nanotechnology is technology on a scale of 1-100 nanometers (1 nanometer being one billionth of a meter).
Nanotechnology has become an all-purpose magic substitute for soft science fiction and sci-fi-flavored fantasy. Nano is the latest Sci Fi Name Buzzword; it is the new pseudo-Greek for phlebotinum. Nanotech supplies a myriad of exciting powers with a satisfying patina of plausibility.
As a result, Nanobots lead to interesting plots and settings even in otherwise hard science fiction. After all, if one could make a tiny robot at the nanometer scalenote and that little robot created another, and those two robots made four...
Once you have a vast mass of these robots, all ready to accept orders and shuffle stuff around at the molecular level, they can potentially do anything nature does and much, much more. Real-life nanomachine research is being done in areas such as medicine, manufacturing, and chemical engineering.
More often, fiction delights in taking nanotech way, way beyond the plausible. Nanomachines, "nanites" or "nanobots" are a writer's best friend. Writers are not expected to show the nanomachines doing whatever it is that they do, all they have to do are the results. And the results can be anything. Nanomachines can be depicted as masses of cloud/liquid in external "colonies", Voluntary Shapeshifting Blobs, or syringes of stuff to be injected into humans and have fantastic results, usually in the form of superpowers, but sometimes in the form of a Baleful Polymorph, Unwilling Robotization or Harmful Healing.
Real-life physics, however, puts constraints on what nanomachines can accomplish. For starters, without some source of energy, they will just sit there being molecules, or at best work veeeery slowly using ambient energy. Besides that, there's the issue of heat. The basic laws of thermodynamics state that there is no machine that can convert energy into work with 100% efficiency (I.E. without losing any energy in the form of heat), and the Square-Cube Law states that many small machines have a lot more surface area through which heat can leak out as opposed to one big machine. If you put two and two together, it means that any swarm of nanomachines is at the constant threat of building up enough heat to cook its fragile components. Finally, there's also the so-called "sticky fingers" problem that quantum-sized particles simply don't act like macroscopic matter, such that simply picking them up, moving them, and (most of all) putting them down again is a much, much thornier problem than is popularly understood. But most writers rarely study the subject in any detail; it's easier to just use them as Green Rocks that can do anything the plot requires.
One reasonably common science-fiction scenario involves nanomachines being programmed to build copies of themselves using materials in their environment. If not stopped, such nanobots could theoretically grow exponentially, turning all available material on Earth into more nanobots and ending life as we know it — this is known as the "Grey Goo" scenario. Some scientists have expressed concern that this scenario could actually happen in real life, although most consider it extremely unlikely to be accidentally built.
Because it is so powerful, in settings where science is inherently bad, expect nanotech to be way up there on the Scale of Scientific Sins.
Nanotech is a fairly common cause for the drastic scenario called The Singularity. The concepts of supply and demand change utterly when humanity becomes capable of mass-producing machinery that can turn anything into anything, ensuring supply is as close to infinite as is possible. And our basic nature is thrown up into the air once we direct nanites to work on us.
An important note, though: While many of the listed examples, and indeed fiction in general, may lead you to think otherwise, nanotechnology does not only involve nanomachines. Nanotechnology is simply any kind of technology that operates on the scale of atoms. This can be about anything, like making surfaces waterproof, increasing the surface contact for faster (chemical) reactions, or using silver nanoparticles as antibacterial component.
Examples with their own subpages
- The Authority: Authority member The Engineer replaced all of her blood with nanomachines. She can create nearly anything with these, from Arm Cannons to duplicates of herself. This being The Authority, many of the implications of these powers are investigated.
- During Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, Cassandra Nova attacked the team on a cellular level with nanosentinels.
- The Ultimate Marvel universe's Mutant Gene is revealed to be these in Ultimate Origins via a mixture of Nick Fury's blood and Wolverine's DNA.
- In the Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), some of Eggman's creations resulted in a hivemind mass of nanites that collected into a "city" in the forest. When an AI system of Eggman's was eliminated, NICOLE, the AI from Sally's computer, took over the dormant nanites herself and reconfigured them into a modified replica of Mobotropolis, giving her friends a new home. Nicole has been shown to occasionally modify the city structure through the nanites, though if her attention is divided she may have trouble maintaining everything at once. NICOLE also occasionally uses those nanites to create a physical form for herself, though she just as often uses holograms instead.
