Let's assume that we live in a world similar to ours, but with bio and nanotechnology that is 25 years (give or take a few) ahead of what we have today. Few years ago scientists in most advanced country created a programmable nanobots. They were able to withhold this information from public for a time needed to infect around 99,9% of their country population, and currently around 70-95% of the world is infected (most developed countries are at average 95%, while least developed are at 70%). Moreover only government is able to tell with 100% accuracy who was infected and who was not.

Since then single government has assumed total control of people lives: they are picking your partners, job, education, even your lifestyle. Any disobedience is severely punished.

Let's assume that nanobots can do following things:

  • Control your basic feelings (fear, joy, rage, ...)
  • Check what you are seeing or hearing
  • Cause pain on different levels
  • Control your hormone levels
  • Kill you
  • They operate on the same substances your muscles are using
  • They can replicate inside your body
  • They have capabilities similar to nowadays cell phoenes (GPS, Wi-Fi, GPRS, 'background' offline programs, ...)
  • They cannot read your mind.

Of course in such a world it would be expected for people to form some kind of resistance. No matter how much I have thought about it I was unable to find a way for rebels to win against government. Every scenario I have considered was ending in (usually quite swift) government victory. Is there any, even remotely possible, (let's not consider multiple asteroids hitting every possible command center) way for people to restore democracy in such world?

Side note: Please forgive me any possible grammar mistakes. Please suggest corrections, and I will try to include them.

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    $\begingroup$ Bear in mind that even with a lasting golden age of scientific advancements, nanobots of this complexity are at least 100+ years away. $\endgroup$
    – Jimmery
    Nov 26, 2014 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ Make the ruling elite despise themselves, with non-violent methods. This worked well in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of colonies gained their independence this way, without militarily defeating their colonial masters. Now it's not military power which holds, for example, France and Britain back from conquering most of Africa again (they could trivially destroy all the armies of the continent), but soft power: their own people would find even the idea itself horrible and would not support them. Besides, the current economical systems wouldn't make it worth it even if they could do it. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Nov 26, 2014 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Related question. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 26, 2014 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ How do people get 'infected'? Why are not all people infected? If 5% of the population were somehow immune they would figure out how to detect infected vs. non-infected persons and begin to conspire with other non-infecteds. The scenario kind of reminds me of the world from the Terminator(TM) movies, where small cells of resistance keep fighting against the overwhelmingly powerful machines; not that their pictured success would be in any way realistic, but guerilla warfare can extend over a long time. - Maybe the resistance can manage to capture some of the enemies technology and start to ... $\endgroup$
    – JimmyB
    Nov 27, 2014 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky" has a similar (if not quite as all-encompassing) scenario. The resistance there consists of a guy with insider knowledge who's able to use backdoor functions of the nanobots that the "government" is unaware of. In your scenario, a defector from the government could also be the key. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2014 at 9:03

17 Answers 17


TL;DR EMPs probably won't work and simple magnets won't help on silicon machines. But offering honey-pot-counter-bots that attach to the offender and render them useless or use blood transfusion and a cleaning mechanism might work.

Reality Check

Professor Bradley Nelson of ETH Zürich managed to build a nanomachine that could be remote controlled and moved through a (hopefully dead) cows eye in 2004 Research site of the institute.

Raymond Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, has published the book The singularity is near, which is quite some detailed reality check - with some restrictions (taken from one of the reviews)

This starts with the thesis: Technological change is exponential! This has been true for many measures such as micro-processor size, cost of mass-produced goods, etc. It is not, however, a general rule of thumb to apply blindly to all things "technological"! This seems to be Kurzweil's big mistake. He extrapolates features of technology to an unrealistic infinity. [...]

