Its already here … Well Basically…Bio-robots of sorts…
Gene Therapy has made huge leaps in the fight against cancer. Basically what it is, is reprograming your DNA to reject cancer cells and actually act against them… some recent articles on Sirosis of the liver offer a lot of insight on this cutting edge treatment. Do a google search on gene therapy and you’ll see some great articles on the subject…
This kind of technology is dependent on an other scientific breakthrough. The complete mapping and understanding of the human genome and DNA in general.
Here’s the problem. Not everyone’s body is created in the same way. We are all unique based on our evolution, our DNA. Cancerous cells are usually just like every other cell in our body, except they keep reproducing when there is no need for them. To simply tell some robot to remove cancerous liver cells will do no good. The robot may very well end up destroying the liver by mistaking the healthy, necessary cells for cancerous growth. It’s a robot, it has no idea what’s good and what’s bad. Just what matches it’s target and what doesn’t.
It’s theoretically possible to make someone immortal through the use of future nanotechnology. The body can no longer repair itself? No problem, we can with nanotech. No aging, no genetic problem which could not eventually be overcome.
Nanotech is the new panacea of medicine. It promises to do so much for us. It could repair spinal damage, allowing a paraplegic to walk. Maybe for the first time. It could remove fat cells, making everyone the thin person they envision in their minds. It could regulate or produce necessary enzymes making diabetes, bi-polar disorder, and other chemical imbalances no longer a problem. But until we understand how DNA works, it doesn’t matter how small we can make the robots. They still will have no idea what to attack, and what to save.
Computers really can’t do this now. Thst’s why it’s still necessary to have experience doctors review test results. look at CAT scans and x-rays etc. to make a diagnosis.
I studied a case in which a programmer in expert systems (programs which can mimic human decision making processes) asked doctors how they knew what they were looking at was cancer. The overwhelimng resonse was “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I just know what cancer look like”.
It’s feasible in the sense that no known scientific principal indicates that such devices are impossible. At the same time, I believe that people have proposed ways that such machines might be created. There was a famous talk given by Dick Feynman in the 1950’s called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” I’m sure you could find a transcript with Google.
The trouble with guessing when it will happen is that predicting the advance of technology is notoriously difficult. Where’s my jet-pack? The moonbase? On the other hand, computers have advanced incredibly in the last 30 years.
That said, I think 20 to 30 years is a reasonable estimate. I imagine that nanotechnology will require something close to working AI to work properly. Extrapolating from Moore’s law (and doing a little guesswork) it will take 20-25 years for computers to reach a point where they have something like the processing power of a human brain. I think AI will follow soon after. Once we have AI, we need only instruct our machines to develop nanotechnological medicine. And voila.
Don’t put too much faith in Moore’s Law. It’s only a rule of thumb based on past experience. All technologies have limits, and eventually there will come a point where computers simply cannot be made to go any faster. There’s also the problem that the human brain doesn’t really work like a computer in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Remember, the scientists of 30 years ago thought that we would be taking vacations on Mars by now.
I think that future computers will be able to simulate human brains. But I agree that this is a discussion for another thread. There was a thread about AI in GD a few weeks ago - feel free to look it up and contribute.
There was a great article in Scientific American about a year ago or so about the difficulties with nanotech and why it might not be even theoretically feasable.
That said, we already have types of nanotech devoted to fighting cancer - biological nanotech, as has been mentioned. It’s a routine matter to make antibodies conjugated to toxic chemicals that can be used to kill specific cells while sparing others.
The problem is not being able to kill the cells, but to target them. What we need is to find some physical difference - some molecule or molecules that are expressed on all cancer cells and are absent on all normal cells. Then all we’d have to do would be to make antibodies against those molecules, and boom. Cancer cured. Of course, it’s not that simple. Cancer cells are derived from normal cells, so they express mainly normal proteins. Finding magic targets has proven to be incredibly difficult and complex. We’re discovering that there are types and subtypes of different cancers, and each one has different expression patterns.
Nanotech wouldn’t help that. If we could program a nanocomputer to recognize cancer cells, we could program biological molecules to recognize them. Nanotech’s not the issue.
I’m not sure about this but I’ll bet the problem won’t be destroying the cancerous cells but rather finding and identifying them There are a lot of cells in the body and it is a little difficult to imagine a search mechanism that would allow pinpointing the exact, individual cancerous cell among so many. If some of the chemical or biological “tags” that attach to cancerous cells only, leaving “normal” cells alone, work out as indications are that they might, then nanorobots might not be required.
This seems strictly analogous to using “smart” weapons to destroy widely dispersed guerrilla or terrorist forces. “Smart” weapons can hit precise targets with high accuracy. The problem has been, and will continue to be, finding and identifying the proper target.