- In the fourth volume of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book, it is revealed that Baxter Stockman had infected April O'Neil with "NanoBaxterBots," which were slowly killing her. As a response, utrom Glurin and Professor Honeycutt devise NanoTurtleBots, nanomachines that draw their fighting skills from the turtles' memories, which they then insert into April.
- Xombi, from Milestone Comics, is about a scientist who becomes a superhero after being injected with a nanomachine "virus" that's capable of extensive tissue regeneration.
- Iron Man: Tony Stark once killed The Mandarin with nanomachines. His Extremis and Bleeding Edge armors are made out of nanomachines, while his original armor was powered by "tiny transistors," the predecessor to today's nanomachines in terms of function and origin.
- In this setting, "Makers", which use nanomachines to create food, clothing, and most other necessities, are commonplace. Spider Jerusalem sarcastically reminisces about his youth, where virtually everything he ate, wore, or owned was made from reprocessed lizard.
- One filler issue has an interview with a man who lost his legs stopping a Grey Goo outbreak — and who was then fired for not following the standard procedure of letting Blue Goo devour the entire endangered block and everyone still in it.
- Also there's the foglets, who are people who download their consciousness into a cloud of utility fog. Notably, the first story to feature this concept also features a fog person spontaneously assembling a flower out of... air? His own particles? Nanotech can't transmute elements or create mass, so it isn't clear where it came from or what it's supposed to be made of.
- In Adam Warren's version of the Dirty Pair, nanotechnology is strictly regulated to the point of being outlawed, after a Grey Goo outbreak called the "Nanoclysm" destroyed the Earth years ago. One villain uses nanobots to grant himself a Healing Factor; the Angels beat him up so much that the waste heat from the repairs does as much damage as the beating.
- Valiant Comics and the then-successor Acclaim Comics have multiple nanite-powered heroes. Valiant's Bloodshot has nanite-infused blood that, in the Valiant Comics incarnation, survives as the "Blood of Heroes" well into the 41st Century. Acclaim's Bloodshot's nanites may not be that long-lived, but were capable of healing any injury provided they had enough raw material to work with, reshaping his appearance, and making a modem jack in his neck for free internet access. Acclaim's version of Magnus Robot Fighter was never explicitly stated to have nanites, but his blood was metallic and capable of healing wounds. You do the math.
- The Flash: Flash's enemy Abra Kadabra is a time traveler who uses technology to simulate magic. At least one recent story described most of his tricks as being based on nanotech.
- The magic behind virtual reality in kimmie66.
- The villain's tech in the Doctor Who (Titan) Third Doctor miniseries... although in keeping with the seventies setting (and the Doctor's avoidance of providing too much future knowledge to UNIT) the word itself is never used, the closest being "micro machines".
- In the Harry Potter fic Draco Malfoy and the Sins of the Father, Draco tried to commit suicide after his mother was raped and killed as a punishment for his father's foul-ups, but was saved and transported to St. Mungo's where he was faced with becoming a quadruple amputee. Rather than have a crippled heir, his father had nanomachines injected into him, making him stronger, smarter and utterly incapable of committing permanent self-harm.
- In the CLANNAD fanfic An End to All Things, it's explicitly stated that Okazaki has these in his blood for body maintenance purposes, although they can also be used for making an Absurdly Sharp Blade.
- Kitsune: Mentioned in Chapter 17, used for Tampering with Food and Drink, and basically creating a Mind-Control Device out of a radio broadcasting a signal into the bots of those who drank the tampered stuff.
- The villain in Shadowchasers: Conspiracy uses a special Magitek variant of nanomachines as a primary weapon that acts as both a computer virus and a regular virus, able to spread from one to the other with equal ease. The limits of their powers are not yet revealed, but one doctor claims that an outbreak of them could combine the worst aspects of a Millennium Bug and The Andromeda Strain combined. ("To use a rather trite analogy", he adds.) Jalal explains what a Grey Goo scenario is (with rather graphic accuracy) simply to scare an infected victim into taking it seriously when she doubts how dangerous it is.