By "remote controlled" and "stearing", they actually mean metal coated boxes (namely: "Nano Containers") that move along a persons veins. Professor Zhang Li from University of Hong Kong claims that he can remote control nanobots in a body. In fact it's nothing more than a magnet moving a box in a tube forwards or backwards. So they are far from real external controls as the electromagnets probably house the person in total.

the nickel-coated microbots are steered wirelessly by electromagnetic fields

Quite interesting are the mentions (incl. footnotes that I can't verify as I don't have the book at hand) of Professor Kensall Wise of the University of Michigan who seems to have built monitoring probes that allow precise monitoring of neural electrical activity and of Prof. Kazushi Ishiyama head of Ishiyama Laboratory of the Tohoku University who [acc. to R.Kurzweill] has built micromachines that deliver drugs directly to "precise locations in the brain". I would take this info with a grain of salt, as the university does not have any research paper about this.

According to Chris Phoenix, director of Research at the Center of responsible Nanoresearch, who has written about Nanofactories in his paper for the Journal of Evolution & Technology, the major problem seems to be mass manufactoring. In the paper he reviews the major previous ideas in the Background chapter showing the logic gaps in all the existing sketches and concepts.

Manufacturing While an optimistic view, like the one of Kurzweill states that if everything goes well, we will have usable nanomachines by 2020, there's no sign of mass production in the near future. Phoenix shows exactly how problematic design changes are when operating mass manufacturing at atom level. While building a prototype in a laboratory might already be possible, there's a lot of missing pieces to make this possible in a production chain.

Communication It may be possible that there are already prototypes (of which I couldn't find a paper) that could be remote controlled already, it won't be possible in near future to send a constant stream of visual real time data. The human eye is far beyond HD vision and is able to see up to 225 fps [Fighter pilots, no citation found] in a field of view, close to 180 degrees at around 550MP. Now try to transfer that amount of data and imagine how much energy you would need to transport that. So this is the most unrealistic part. Pretty much the same goes for audio data. Another problem will be that even when all the data can be read and transported LoFi, there would be constant interruptions through steel-concrete ceilings and walls, subway stations, etc. Also the range of field would be quite small and therefore would need a quite dense network of relays and signal amplifiers and relay stations.

Let's go through the list:

  • ✓ Control your basic feelings (fear, joy, rage, ...)
  • ✗ Check what you are seeing or hearing
  • ✓ Cause pain on different levels
  • ✓ Control your hormone levels
  • ✓ Kill you
  • ✗ They operate on the same substances your muscles are using
  • ✓/✗ They can replicate inside your body (depending on the time this scenario is in)
  • ✗ They have capabilities similar to nowadays cell phones (GPS, Wi-Fi, GPRS, 'background' offline programs, ...)
  • ✓ They cannot read your mind.

Who is Who?

IEEE Spectrum has a nice PDF that shows every (in their view) important actor in this research field, allowing you to weight one opinion to the other more easily. Stay critical to everything you read as everything is just an assumption. Remember what we imagined the future to be in 2015? Flying rocket cars, holograms, etc. What have we got? Supercomputers in our pockets that we use to watch and share baby pictures and cat videos with people that we mostly don't meet in the real world. The future might no be what gets predicted by scientific researchers (in a single field).

Fighting off the Singularity

An interesting thought that goes against the assumptions made by transhumanists - who think that we will have better blood cells able to repair wounds quicker, transport more oxygen, fighting bacteria and viruses, etc. - is stated by Richard A.L. Jones in his article Rupturing the Nanotech Rapture

First, those building blocks--the cogs and gears made famous in countless simulations supporting the case for the singularity--have some questionable chemical properties. They are essentially molecular clusters with odd and special shapes, but it's far from clear that they represent stable arrangements of atoms that won't rearrange themselves spontaneously. These crystal lattices were designed using molecular modeling software, which works on the principle that if valences are satisfied and bonds aren't too distorted from their normal values, then the structures formed will be chemically stable. But this is a problematic assumption.

