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In my opinion, nanorobotics is the most interesting part of nanotechnology, and medicine and healthcare would be two of the areas that could benefit the most from nanobots.

Since nanobots could measure substance levels in blood, repair cells and tissues, fight off toxins and infections, and perform many other operations on peoples' bodies, I believe that they could somewhat make medical and emergency services obsolete — apart from the doctor, AI, or pod-like device necessary to manage or control them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Standard "nanite" rebuttal: toughsf.blogspot.com/2016/07/… Importantly, the best situation for nanites is an environment carefully controlled to let the nanites ideally do their work. ie. a hospital, of a different sort. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Feb 28 at 23:00

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Never

Nano-medicine, even highly advanced nano-medicine, can only operate on a nano-scale. That means that anything which requires treatment on a macro level, such as any sort of major trauma (stiches and above) would be untreatable using nanomachines. You'd need some kind of center to have treatment, not to mention that even for basic wellness checks or recovery, you would want to have a specialized building.

In short, places which specialize in health services are never going to be obsoleted. Just changed a bit, that's all.

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    $\begingroup$ Unless you have emergency canisters of nanobots: "Break in case of imminent death. Best before 25XX. Keep out of sunlight." $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 20 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ If science find a way to erase certain memories from.the brain couldn't nanobots cure trauma as well? $\endgroup$ Feb 20 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek, yes, there might be ways to connect nanomachines together, but that would require specialized nanomachines designed for that. Let's say that someone sought out medical treatment after a major chainsaw accident. While the nanomachines are being gotten out of storage and being assembled, the rest of the environment will be working against the machines. Bacteria in the environment will have already infected the wound. The body will have gone into shock and started producing chemicals that could kill the person. The person will have lost a lot of blood. A hospital is still needed. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Feb 20 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek look at one of the distressingly common emergency room injuries, accidental amputation of a digit/s. While you could create nanomachines that will join together to form a large device that can retrieve the finger/toe and take it back over to the patient, much better to have a person or human-scale robot just pick the amputated digit/s up. Nanites are a potentially very useful tool, but there are things they just aren't good at. $\endgroup$ Feb 21 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ I dislike absolute answers when there are no fundamental reason why it can't be so. Practically there will always be some form of medical service, A sufficiently large volume of nanobots coupled with strong AI would be able to replace hospitals and a large chunk of medical services. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 21:25
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Yes

Nanobots could do all these things if they were advanced enough. The question is, what else could nanobots do. Instead of a normal biological body and using nanobots to repair it. You could have a body that was basically nanobots anyway. (Cells are basically crude and inefficient nanobots)

You may well be able to upload your mind into a virtual world. So the cancer fighting might not be needed much.

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  • $\begingroup$ In a nod to Halfthawed's answer: there will always be some tasks that are easier to perform with macro-scale robots instead of nanobots, such as holding the edges of a wound together while nanobots mend it, or diagnostic tasks such as taking x-rays or MRI readings. So, hospitals might not ever truly disappear, but we might see much smaller hospitals plus a lot of ubiquitous, fully-automated treatment stations equipped with a large supply of nanobots that work in tandem with larger manipulator bots. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Feb 27 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom You are underestimating the nanobots. Lets say 1% of your bodies mass is nanobots. You get shot in the arm. In seconds, the nanobots are stringing carbon nanotubes across the wound to pull it closed. In 30 seconds there is no wound. If for some reason you want scan yourself, your body is full of nanobots that can say exactly what is happening. X rays or MRI are very crude compared to nanobots that tell you exactly what is happening. And they require extra machines. The nanobots stimulate nerves in your eye to display health info. The nanobots can heal you before any ambulance arrives. $\endgroup$ Feb 27 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson You are greatly overestimating what nanobots can do. In order to have nanobots be able to do something like "stringing carbon nanotubes across a wound", those nanobots would have to be specially designed for that task and populated with the correct material. While that is possible, it is almost impossible to have all the different kinds of nanobots on hand and fully provisioned. You would need a warehouse of the various kinds, their raw materials, and the AI. You will not see that on every job site. A central location might have them - in rich towns. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Feb 27 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @David R They are nano, so you can fit 1 million types on a pinhead. Not that you have a million types. Pulling stuff around with nanotubes is in the top 20 tasks. And nanomachines can build anything out of atoms. So you have a handful of nanobot variations and resources. Most biochemical stuff is built out of about the same mix of elements. 1.5kg of raw atoms can build any 1kg you need. Its all mostly C, H, O, N with a little P, S, Fe. A bacteria is a crude nanomachine, it can do a lot of stuff in a tiny space. $\endgroup$ Feb 28 at 19:59
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Once they have automated version control