- Hiro's microbots in Big Hero 6 act similarly to nanobots but are visible to the naked eye, they interlock with one another to form structures and waldoes under the control of a neural interface. Unlike other versions of this trope he did not program his microbots to self-replicate. This becomes a plot point when he and his teammates attack Callaghan's microbot structures, sending the bots into the portal Callaghan had set up to destroy Krei's corporate headquarters, robbing Callaghan of his main weapon.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The T-1000 is often explained within fandom as being able to change shape because it is made of nanomachines, even though that explanation is not in the movie.
- The villain of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is made of nanomachines on top of an android skeleton, allowing for some Magical Computer effects, as well as not suffering from the T-1000's inability to create complex tools from its substance.
- The T-3000 in Terminator Genisys takes it a step further. It is made completely out of nanomachines (dubbed "machine phase matter" in the film) that have infected and converted a human subject, in this case John Connor himself.
- The source of KITT's superpowers in the 2008 Knight Rider Pilot Movie. It's even what keeps the armor together; when the computer is turned off, the car's an ordinary non-bulletproof Product Placement... I mean Mustang.
- In Virtuosity an evil AI named Sid 6.7 enters the real life by creating itself an avatar using nanotech. He/It absorbs glass to heal.
- When used as directed, the nanobots on the salvage ship in Jason X can heal wounds and restore tissue damaged by cryogenic freezing. If malfunctioning, they can be used to rebuild a shot-to-living-hell psycho killer into a Nigh-Invulnerable cyborg.
- Nanomachines are used in the I, Robot movie to "execute" problem robots.
- In the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) nano-insects (grey-goo style) Kill All Humans.
- Star Trek: First Contact was the first time the Borg were shown using nanotech as an assimilation tool (see below under Live Action TV).
- The MacGuffin in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is nanotech used as an assassination weapon. Roger Ebert wrote in his review: "A miniaturized assassination robot small enough to slip through the bloodstream would cost how much? Millions? And it is delivered by dart? How is this for an idea: use a poison dart, and spend the surplus on school lunches."
- Transformers Film Series: According to The Official Movie Guide, Protoforms are made up of densely packed nanomachines. This is the semi-official Hand Wave for any transformation "cheats" in the films and where, for example, the rubber for Optimus' tires comes from.
- G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra features the nanites, originally created for medical intents and later weaponized (sometimes with medical intents, for creating Super Soldier Elite Mooks who had a minor Healing Factor and parts of their brains destroyed to become fearless). And seems like they already existed in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel).
- One of the plots in the unproduced Plastic Man movie explained the technology which gave the titular character's powers. It involves the use of a experimental chemical liquid that rubberized anything that comes in contact with... But to stabilize the transformation, the test subject has to have a nanomachine (inside its body) as a catalyst to render the liquid product safe in its organism. If the nanomachine isn't used in the process, the liquid continues to rubberize the subject until it decomposes from the liquid's grey goo attributes. According to the script's text, it described the nanomachine that it has the shape of a snowflake
- What the major antagonists are made up of in Ben 10: Alien Swarm. An interesting thing is that they're inert initially but this is a ploy by the hive queen to keep the heroes guessing while she prepares an invasion.
- A major part of Caster's plan in Transcendence.
- In the movie Bombshell, a kidnapped scientist gets his kidney removed and replaced with a sack of protein, which is slowly being turned into a bomb by the nanomachines he was developing.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In Black Panther (2018), T'Challa's sister Shuri provides him with a nanotech Panther Habit. Not only can it be stored in a necklace and deploy at a moment's notice, but the nanites can absorb kinetic energy from attacks and then release it.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, Tony Stark's new Iron Man suit is made entirely out of nanites, which not only allows him to suit up at will, but also allows him a measure of Hyperspace Arsenal by converting nanites seamlessly into a wide array of energy, explosive, and even melee weapons. Peter Parker's new Spider-Man suit, which he gains before he and Stark travel to space, is similarly made of nanites that allow him to create four spider-like legs which he can use very creatively. Tony also uses the nanites to heal himself by spraying them onto open wounds.