This means (more detail in the article) that the carefully crafted atomic structure of one molecular machine could be easily damaged if exposed to a substance it wasn't crafted for. So simply making a blood transfusion (as in exchange) with non-infected blood will give you a lot of chances to extract the machinery: Starting with mixing blood with water to destroy them and then using a simple filter mechanism to divide blood and water by its specific weight would be possible. It would as well be possible to craft your own nano machines that mimic target cells to attract an enemy machine and expose an atom on contact that attaches to the offending machine on contact rendering them useless or blocking their movement. Another possibility might be to use silicon magnets, as research by a team of scientists led by Paul Snijders of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and published in the New Journal of Physics in 2012, to extract nano machines built out of silicone atoms:

[...] The surprise is that while bulk silicon is non-magnetic, the edges of nano-ribbons of this material are magnetic. [...] the electron spins are ordered anti-ferromagnetically, which means they point up and down alternatingly. Configured this way, the up and down spin-polarized atoms serve as effective substitutes for conventional zeros and ones common to electron, or charge, current. [...] "By exploiting the electron spins arising from intrinsic broken bonds at gold-stabilized silicon surfaces, we were able to replace conventional electronically charged zeros and ones with spins pointing up and down".

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    $\begingroup$ This is probably most scientific view on this problem so far. Thanks! I like the idea of nanobots as very fragile machines that can be easily affected by chemical and physical factors. That would mean we maybe would be able to make some anti-nanites injections. Or maybe we could even push our own immune systems to recognize nanobots as threat... $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @White_Raven "Push our immune system" - I just read that up. There are some researches regarding silicone breast implants for women and their systems building antibodies against polymers (like silicone). They are producing double the amount from women without implants no matter if the implants got damaged (and reach the system) or not, but even more if silicone reaches the system. This might be your "cure". Side effects from those antibodies sadly are loss of hair, fever, tiredness, hurting joints and a rash. Maybe not the ideal way to fight back silicone based nano bots :) $\endgroup$
    – kaiser
    Nov 27, 2014 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ "x Check what you are seeing or hearing" I think your grossly overestimate the complexity and difficulty in this. A system doesn't need to process 100% of what a human can theoretically receive, nor does it need to transmit it all, nor does this have to happen in real time, to be an effective censorship and monitoring mechanism. $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Nov 29, 2014 at 4:19
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent point of removing abilities of nanobots which are not feasible. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2014 at 20:17

Anything that is programmable, is hack-able. The first thing to do would be to hack the nanobots. Also 'tinfoil' hats come in here, block the incoming and outgoing signals and you have some control and privacy.

The most likely scenario would be for the resistance to find a 'kill' switch for the nanobots so they become inert or permanently shut down. That is one problem with this type of technology, someone else could hack the system and make it do things the originators didn't want or intend.

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    $\begingroup$ Well.., since this nanobots can see what you see, they might realize you are seeing/messing with their code, and stop you. But is a good idea. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2014 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Physicist137 True, but they need to be able to recognize it, and most nanobots are not going to be making the decisions, so if you have their wi-fi blocked you might be good to go. Also not everyone is infected so they would have the best chance $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Nov 26, 2014 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good solution, but I can see several problems with it: with nanobots this sophisticated it would be easy to build some anti-hacking mechanism. While with time it would almost certainly be breached many volunteers lives would be lost. We also can consider that government won't stay idle and prepare updates as soon as a security breach is identified. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ How about creating your own nanobots that 'search and destroy' Part of the problem with nanobots is how intelligent they can actually be and still be small enough. Most nano tech will have bots that can do just a couple things, it's the numbers that make a difference like ant or bee colonies. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Nov 27, 2014 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think you give any government too much credit. Tracking 10 billion people with trillions of nanobots. People are going to get blocked and go in and out of 'service' all the time. Running the microwave messes up my wireless signal so it won't be as 'obvious' unless for some reason they are already under suspicion. People die etc... $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Nov 27, 2014 at 14:57

You can also use the great power of physics. A high intensity electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could shutdown every nanite in a given area. This could be used.

An atomic bomb exploding safely away could destroy nanites of a entire city. You could build a EMP generator only for you, with "few" use of electricity, an using accessible material to everyone.

You can build a disguised EMP generator bit by bit patiently, so they will never notice.