The point at which Nanobots can replace medicine is the point at which they can build new and specialized nanobots inside of your body on demand. The number of things that can go wrong with your body is essentially infinite; so, the number of medical treatments you may possibly need are also infinite. So, to preform an infinite number or treatments, the nanobots inside your body basically need to be able to download new treatment plans ad hoc from the internet and be able to replicate completely new nanobots and chemicals inside of you. Even once you do this, there may still be a few specialized reasons to go to a doctor's office, like if a treatment requires non-organic elements that do not exist in high enough ratios in your body, but these specialized treatment visits will be quite rare by comparison to today.

What makes the number of possible treatments so numerous?

People don't all come in a single make and model. Just like you can't drop a Ford F150 engine into a Kia Spectra and expect everything to be fine, you can't rely on generic treatment plans to work for everyone. Each human is genetically and physically unique in a way that makes one treatment plan ideal for most people, a problem for others. Donald Hobson brought up in comments some really good misconceptions worth addressing:

There could be 100 different causes of low dopamine, but in every case, the nanobots just need to make more of it.

This is not true because we are not all designed to run at the same levels, and how much we need may change over time. If you detect low dopamine, you first need to know the cause. It could be perfectly normal for someone with a high re-uptake and receptor density so "normalizing" dopamine could cause manic episodes. Or if they have a reuptake issue, then more dopamine could clog the system. Or if they have a receptor issue, then normal dopamine levels may be inadequate, and any one of these issues could be caused by a wide range of different genetic or environmental issues, and in some cases, there may be another underlying problem you don't have a fix for yet which means you may at times need to settle for suboptimal performance to avoid intervention complications. For some people a "proper dopamine" level might cause them to stroke out, in which case the nanobots need to know when no treatment is better than a high-risk one.

If the nanomachines have a template for what functioning kidneys are like, they just need to diagnose "kidney problem" and replace your kidneys with new working ones.

You can't just copy a generic "good" kidney in without knowing why it is bad. If your kidney is failing because of an untreated autoimmune disorder, then the new kidney could be even worse off than the original. Or perhaps a person's kidneys seem abnormal because they are compensating for something else causing high blood toxicity, getting them "back to normal" may result in smaller, less robust kidneys that are unable to handle the toxins. So, while replacing the kidney may be a typical last step of treatment, there are still countless possible lists of things you may need to do before you can repair or replace the kidney.

Why do they need to be able to manage downloadable Blueprints?

Because medicine is constantly evolving. Things we thought were helpful last decade turn out to have un-intended side-effects; so, your treatment plans need to change, meaning your nanobots need to be able to learn new tricks to not be outdone by doctors who are regularly learning about the newest research. Also, even if you could solve 100% of all medical problems, new medical problems emerge all the time. A new kind of consumer product could introduce new health risks. A new virus or bacteria could emerge that the nanobots don't recognize as a threat. A new genetic mutation could an cause a new and unforeseeable genetic disorder, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ DNA or other molecular storage is REALLY dense. The number of fixes you might need is large, but not so large it couldn't be stored in you. Many problems can be fixed be replacing the engine block or reinstalling the OS. There could be 100 different causes of low dopamine, but in every case, the nanobots just need to make more of it. If the nanomachines have a template for what functioning kidneys are like, they just need to diagnose "kidney problem" and replace your kidneys with new working ones. $\endgroup$ Mar 1 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget that our bodies would need to be modified to excrete damaged nanobots. The nanobots will decay, the AI components will wear out, the electronics will start to degrade, and they will need to be removed from the body before they go haywire. We have this problem today with implants that need to be replaced / repaired. Can you imagine the "cancer" caused by a nanobot gone rogue and starting to do actions not wanted? $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Mar 1 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR nanobots don't need to be made from electronics. IRL, medical nanobots are being developed that are made from biochemical components. They are more like custom made viruses than tiny robots. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 2 at 2:18

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