- For lack of an extraterrestrial giant dwarf who forges mystical weapons, Avengers: Endgame sees Tony create his own synthetic Infinity Gauntlet using nanomachines to secure the Infinity Stones. This also plays into the movie's climactic moment when the future-displaced Thanos, thinking he has Tony's nano-Gauntlet, attempts a new snap and discovers that the Gauntlet is empty. Instead Tony commands his nanomachines to bring the Stones to him so he can perform his own snap and eliminate Thanos and his army. Unfortunately the nanomachines cannot redirect the unfathomable effects of the Stones' immense celestial power and Tony's action results in his Heroic Sacrifice.
- Pretty much the reason a Vanguard is a superior fighter against... soldiers, tanks, spider tanks and helicopters. Somehow, they make them super strong, fast, agile et cetera. They are also, however, harmful to the body, which is why Vanguards of the newer generations are euthanized after a certain period of time, being a military asset and damn expensive. A bunch of little machines pushing you to your limits, possibly straining the immune system, wearing you down... yep, sounds like Deconstruction.
- Magic: The Gathering:
- The Phyrexian "glistening oil" is heavily implied to be made from nanomachines, and so was the black cloud Yawgmoth manifested as.
- Flowstone, the rocklike substance that made up most of the artificial world of Rath in Magic: The Gathering, is made of Dungeon Punk-style nanomachines that can be controlled by the mind, usually by Rath's ruler, the evincar. It can be shaped into semi-sentient beasts or unleashed as a viscous tidal wave. Flowstone is not self-replicating, though; it was produced in a factory in the now-destroyed stronghold, the evincar's fortress at the center of the plane.
- Cyberpunk 2020 has a variety of nanotech, to go along with its various cyberware. Things get more interesting in Cybergeneration, its sequel. Cybergeneration introduces the 'Carbon Plague,' a nanite-based disease of uncertain origin. (How uncertain? The writers intentionally made incompatible statements to fans). At first, the Carbon Plague horrifically deforms and kills people, but later, kids, then adults, start to survive. Some of the kids aren't quite the same after, now possessing one of several super-powers; morphing limbs, wireless net-hacking, electrical blasts, pseudo-telepathy (via brainwave scanning), matter manipulation, or whatever power a Game Master can figure out a way to justify with the little hexite-manufacturing and manipulating nanobots that is the Carbon Plague.
- GURPS tech level progression is explicitly based on the idea that nanotechnology will take off between TL9 and TL10.
- Averted in Traveller except as an occasional Macguffin. Sourcebooks explicitly state that this was done to protect their system.
- Eden Games' Conspiracy X supplement Atlantis Rising. The Atlanteans (immortal aliens) use nanotechnology for everything, including altering themselves.
- Ubiquitous in Eclipse Phase, Nanofabricators are used to produce most goods, nanoware (most healing medichines) are an entire category of implants, and non-self-replicating nanoswarms are used for a variety of purposes. The TITANS also made frequent use of sentient Grey Goo.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- There's the Autosanguine/Black Blood implant, which injects nanobots into the bloodstream and allow someone to heal quite quickly, though it can't gloss over lost limbs or permanent scarring.
- Virus bombs (formerly the method of choice in Exterminatus) release a virus that rapidly spreads over a planet, breaking down every last bit of living or dead organic matter into a combustible organic gruel. How it works is almost always backed up by Hollywood Science, but one or two sources have taken a more logical take on the weapon, and implied that it actually delivers a payload of voracious nanobots to do their thing.
- Some of the novels featured a weaponized nanotech swarm from the Dark Age of Technology called the Bloodtide which started out as multiple individual intellects before merging into a single mind. This being 40K, it got possessed by a daemon and went around forcing the blood out of people's bodies.
- Nanotechnology is uncommon but exists in Shadowrun, or at least it did in Fourth Edition; most nanotech-built structures inexplicably collapsed at the end of Fourth Edition's metaplot, from guns to aircraft to entire office towers. Explained in Fifth Edition: artificial intelligences being held captive in the Matrix are using nanotech to break out. If they write themselves into a metahuman, they can take over the body; if they write themselves into an office tower, their efforts tend to cause it to collapse.