  • $\begingroup$ Very plausible. As a side note, this was used in the Everness series against the Nahn. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 26, 2014 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ Or some freak accident has an EMP-like side effect on the protagonists. That way, the nanobots don't actually detect any kind of treason before it's too late. $\endgroup$
    – jliv902
    Nov 26, 2014 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Another solutions that's quite good. My only concern is: Wouldn't EMP cause internal damage in the human body? In example if people would have nanobots in their eyes wouldn't this dose of energy absorbed by nanites cause them to lose sight? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ @White_Raven Not at all! An EMP is harmless for a human body. And for your small scenario, a possibility could be a low enough EMP to prevent heating the nanobot, but powerful enough to burn internal electronics. This is very easy. A few mili-àmpere is needed to make the nanobot inactive. However, a considerable current is needed to heat the nanobot to cause damage to us. I can edit the answer and explore it, and do some calculations, if you want to =) $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Just hope the nanites haven't made themselves irreplaceable. It's well and good killing them, unless they are integral to your survival. $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Nov 29, 2014 at 4:21

Ok, here are my thoughts on this:

First of, I assume that only those who are not infected with nanobots will be part of the revolution. Since the bots can manipulate people to a high degree (even control their emotions), the government could program the bots to keep infected people happy, thus giving them no reason to revolt.

So the minority of the uninfected would have to conduct the revolution. If we assume that fighting the nanobots by weapon power is futile (those little bastards are hard to hit!), the only way to stop them would be to destroy the chain of command. So if there is a central control center, the uninfected could blow it up (remember Star Wars - The Phentom Menace? The space station was destroyed and the robots on Naboo stopped working). Of course that only works when there is one central control units (or several units that are destroyed simultaneously) which the bots depend on to make decision; if the bots keep on working and manipulating the humans after the control facility was destroyed, the only way would be to subsequently destroy the control units, the nanobot factories and then either kill the remaining infected or find a way to get rid of the bots that have taken control over them.

So let's assume there is a central control unit and that destroying this would solve all problems, because this is really the only way the uninfected would stand a chance. Then there are a couple of problems you will need to adress:

How to find out if people are infected?

Assuming the Nanobots leave no visual trace on infected humans, it would be difficult to determine if someone is infected or not. Furthermore, even if it was possible for someone to accurately tell if someone is infected, they would need to recheck everytime they meet after spending some time alone - every one of them could get infected at any time. So the uninfected would need a scanner or something like this to check for nanobots. Even then, they would need to constantly check everyone for Nanobots.

How to protect against Nanobots?

If you have established a group of uninfected, how do they protect themselves against Nanobot infection? A full-body armor may sound cool, but this scenario is not really sustainable, so I assume hiding is the only way. Then again, a swarm of Nanobots are very effective at searching large areas. Maybe an underground facility that is somehow protected against all sorts of scanning devices? Even then, the uninfected would eventually have to come out (at least to destroy the control unit), so they definitely need some way of holding off the Nanobots, at least for some time ...

How to fight an entire people

We've established that the infected are under full control of the government, so they would certainly fight the uninfected if they were revolting. Because most of the humans are infected, the few uninfected would have to fight the majority of all people on the world. Since the government probably has superior weaponry, again hiding from the infected would be the only way to keep uninfected and alive. The uninfected could e.g. try to blend in and act like the infected, but then again, if the bots give off GPS signals and communicate with each other, as infected person could definitely tell if someone standing next to them is infected or not.

Moral problems

As mentioned above, the uninfected would probably have to fight the infected that they are trying to save. Cue moral queries, doubt, some self-hatred and stuff ... you will have to adress that.

All in all, it is possible that the uninfected find a way to destroy this control unit, thus giving people back their free will (again, assuming that there even is a central control unit), but it's highly unlikely. I would probably try to make the nanobots not so overpowered (it's anyway unlikely that technology will advance this far in 25 years) to give the uninfected a decent chance. For example remove the GPS capability and communication between Bots so that your uninfected can blend in with infected, pretending to be infected as well.


