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Image 109
Immune Machines

Image 109      
Title:   Immune Machines  
Date:   1991  
Artist(s):   Pauline Phung  
Image Size:   14,243 bytes   [CLICK to download]
Image Dimensions:   189 X 250 pixels    
Image Palette:   Black & White    
Image Description:  

Medical nanodevices could augment the immune system by finding and disabling unwanted bacteria and viruses. The immune device in the foreground of this image has found a virus; the other has touched a red blood cell.

It is useful to think in terms of medical nanomachines that resemble small submarines. Each of these is large enough to carry a nanocomputer as powerful as a mid-1980s mainframe, along with a huge database (a billion bytes), a complete set of instruments for identifying biological surfaces, and tools for clobbering viruses, bacteria, and other invaders.

Immune machines, with their onboard sensors and computers, will be able to react to the same molecular signals that the immune system does, but with greater discrimination. Before being sent into the body on their search-and-destroy mission, they could be programmed with a set of characteristics that lets them clearly distinguish their targets from everything else. The body's immune system can respond only to invading organisms that had been encountered by that individual's body. Immune machines, however, could be programmed to respond to anything that had been encountered by world medicine.

Immune machines can be designed for use in the bloodstream or the digestive tract. They could float and circulate, as antibiotics do, while searching for intruders to neutralize. To escape being engulfed by white blood cells making their own patrols, immune machines could display standard molecules on their surface—molecules the body knows and trusts already like a fellow police officer wearing a familiar uniform.

Copyright Info:   ©Copyright 1991 by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson, and Gayle Pergamit. For reprint permission, please contact foresight@foresight.org or The Foresight Institute at P.O. Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, Tel. 1-415-324-2490.
Print Source(s):   K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson, Gayle Pergamit, Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution, William Morrow/Quill Books, NY, 1991, p. 208. Adapted from A. K. Dewdney, "Nanotechnology — Wherein Molecular Computers Control Tiny Circulatory Submarines," Scientific American 258 (January 1988):100-103.
Online Source(s):   Unbounding the Future, Chapter 10.

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