Mass Custom Microbots For Everyone… Else.

C Sven Johnson @ 24-03-2010

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Unlike most people my age, I don’t have a lot of dead tech replacement parts crammed inside my body. No hand-polished titanium joints. No electro-membrane kidney prefilters. No brand name ocular or cochlear augmentation devices. Just some old metal fillings and a couple of porcelain crowns. However, over the past few years I’ve been reaching that point where good genetic fortune runs out and difficult choices need to be made. As a consequence, while recently undergoing a routine physical exam, my doctor recommended I consider having a colony of MoniBots™ injected into my system so they could monitor my physical condition and report back anything out of the ordinary.

I told her I’d give it some thought.

As some of you already know, MoniBots™ are the latest salvo in the current fire-and-(mostly)-forget neurobioceuticals war; tiny, mostly autonomous, swarm intelligence microbots that siphon raw materials directly off the host’s body to sustain their monitoring operations. No batteries required.

Of course, MoniBots™ still need to be replaced in the event some are irrepairably damaged or unexpectedly lost. A sufficient number of bad science fiction-horror novels and movies have gotten the public’s attention to ensure microbots capable of self-replication are military-issue only.

Even so, being a closet Luddite and having read my fair share of nanobot fiction, I decided to give the matter a little more review before I gave permission to have a bunch of deterministic – if neutered – micro-machines tool around inside me. Those old novels might have been cheesy, but they were still compelling.

It was during my research that I came upon what I believe is a solution in search of some potentially serious trouble.

You might recall the microbot hacking incident from a few years ago; the one in which some industrious individuals took up station outside fast-food joints in Pune, remotely commandeered the monitoring microbots of unsuspecting diners, and modified their code to randomly transmit false data. At the time, everyone thought these guys were just doing it for the lulz. What didn’t go reported was that the student hackers were later found to be working for a major microbot reseller; apparently in an effort to discredit the quality of rival microbotic monitoring devices.

Pissing off a bunch of old, tenured professors was a benny.

As a consequence of this little-known factoid in medical technology history, mass customization practices were quickly and quietly introduced to medical micro-robotic fabrication. So now, because “Your Well-Being Keeps Us In Business™”, each host’s colony is uniquely hardware-encrypted to prevent easy remote access

Having learned this, the first question which comes to mind is: Hasn’t anyone ever lost a software key only to find the developer is no longer in business, or has been bought out by a non-contractually obligated competitor?

I have. So I’m thinking I should hold off on the MoniBots™ and most other closed-source medical microbot technology until my life expectancy is less than the biotechnology corporation developing these gizmos.

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Sven JohnsonSven Johnson is an unrooted freelance designer increasingly working at the intersection of tangible and virtual goods. His background is varied and includes a fair amount of travel, a pair of undergraduate degrees and a stint with the US military. He’s a passionate wannabe filmmaker, a once-upon-a-time underground comix creator, and – when facilities are available – an enthusiastic ceramicist who is currently attempting to assemble a transmedia, transreality open-source narrative in what remains of his lifetime.

[Future Imperfect header based on an image by Kaunokainen.]

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2 Responses to “Mass Custom Microbots For Everyone… Else.”

  1. Gary Ansorge says:

    One potential disadvantage to micro-bots running around in our system is,,,can they be hacked? Like Rif tags, all we need is some smarmy tech. that manages to hack into and redirect your ‘bot to do bad things, then demand you pay “protection money”.
    It might also make tracking your location an essential “national security” requirement.

    Gary 7

  2. csven says:

    Hacking is the reason they’re individually customized; a consequence of the hacking incident in Pune. The potential problem, however, is in the solution implemented. If, for example, each colony of MoniBots™ is hardware encrypted using a series of secret algorithms based on a user’s initial unique key – something made possible by custom fabrication of the bots – then issues arise regarding how the MoniBots™ are accessed after a company goes out of business, taking their encryption process with them (probably in violation of a legal requirement, but lost none-the-less).