You have created a frighteningly powerful device, combining the thought police capabilities of 1984, the homicidal capabilities of Saw, and the subtlety of a ninja assassin. There's no surprise that you can't find a way out!

My recommendation would be to treat your ideal nanobot as just that... the ideal. The resistance will never overcome the ideal nanobot army because, if they could, the government wouldn't have released it until they perfected the nanobots. If the resistance can take on the ideal nanobots, imagine what they'd do with an implementation!

The implementation is where the resistance really would take foot. Something would give in that perfect storm you wrote to yield breathing room for rebels. For example, consider one example, "wifi communication." You can't actually do that with nanobots. The best you can do is create the illusion of doing it:

  • Transmitting wifi any non-trivial distance requires an actual antenna. If you don't have a full sized antenna (26mm, from one antenna I just looked up), the power costs of sending and receiving skyrocket quickly, and power storage is not easy for nanobots.
  • Wifi uses lookup tables to remember the addresses of nodes. That takes memory, which takes space (also not easy for nanobots)
  • 802.11b antennas usually push 500mW. For a nanobot to push that kind of power with physically realizable components, it would pop like popcorn.

So what WOULD your "wifi communication" look like? It would take advantage of the ability for a large number of separate nanobots to cohere into a "virtual group" so they could emit signals together. It doesn't have to be physically touching... just all of them agreeing enough on timing to get a common message out, sharing the power and antenna requirements between all of them. It would also involve routing messages through thousands of short hops, rather than our modern "3 hops takes you to the Internet backbone" approach.

That is now an opening for a weakness for the rebels. Whatever system they use for communication would behave more wavelike, like ocean weaves. If the rebellion can structure their life to make that wave-like communication harder for the nanobots, then they have more room to operate.

Likewise, human emotions are hard. One nanobot cannot possibly comprehend your emotions. They have to be working in a communal process to read emotions. This means:

  • Its going to take a lot of data to relay someone's emotions... so if you can find ways to keep the communications busy long enough, they may forget to relay your information out!
  • You may be able to learn new ways of managing emotions which leverages the same ocean-wave communication weaknesses to let you show emotions that don't register to the nanobots.

In all, don't try to beat the ideal monster. Try to make him, claws and all, and then find the weaknesses of that realized monster instead. The entire point of ideals is that they're tough to beat when you analyze them. Beat the implementation instead!

  • $\begingroup$ +1 Agreeance here. This is why I was saying nanobots of this complexity are (under best conditions) 100+ years away - we may be able to build basic nanobots right now, but miniaturizing WiFi and GPS down to this level is a long, long way off. Similarly being able to control emotions: we are still at the beginnings of understanding the inner workings of the brain, and a long way off being able to directly manipulate a person in this manner, with or without nano robotics. $\endgroup$
    – Jimmery
    Nov 27, 2014 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimmery - Maybe I haven't stressed it out enough, but I was purposefully considering similar world to ours, but with only bio and nanotechnology that is more advanced than what we have today. Otherwise it is almost impossible to predict what other countermeasures can be available in the future. In such setting I believe it does not matter if we have +25 or +100 years on this 2 technologies. Also: Cort Ammon - I really like the idea of perfect technology, and imperfect implementation. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ Plot idea: what if dissenters realized that there was no way out once the evil empire has perfected it, so they cause itnto be released in Alpha. Imperfect functionality, imperfect control, exploitable bugs, and a chance for the people to do something about it before the government is "ready". Might even have good guys repurposing them to some degree, to control the other side, or get superior transhuman capabilities. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:52

Fight fire with fire.

I think the suggestions already made here of hacking the nanobots or using EMP devices are some of you best options here.

The hacking idea in particular got me thinking (so credit for this really should go to bowlturner), a resistance with sufficient resources could effectively create a set of counter-nanobots.

These nanobots would have the same properties as the ones you describe, except they would also be able to detect the government nanobots and either destroy them or re-purpose them.

The resistance nanobots could transmit false data to the government, letting those in charge believe that they are still in charge.

This way the government in charge would end up with the same problems as the resistance - they wouldn't be able to tell resisters from their own subjects.