- By the time of the Ninth Age shown in Numenera, nanotechnology has essentially integrated into every aspect of the world and become as ubiquitous as microbes; this is part of the reasoning behind how the world's scientifically-powered pseudo-wizards, Nanos, can do their thing - their "spells" just reprogram or reactivate the nanites in the surrounding area to seemingly-miraculous results. The setting even includes a pseudo-Grey Goo phenomenon called the Iron Wind, in which a wave of malfunctioning nanobots swarms through an area, reconfiguring everything it encounters, with generally-fatal results on living creatures.
- In Rocket Age the Ancient Martians had access to nanotechnology. Succession, an utterly undetectable poison created by them, is in fact a nanobot infection.
- Given Pathfinder's dabbling with Science Fantasy elements, nanotechnology pops up in many forms. Perhaps the most peculiar is the nanite bloodline — sorcerers who developed their inherent magic as a result of nanotech influencing their conception and inhabiting their bodies (culminating in you becoming a nanite swarm while retaining your personality and, most of the time, appearance).
- In Sentinels of the Multiverse, Baron Blade has a card called Repair Nanites that is a set of these. He later uses them to fake his death.
- BIONICLE: very small subversion, the inhabitants of Mata Nui can be considered this. Given that Mata Nui is a 40,000 foot tall Humongous Mecha, the human-sized inhabitants who were built to maintain his systems are like nanobots to him. Also, in a more literal sense, the microscopic Rahi, Protodites, could be seen as nanobots. Zaktan's body is entirely composed of them after a unfortunate encounter with the Shadowed One.
- Schlock Mercenary: Nanomachines, generally referred to as "nannies," have been mentioned on various occasions, and several Story Arcs have featured them heavily. They vary between mil-spec soldier boosts (illegal outside the military) that increase all physical abilities, civilian strength and immune-system enhancements, and the Lazarus Super Soldier boosts that can turn someone into a killing machine strong enough to punch through a tank, with the side effect of near-perfect immortality. Various human black ops projects spend generations trying to keep the immortality while getting rid of the Super Soldier part, but progress was hampered by the fact that they found it incredibly useful as a secret weapon to let them put highly trained agents in the bodies of sleeper agents scattered around Terran space. The main characters ultimately solve the problem practically overnight, and give immortality to everyone.
Dr. Bunnigus: The military research agency in control of the project did the only logical thing.
Breya: Oh let me guess... and I'm going to go with irony here: They kept it a secret "in order to save lives."
Dr. Bunnigus: Correct. Also, they deployed it so they could kill people.
- Angels and Aliens is based on a secret group of humans given nanotechnology-based abilities such as speed, strength and healing by mysterious aliens. Drawbacks include rapid depletion of energy and oxygen while using the abilities, and the one-size-fits-all female template for the transformed humans - even if the recipient was originally male.
- Alien Dice has healing nanites, one use ones used for repairing a particular injury, after which they deactivate, and ones that provide a permanent Healing Factor, as well as the "relays" which are nanotechnological communications devices which implant themselves in your brain, basically functioning as a form of Electronic Telepathy.
- Gavia from Alice Grove uses nanotechnology that lets her, among other things, levitate and create force fields.
- Both used and subverted in Triquetra Cats, nanites are a miracle cure for most any medical condition however each use increases your chances of contracting a disease called NCDS (nanite cellular disintegration syndrome) where the nanite user's cells can no longer support themselves and break down.
- Most of the advanced Martian technology in A Miracle of Science is based on nanites.
- Similarly, much of Earth's technological superiority over New Abilene in Afterlife Blues is based on nanotech.
- Featured prominently in the Sluggy Freelance Story Arc "Kiki's Virus," where nanobots turn into a deadly virus thanks to the Millennium Bug. Nanotechnology is also used by Dr. Crabtree for more outlandish, shapeshifting purposes.
