Nanotechnology

One of the problems with Traveller is that for a science fiction game, it really seems quite low tech. Apart from high energy weapons, grav vehicles, and jump drives, there isn't much high tech. One remedy to that is to draw attention to nanotechnology. There was a brief discussion about it on the TNE-RCES mailing list. Some ideas were hashed out. Timelines were debated. In order to avoid having the technology overrun the game and drastically alter its feel, certain checks and balances were made.

One obvious benefit from nanotechnology would be its use in surgery. The robots would be able to access areas that are deemed inaccessible whether because of risk, delicacy, or scale.

In my Traveller Universe, nanotech surgery goes something like this: A sample of the patient's DNA is acquired, decoded (the Human Genome project will be done by the time this comes to pass) and programmed into the nanobots, which are tailor fabricated for each patient, to minimize rejection by the host. Instructions for the functionality and structure of the target tissue/organ are also added. The nanobots are injected into the patient into the target area and then set about making repairs. Once repairs are complete the nanobots are extracted. Biodegradable nanobots, like biodegradable sutures today, are another possibility.

Some parts of the anatomy are too complex (brain, nose, eyes, etc.) to repair with this method (GM's discretion). Sometimes the damage is too severe and critical to wait for the nanobots to do their work (it's a slow process). In these cases other surgical techniques are used.

Although initially expensive and high tech (TL13+), nanobots can do a great job at repairing broken bones, weeding out cancerous masses, and clearing out clogged arteries. Of course this begs the question, "What about anagathic purposes?" My solution, for now, is that attempts to use the nanobots for anagathic purposes have met with disaster (see "So You Want to Live Forever").

Comments from :
"Medicine seems to be the area of greatest promise for conventional nano-tech ideas. I suspect that the only limiting factor is the GM. You can have nanotech that only does simple repairs, drug release/collection, cleaning and so forth. Or you can have the Borg. Since there's no reason that nanites can't build metal/plastic objects rather than flesh, they would seem to be the perfect way to add neural interfacing technology and other "delicate" devices to biologicals. I prefer to say that nano-technology is totally experimental at TL13-14. It becomes of limited use at 15 (mostly medical) but is a standard medium at TL-17. That helps keep the really scary stuff out of the normal universe (and the player's hands) and stuck in research labs.

Some other stuff you could do with nano-tech:

Really the list is endless. Picture the technology you have and how it would work with nano-bots. Except for high-energy physics -- I don't think they would do too well there. Other SF gaming systems that focus on super-technology have some good ideas for using nano-technology."

Comments from :
"Actually, nanotechnology in the form of switches and sensors *already* exist. So 'primitive nanotech' would be a TL 8 development. With each succeeding TL, it would become more sophisticated, eventually evolving toward the independent tiny machines capable of seemingly magical tasks (cleaning the taint out a tainted atmosphere, turning a 1 kilo block of carbon into a diamond, etc.)."

Harold contstructed the original tech level timeline detailing what advances were made at what tech level. I disagreed with him on a few points so I revised it for my Universe (apologies to Harold).

TL Advancements:
8 - 9 Primitive nanotech. Simple detectors and switches that are capable of only one task and cannot be reprogrammed.
10 Nanos become self-contained machines. Increasingly sophisticated nanotech revolutionizes microprocessor technology, making computers faster and more dynamic. As the number of applications they can be used for increases, they spread to other technological fields.
11 Nanotechnology is now found in all fields of technology, usually employed "behind the scenes." While the jobs they can perform are still on a small scale (they wear out rather quickly), by late in this tech level the first partially re-programable nanos appear, capable of doing tasks related to their original design (removing contaminants from samples of soil versus removing platinum from old catalytic converters).
12 Nanos can now be reprogrammed to do tasks for which they were not originally designed, thanks to advances in computer technology. Specialized nanos can take on medium scale tasks (decontamination of a room, chemical refining, wastewater purification) thanks to improved mobility (nanos are less dependent on air or liquid flow to maneuver), but the still relatively short duration of their lifespans keeps them from much larger tasks.
13 Breakthroughs in nano mobility and duration dramatically increase their utility. The first nano weapons appear. Released into the air in close proximity to the target, they can do severe damage to skin tissues and if absorbed into the body can severely injure internal organs. Most civilizations ban their manufacture. While biotechnology is still cheaper at this level, nanotechnology presents an alternative in environments that would be hostile to biotech (i.e. vacuum of space). Large scale projects become feasible (building construction, bulk mining, localized environmental cleanup). Nanos appear in medical technology as experimental procedures.
14 Nanoweapons can be tailored to a specific race (humans, Vargr, Aslan, etc.), and late in this tech level to specific ethnic groups (Zhodani, Vilani, etc.). Nanos become commonplace in the medical community where they are employed to remove build-up on the inside of arteries and eliminate tumors without the need of surgery.
15 Self-replicating nanos appear, capable of asexual reproduction, provided sufficent quantities of materials are provided to them. Initially the copies the nanos build are very crude (equivalent to TL 11), but improve over the course of the tech level.
16 Self-replicating nanos capable of producing exact copies of themselves appear, theoretically making a colony of nanos self-sustaining if sufficent resources are present. Nano weapons capable of targeting a specific individual also appear at this TL.
17 Nanos constructed of advanced organic materials appear. These nanos can reproduce themselves even in the absence of resources. This breakthrough allows nanos to perform seemingly magic feats on a regional level (redirecting a river or moving a mountain). Nanos used in the medical field can be used to repair individual cells within a body--barring serious accident or other unfortunate circumstances--granting the host immortality.
18+ Nanos can perform projects at a planetary level, at first doing simple terraforming (changing standard tainted atmospheres to standard, very thin to thin, etc.) and increasing in sophistication, leading to complex terraforming (turing an airless moon in the habitable zone into a garden world). Nanos become capable of sexual reproduction--this leads to increased intelligence. By TL 20, a sufficent group of nanos can form a group mind that effectively has sentience. By TL 22, individual nanos achieve sentience.

Suggested Reading:
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Idoru by William Gibson


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