This also has the potential for leaders within the government being unwitting pawns in the resistance, perhaps not even aware that the nanobots within them are not under their control.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of infecting government officials with your own nanobots. Still, since they would have this technology at much higher level, I imagine it would be only possible to do if most of officials would be infected at roughly the same time. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt that this is possible, as it would assume that the oppressor does not suspect such an attack. In a real world of course they would, so the nanobots would have some built-in self-check programs or control sums, etc. $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Nov 27, 2014 at 12:42

You say "only government is able to tell with 100% accuracy who was infected and who was not". Sorry this fails the reality check. If the nanobots are transmitting via radio waves quite simple equipment can tell the transmitter's location with a precision of few meters."Sorry dude but you're sending" is quite telling that he's infected (or carrying around a mobile phone). I assume that each individual Nanobot has to send the collected data at regular intervals to free its memory to collect new data. Probably the Nanobots also need to communicate so that they work in a concerted effort. Single or uncoordinated nanobots should be quite ineffective.

Plus, it's easy to tell that someone is not infected. Just open your microwave oven. Bypass its safety, put it on high for a few seconds and direct it at every part of your body. The burning sensation tells that it's working. Afterwards any transmitter is toast thus you can safely tell: "Dude you're not infected, anymore." Of course this is much better than just determining who is not infected, because you can define someone is not infected. Maybe the rebels set up an array of microwaves at the entrance of their hideout and "clean" everyone who enters. I don't think it will be pleasant, but better than having an unintentional spy around. In fact it's probably not the question, if microwaves destroy nanobots but at which power and time. The second question is how much does living tissue suffer from this. Plus it may be very painful, if high settings are required. And the rebels may go with a setting like "better safe than sorry".

You think the easy way out is boring? Well that's reality for you. You can check how long a fine electrical circuit can withstand high energy microwaves using a SD memory card. Maybe you want to wrap it into a steak, which you don't intend to eat. My guess is that the SD card won't last 3 seconds at 700W while the steak won't be recognisable warmer.

  • $\begingroup$ Good observations, but we can assume that nanobots can stream data only once in a while (of course this would give better chances to resistance) so it would be somewhat harder to find who is infected with 100% accuracy. Also, good observations about microwaves. Maybe someone with better technical knowledge than mine can confirm if this would work? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 10:35

It would be hard to maintain/govern that kind of state given the massive apparatus needed to run, maintain, and enforce a regime.

Why would a government of 30,000 people let alone 50 share all that power? Or would there be a different set of nanobots to enforce loyalty by the despot?

Given these questions of power, countermeasures come into play. Perhaps government officials have developed an immunity to these nanobots. They could also have different flavors of nanobots...Chinese, Russian, anonymous...

In this state, humanity would totally join the "internet of things" and the computer virus/worm would be just as deadly as a physical virus.

I think one of the responses addressed throughput of visual cues, but there are several ways around this. Cloud, hive-based decentralized computing where the localized nanobots cluster and also collective lo-fi processing similar to how compound eyes of a fly would operate.

This also brings the question of the power of computing when these nanobots have these molecular "supercomputers" (by today's standards) and could collectively network and share computing bandwidth on demand.

Perhaps it doesn't take 3000 people to run this spying state, but rather one looming Skynet.

Other potential musings aside. If there were a romanticized struggle of hackers who fight each other through their collective bot-net powers (human slaves...aka the 99.9%), one could posit the nanobots could also enhance rather than inhibit.

In exchange for your freedom, privacy, and Facebook photos, you get to live forever, never die of sickness or cancer, and lift 3 times your body weight thanks to your nano-buddies. As with the internet of things, you'd also have the best Audio-Visual center with entertainment streaming through your noggin 24/7.

I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?


I think the following approach will always work:

Such a complex network of control, need a lot of supervisors. The bots need to be controlled, updated, distributed. And there is probably a supreme council of politicians, who are not infected, since the danger would be too great, that one of them could seize power and control all of them.

