TikTok Is Terrified Of These Cell-Sized Robots

We've witnessed the potential perils of microscopic robots – or nanobots – in sci-fi stories for the past several decades at least. It is only recently that the technology has turned from science fiction into science fact as researchers at MIT have proven with projects that include cell-sized robots. Although the technology has been in real world development since 2018 (or before), a new viral TikTok video has just introduced these microscopic robots from MIT (and a few other research teams and sources) to a wider audience. This audience appears to have been thoroughly freaked out by what they have seen. The cell-sized robots are still in development and have yet to be deployed in any major way in the wild, but already the minds of conspiracy theorists are hard at work, brainstorming ways this technology could be abused.

When we covered one of MIT's nanobot breakthroughs back in 2018, we noted they are the size of a human egg cell and are made using miniscule electronic circuits. MIT's researchers suggested that the bots would one day be delivered into the human digestive system to investigate illnesses. Researchers also hypothesized that these tiny bots could be sent into other parts of the body via the bloodstream to deliver targeted treatments. 

Even at this early juncture, the bots were shown to have the ability to sense their environment, store data and even conduct computational tasks. MIT also showed how nanobots could be self-powered through the use of a microscopic photodiode that gathers light to provide sufficient energy to keep them running. It really is remarkable technology which is no wonder it has TikTok enthralled.

Nanobots in action

The short video made by TikTok creator @verititas3 shows a variety of micro robots in action, including some from MIT (which he mentions by name), but also others from other research labs (un-named) that are more proof of concept than anything else. While MIT's nanobots are designed to be functional, the video obfuscates MIT's bots with what appear to be microbe-propelled nanobots like those revealed by researchers from Cornell in February of 2022, or shape-changing microrobots from October of 2021. These projects are also still in early stages of development.

Reading the comments section of the video makes for some entertaining reading, as is often the case. One particularly dystopian viewer suggests that nanobots could be injected into people to control them, citing a hypothetical example of an insurer using bots to remotely stop a customer's kidney from functioning due to a late payment. Others expressed concerns about what the government might do with this sort of tech. Most simply say that they wouldn't want to go anywhere near a nanobot or have them in their body. That view might change one day, however, if the technology fulfils its potential to treat previously untreatable illnesses.

Nanobots in movies

It's not hard to see where people might get carried away with their imaginations when it comes to how nanobots could be misused or deployed. Nanobots have made their way into all kinds of science fiction movies to varying effect. Star Trek has famously put their fear of god into viewers with the Borg (alien invaders from the Delta quadrant, not from Sweden), a cyborg species that assimilates other species to add their biological and technological distinctiveness to their own. Their method of assimilation was to extend nanotubes from their fist into the bloodstream of their victim in order to inject nanobots that convert the victim into a cyborg.

More recently, the Marvel cinematic universe has also put nanobots, also known as "nanites", to good effect. T'Challa in the Black Panther has a suit made from nanites that is stored in a necklace when he isn't fighting. Tony Stark's Iron Man suit in Avengers: Infinity War is made of nanites stored in the Arc Reactor located in his chest cavity while he also provides Spider-Man with a similarly nanite-based suit. 

But while nanites are used to help protect and defend the heroes in the Marvel movies, there are many more examples where they are used to wreak havoc and destruction on victims. We can only hope that nanobots are used for good, but given humanity's track record for abusing technology, perhaps the TikTok audience could have some valid concerns.