- In the Blade of Toshubi a nano-virus was used in World War IV to rid the Earth's surface of humans and is believed to have caused the mutation of animals to a sentient, humanoid form.
- At least two types of nanomachines showed up during the Crossover Wars, mini-gnomes from Magical Misfits were sent to the Evil Overlords headquarters to sabotage things and nanite versions of Mindmistress were left there to monitor things.
- In Umlaut House 2, nanites first appear when Sissy steals some assemblers from Dr. Lyse to build her fortress. Later it seems that nanotech is used for home replicators and when Peggy Seus asks the Dragon what it is it tells her to "ask Dr. Lyse about foglets". And now it seems that Lyse has replaced every cell in his body with foglets and the Dragon tried to take over his body.
- There is of course an xkcd about this.
- Though they don't play a large part in the plot, nanomachines are brought up in Commander Kitty as the means of turning a freshly made clone into a "perfect" android.
- Averted in Freefall. Mark has said several times that he avoids using nanomachines because it's become an equivalent to magic.
- Use Sword on Monster features Magitek nanites called thaumites. In the arc they're introduced they've been hijacked by the Pax Ferus group to run wild.
- Some of the characters in We Are The Wyrecats are physically augmented with nanobots.
- Played with during the "The Island and the Idol" arc in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Bob and Voluptua are both injured. Hibachi comes to their rescue, and Jean is excited to see him spray medical nanites on their injuries... until the nanites form themselves into rather boring-looking casts around those injuries. Voluptua explains that even with the nanites helping, healing an injury takes time. Jean is still disappointed.
- Nanotech is a big part of everyday life in Orion's Arm, sometimes to the extent of replacing all natural microbes in an environment. One thing it's not very good for is combat, unless the group using it has the element of surprise.
- In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions the heroes fought both an AI that used nanites and a minor villain from the future had nanotechnology, amongst other uses.
- The Journal Entries seem to use nanotechnology mostly for medical purposes. Pendorians owe their enhanced health and immortality to being, effectively, nanotech cyborgs, but don't exhibit much in the way of actual 'superpowers'; they're mostly depicted as regular folks with an occasionally odd-seeming outlook on things and seriously extended lifespans.
- Sam Everheart is walking around in the Whateley Universe because Sam interrupted an attempt to steal a nanotechnology experiment and ended up getting the nanotech, which then did a whole-body alteration. Luckily, Sam survived it.
- The Chaos Timeline has a lot of them in the last years.
- In We Are Our Avatars, Yasmin, Izzy and anyone Izzy gives nanomachines to has a Healing Factor that comes from said nanomachines.
- SCP-204-1 from the SCP Foundation is a swarm of carnivorous nanobots that seeks out a human child to act as its Guardian Entity. Although it turns the child into an aggressive sociopath to put into danger so it has a means of gaining food.
- In World Domination in Retrospect, the Villain Protagonist Psycho Gecko has nanites that allow him to heal from anything up to and possibly including death, as well as change his phenotype and, if necessary, go Grey Goo on his enemies.
- The society of the Mundo Ultimate News Cp smart city of Icetown in the 2090s has a Post-Scarcity Economy. Naturally (due to many 21s century advances) nanotechnology is present everyhere in Icetown, but The Singularity brought major nanotechnologies that broke the whole capitalist status quo and helped make Icetown possible.
- Universal molecular assemblers were created, enabling the end of poverty and the creation of a new economic system with two economies, one of them being personalized products with the price of each product decided by an AI analyse based on the quality of a design, making a civilization where innovation and creativity is the greatest value.
- It's a common mistake to conflate nanomachines with nanotechnology. While nanomachines of any kind — much less the kind that can give people superpowers or destroy the planet — are not yet feasible, nanotechnology has been in common use for a long time now.
- Computation and data storage: this is the most widespread and time-tested use of advanced nanotechnology. CDs, for one, use pits around 100nm deep for storing data. And the device you're using to read this article right now? The transistors in its microchips are probably even smaller than that. They've been sub-100nm since 2002. Nowadays, transistors are around 14nm in size, which is smaller than an HIV virus.
