Set in the future where there is at least one 3D printer in every household, population demographics show aging in every part of the world. In this future, many elites have powerful AI nanobots running inside their brains to assist them with decision making as well as being informed about the relevant current event happening in the world right now. These tiny nanobots cannot replicate by themselves and have to be 3D printed. Usually people of higher social status are often manipulative and will try underhanded method such as involuntarily feeding their workers or slaves with nanobots to eavesdrop and monitor their daily activities so as to blackmail them in due time. There has been a rumor going around for sometime regarding the rich and powerful using AI nanobot to control the corporation, and even the entire nation. So what is stopping people from creating their own similar AI nanobots assuming 3D printer and materials cost are dirt cheap?

inspired by Roko's basilisk ;D

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, due to your last line I now know where the name of the character "Roko Basilisk" in the webcomic questionablecontent.net stems from. :D $\endgroup$
    – orithena
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ 3d printing at the molecular level? I don't think so anytime soon. And what does "population demographics show aging in every part of the world" have anything to do with this question? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ This has nothing to do with acausal trade which is the mechanism of Roko Basilisk. $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Christian: you are right, I can't use roko's because I can't think of a way to motivate AI to torture human ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ Not nanobots, but related enough to be of interest. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 22:08

4 Answers 4


They lack the design. They lack the code. They lack the hardware.

3D printing a nanobot is more than just hitting print. You firstly need the right hardware. 3d printers can be bought from supermarkets these days but there is a world of difference between a home printer and a commercial printer which costs many thousands of dollars more.

If you were to 3d print a gun on your home printer, chances are you'll blow your fingers/face off. A commercial printer can print a better quality gun that can be fired safely.

Next you need the design. The rich have design teams of engineers and can spend thousands of man hours and untold resources to build and test.

Finally you need the code. A nanobot needs programming as well as a body. The rich can afford to buy the best programmers and software. The poor can, at best, download some bootleg code at which they don't really know what it does or if it's loaded with malware. The closest the poor can do to compete is with stolen hardware, designs and code which they tweak and hope for the best.

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    $\begingroup$ Designs and programming aren't necessarily an issue; there's always Open Source and Open Hardware. OTOH, there is indeed a huge difference between 3D printers that can do macro-scale stuff and 3D printers that can print modern electronics. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew it would certainly require quite the brave person to put an open source/hardware AI nanobot in their brain. If that were the way things were going, you can expect the FBI/CIA to have their finger in that pie, not to mention all the other problems that the open source community has... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew Majority of top notch hardware designs for most modern electronics aren't open source. And won't be until they are irrelevant. We are talking NVIDIA chipset blueprints here, not NVIDIA drivers (which indeed have been open sourced for better interoperability). $\endgroup$
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Gnudiff The open source NVIDIA drivers developed by the community are noticeably inferior in performance from the closed source ones developed by NVIDIA. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Isn't that mostly because NVIDIA tries to hide information from the open source team? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 11:32

Forbidden by 3D printers

Take some money, and try to scan it or print it. Your machine will not let you do this. There are specific protection to prevent that, the most famous one being EURion constellation. Your 3D printer will have similar protection, detecting that you try to print a nanobot.

Lot of data to send and process

Think of self-driving cars. They collect tons of data, and need to process them, fast. They generate Terabytes of data. Brain is even more complex than a car, so it will be several magnitude higher. Your nanobots isn't fast enough to process that much data, they send it to a central computer, that process this data. But that can be detected, and therefor regulated

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    $\begingroup$ This is my favorite answer - it uses existing technology to thwart counterfeiting to extrapolate an intentional limitation in consumer 3D printers that can't be circumvented without destroying the machines (or requiring a level of expertise uncommon amongst the general population). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH : but that protection is only like a bicycle lock: it prevents casual crime. A very determined criminal can find a way around. One could write their own firmware to run the printer or scanner, for example. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz A very determined criminal (not to point fingers, but let's say, :-) the super wealthy) can find their way around any and all defensive systems. There is no such thing as perfect protection. We could use some clarification from the OP, but I suspect casual crime is what he/she's talking about. (Is the scanning prohibition firmware nowadays? It used to be mandated as burned onto the chip so it couldn't be trivially changed.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH : indeed it cannot be trivially read out and changed, but one can always write a new software from scratch. If volunteers can write entire operating system in their free time, a printer controller software is not really that far-fetched. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz but that's why it was originally burned to the chip. It couldn't be rewritten by an enterprising young engineer. It had to be completely replaced by manufacture and the manufacturing chain had rules imposed on them (if I recall, criminal rules, it was the 90s when last I looked) that fundamentally stopped this in all but the most determined cases. I'd frankly be shocked if the capacity to not counterfeit money was simply a matter of firm/software. You'd have college students on every campus churning out $20 bills. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 18:23

Printer head size. A printer with a small enough head to properly handle nanoscale poduction isnt available to the public. Why would the corporations ever sell printers with such a small size? The public will rarely need that level of detail in their printer.

Printer head shape and functioning. The shape of the printer head (and the feeding tubes) as well as how it functions can limit what materials it can handle. These printers likely have dozens if not hundreds of different printerheads, and the one's with the right shape and functions to print (malicious) nanobots just happens to be missing or always a "production error".

Materials unavailable. Nanobots are more often specific molecules that are approaching biological functions. If the right materials arent sold to the public to build the advanced versions you cant build them.

Templates unavailable. 3D printers need a template to work off so they know what to build. Its kind of hard to design a working nanobot swarm capable of even a small task, let alone the magical complexity that requires dozens if not hundreds of nanobot variants in swarms to work.

Software+computer hardware limitations. Malicious nanobot construction causes deliberate errors, making it impossible to build them unless you can build your own computer software and hardware to fix the issues. How are you going to build it? Well you are likely dependend on this 3D printer that is giving you errors whenever you try to build the parts you want...

Software checks. All printers are connected to a central hub. They detect you making specific nanobots, you get a trip through the justice system.

Nanobot sabotage. The public 3D printers all come with nanobots installed that listen in on the 3D printer and its surroundings. They notice you build nanobots that arent cleared and they'll damage the 3D printer. If the bots dont alert authorities a mechanic will (although the mechanic might think he's just ordering a specific part).


To begin with, printers that can actually print at atomic scale (as opposed to assembling existing macro-molecules) are incredibly expensive. Further, almost all printers of any type are restricted to pre-approved designs or high-level variations on those. Designs must have maker's ID watermarked, cannot contain any auto-replication except in very specific and severely vetted designs, and must contain a number of other security features intended to restrict misuse. A printer that can avoid or fake the security features is extremely illegal. The only legal "unbridled" models are those that actually create new printers, new low-level designs, weapons . . . These are controlled by the authorities at levels of paranoia that resemble today's methods for nuclear material and printing presses for paper money and identity documents.

I highly recommend reading Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age for what I think may be a seminal view on this.


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