The first product that will be discussed are the nano-Spiders, created by a group of scientists from Columbia University. These are microscopic robots that are made out of human DNA. The reason they are made out of DNA is that their main purpose is to travel around the human body and be able to identify potential health problems, whenever they exist.
The robot moves along the DNA track because it has been pre-programmed by the scientists to reach a certain goal. This could only have been done by using advanced information technology. Because of this technology, the robot, which is in the form of a spider with four legs, can go along a certain path that has been programmed by the scientists, to reach the final destination. The legs are made of "enzymatic DNA"
, while the body is formed of a certain protein.
The current prototype is not able to go a longer distance, but scientists are already looking at mechanisms in which this can be improved. They are also investigating how the spiders can go faster towards the set target. In both cases, the information technology used to program them needs to be improved.
As mentioned, the idea is to program them so as to identify potential diseases in the body and react accordingly. One application that has been imagined for them is to discover cancer cells and then to bombard these with chemical substances that would potentially kill them. Thus, they could be used not only as an identification tool, but also as an action instrument.
In "Radical Evolution," one of the scenarios is called the Curve Scenario. According to this scenario, the evolution of information technology produces change in related areas such as genetics, robotics or nanotechnology. One can first point out that, even more so, this scenario proposes a blend of all four fields, under the coordination and evolution of information technology. Information technology determines evolution in all the other four, but not only because all these fields are so interrelated.
The spider robots are, as mentioned, programmed to move in the body. Furthermore, their evolution is determined by the evolution of information technology because, as shown above, this is fundamental to them moving faster and producing better investigative results in the body.
There are thus two aspects to be considered here: (1) information technology has made possible huge advances in nanotechnology, genomics and robotics, because each of these are covered by the mentioned invention: information technology allows programming along genome code; information technology allows the robots to move through programming and everything is done at a nanotechnology level; (2) future exponential progress in information technology will allow better programming and an evolution of the robot spiders on the same mentioned lines of the three dimensions of GRIN.
Reactions so far are extremely positive, the only thing being that the invention has not been much publicized outside of the scientific circles. For the medical world, this would definitely be an incredible discovery, in many ways: it will improve the chance of curing some of the diseases with alternative means, while also lowering the costs and pains associated with invasive measures when investigations are undertaken.
It is fair to say that the perspectives are virtually unlimited in this case. Beyond the robot spiders, the possibilities that the combination of robotics, nanotechnology, information technology and genomics offer in the fields of medicine are immense. One can imagine, for example, that, as their speed and capacity increases, robot spiders will be able to perform other tasks as well, such as fixing tissue and repairing the body from the inside.
At the same time, they might also be able to improve their performances on current tasks: with better programming, they would be able to increase the number of sick cells they are able to target, improve their speed so as to go faster and a longer way in the body, receive more complex programmed tasks etc.
On a darker note, some have shown that such nano-robots also have the potential to be used as weapons. Their advantages are obvious: they are extremely small and they are programmable, which means that, fallen in the wrong hands, this technology could be used for wrongful purposes, contrary to their initial goal.
The second invention in the field of robotics is a robot that can feel pain
. This robot has been designed by Japanese scientists for educational purpose. The idea behind this invention is that the Japanese students who are studying to become dentists receive an immediate feedback from the robot whenever a soft spot is touched during the procedures. In this way, the perspective is that the future dentist will be better prepared when working on real people and that dental procedures will become less painful. As Dr. Naotake Shibui, leader of the Japanese team that developed the robot pointed out, the aim is to "train dentists to worry about whether patients are comfortable and not just focus on technical expertise."
The robot, which has been designed as a woman and was called Simroid (meaning "simulator humanoid"), has a set of teeth just like humans that are fitted with different sensors that are meant to produce immediate reactions when touched with the dental instruments. The robot says "Ow, that hurt" when something like this occurred, prompting the student to realize that he has touched a sensitive nerve in the work process.
The robot was designed to be extremely realistic. Other than the obvious shout when feeling pain, the robot also moves its head or closes the mouth when feeling pain, a range of emotions and actions that the patient usually does as well in the dentist's cabinet. To make the interaction between the trainee/student and the robot even more powerful, students can actually "talk" with the robot, namely the robot has some programmed voice recognition features that allows the student to talk with it during the procedures.
Finally, another function that has been implemented for the robot is that the information is stored and can be later analyzed by the student. One needs to remember that this is an educational tool, so the student has to be able to go back and see where he made a mistake and what to do so that he or she doesn't repeat it in the future.
The Japanese scientists have in mind to continue the process of developing the robot. The next interesting feature will be to add the possibility of injecting anesthetics into the robot's gums, since this is something that is usually done at the dentist. The scientists will need to program a new set of reactions for the robot that will take this new element into consideration and that will change the interaction student-robot.
This invention also fits in the curve scenario, with the mention that this emphasizes the importance of information technology in the field of robotics. The robot is finely programmed, with the use of information technology, so that it has human reactions and provides a human interaction with the student. Information technology, in this case, has become so refined that it gives life to a plastic robot, in the sense that the robot actually has human-like characteristics, such as sensitiveness to pain.
A couple of observations about the two inventions, as they relate to "Radical Evolution," are in order. First, the book was written and published in 2005. These inventions have been created 8 years later and this is in a period of time when the rhythm of technological discovery is accelerated. However, such inventions were plausible in 2005, because the connection between information technology and the other elements of GRIN, most notably robotics, was already clear. With the advances of information technology, in 2005, it had already started significantly influencing robotics, genomics or…