- Nanofactories: A small, printer-sized device which isn't limited to shooting ink onto paper (though it could if you want it to). If you have the raw material for it, you could print out entire electronic integrated circuits or other complex things.
- Nanomaterials: Super strong, very tough, and incredibly light, carbon nanomaterials. They are the Flying Brick of materials, in a sense. Variants include nanotubes, nanobuds, graphene sheets, etc.
- Nanomedicine: While we have no idea how to make ourselves immortal, superpowered badasses yet, doctors hope nanotechnology has the promise of eventually being able to cure the common cold. And HIV. And Cancer. The tricky part is actually getting the nanites to know what they should attack. This is being worked on mighty well. Nanites engineered to precisely exploit abnormally swollen pores in cancer tissue are in development. Ultra-tiny nanotube-based radio devices are also in development, which would allow for remote-controlled nanites, but those are somewhat farther away.
- Non-Newtonian liquid suspensions: Basically, funny-shaped particles made by nanoengineering, floating in thick oil. Flexible when subjected to the force of human muscles, but turn ultra-rigid when compressed by something faster. Like a bullet. Body armor that can stop a rifle round and also allows one to do crunches like it wasn't there. It's basically a man-made enhancement of the forces that allow John Tickle to walk on custard.
- The self replication thing commonly associated with nanobots is being researched too with some success, though generally the better a nanobot is at self replicating, the worse it is at doing anything other than that. The reason why self replicating is so crucial is because nanobots are really tiny, so you need to build a lot of them to do just about anything on the scale required by humans. And because you need so many, the cost of each nanobot has to be tiny. To give an example, say you use nanobots to replace red blood cells. A healthy human male has 4-6 million cells per drop of blood. If your nanobots cost even one penny each, then just replacing that one drop costs at least $40,000.
- If you think about it, nanomachines are actually much Older Than They Think, since proteins are essentially naturally occurring nanomachines. They are quite small, and they can accomplish functions like facilitating chemical reactions, pumping substances across barriers, and when working together can even cause macro-scale movement of objects.note
- Monoclonal antibodies already meet most of the criteria for medical nanomachines. Cultivate some that adhere to tumors, stick a radioactive isotope on each one, and turn 'em loose in the body to hunt down their prey like itty bitty Terminators.
- Another impressive example of an existing natural nanomachine is ATP synthase, which makes both the electric motornote and the reciprocating engine.note
- Another remarkable example of a natural nanomachine capable of manufacturing stuff is a ribosome. These are the things that actually assemble proteins according to their encoding in DNA/RNA and are a vital component of all natural replicators such as bacteria or eukaryotic cells. They self-assemble from their component proteins, so they can trivially replicate themselves. They're also hackable; viruses propagate by injecting their own DNA or RNA into cells, and awaiting the ribosome-based production line to unwittingly start making copies.
- Given these examples, the cell is a complete nanite in the classical sense. Able to consume external resources, duplicate seemingly endlessly, massive data storage (via DNA), the ability to manufacture anything on its to do list etc. Some of the closest stuff to grey goo is bacteria, while most large multicellular organisms (us, for example) are large nanite colonies with hundreds of different types of nanite working in harmony from a single instruction set.
- This video, depicting claytronics. This is just a simulation, but it is running off actual software. Using a sort of nanobot programming language, a CAD file gets read in, and the nanobots reshape themselves to match it. The program is supposedly only a couple of pages long. For now this is just software, nothing to worry about — but the guy who made this video thinks that he will have the hardware to do this in real life within the decade.
- Modifying retroviruses for beneficial uses such as gene therapy can be thought of a bio-nanotechnology. A normal virus injects its DNA into a cell to hijack its protein production. The cell then starts making viruses instead, which repeat the process. A retrovirus however, uses RNA to modify the host cell's DNA permanently. The cell may still undergo normal functions, with the addition of making viruses. This way, when the cell undergoes division, it also creates a cell with the same infected DNA. Biologists even speculate that 5%-8% of modern human DNA is actually retrovirus injections. But in any case, there have been successful trials for using retroviruses in beneficial ways. This is partly why HIV is so hard to get rid of. By the time it manifests itself as AIDS, countless cells already contain its DNA signature.