So you will have a bunch of people, who are unaffected and who are sitting at the source, of the controls. All it takes is one of them deciding to start a revolution - be it for personal gain or higher moral reasons. If it is an unaffected politician, he can use his power to undermine some of the efforts. If it is a nano-bot-programmer, he can insert bugs into the software, so that 0,1% of the population will become unhappy and invisible - he could even transmit a message to them in their heads, bevor their nano-bots self-destruct. The Message could also contain vital detail about the government...

In the end any system composed of humans has a social angle making it vulnerable. This could be the stepstone for any of the other proposed scenarios, because with an insider collaborating with the rebels most of them are possible!


since i cant comment - im going to make some assumptions. Citizens know they are monitored. And citizens know all the capabilites of the nanobots that you mentioned

communication is of first concern.

Cant revolt if what you see and hear is being monitored.

Have you considered braille. You can read a message without looking at the page. Maybe even Tactile Sign Language from http://www.aadb.org/factsheets/db_communications.html

You can have your rebels go to braille school under the guise of in-house training for teaching assistants.

Additional edit

control basic feelings (fear, joy, rage...) Alcohol, drugs do the same thing. You should be able to find a counter-agent. Hypnotism? (I'm on the fence on that, I've never been hypnotized)

About Killing rebels you did not specify how they identify who to kill or how fast is their response time.

If it is by camera I would disable the camera before any attack Cut power supply Hack computer identification systems

if the nanites are in the blood (would a syringe full of blood fool sensors to think you are in two places at the same time)

The more intelligence gathering you have on your enemy the easier it is to find weak points that you can exploit.

  • $\begingroup$ i should add the more we know about the inner workings of how the government identifies who to kill(for example), the easier it will be to make suggestions to circumvent any system. $\endgroup$
    – tls
    Nov 28, 2014 at 11:40

Many answers, but I think nanobots as described are magical, because their capabilities are contradictory. Required capabilities are feasible separately, but not combined.

(1) There is no feasible way for them to see what I see because image what I see is not formed in eye but in brain, by interaction of millions of neurons. So either nanobots would have to sit inside each of photoreceptor cells in the eye, or in neurons. To be that small, they will have to be molecular size. Very many molecules try to sneak inside cell all the time, and cell have very effective protection mechanisms to prevent that.

(2) If they operate on the same substances your muscles are using - that would be ATP. So such "nanobots" are complex organic molecules, like bacteria.

Surprise surprise! Our body can very effectively deal with bacteria! it is called immune system! So you will need to invent something why our immune system will not kill such nanobots/bacteria.

Answer to original question is "mu" - it does not make sense, unless you want to employ magic (and then, anything will work within your magical rules, so tell us the magic rules).

To make question more feasible (answerable), you need to relax most of the requirements, to bare minimum.

I suggest to make your nanobots a virus (uses same substance for power as our muscles, and can replicate). On some signal, it can activate and cause pain or death. Making such signal chemical will be much simpler.

Someone with better understanding of high-frequency electronics may say how they can communicate wifi. I believe that nanobots will **NOT be able to receive GPS because they are too small to contain antenna.** They are also way too small to have "hive mind" or capability of swarming, sorry to break bad news to you. For that you need some computer, power source (converting ATP to electricity), all would be hard to make from materials freely available inside the body. Especially metals.

Hive mind based on chemical signals - possible but take into account that chemical signals are smeared all over body by metabolism, blood etc. Would be hard to focus such swarm.

As a bonus, EMP cannot kill them. Our immune system might.

Then we are back to question about werewolf virus - make virus infection necessary for survival.

For some reason many of my answers don't make people happy, because instead of pretending that magic might work, if only we wish strongly enough, I show why it does not. I bet this one will get plenty of downvotes too. Oh well. I don't mind, just say why.


I agree with the "fight fire with fire" approach. "The Government" is just a group of people and those who misuse technology are usually not technologists.

My thought is that the resistance would be primarily those who created the technology and saw it being used in ways contrary to their benevolent vision. Since they created the technology they would know its weaknesses and be able to construct nanobots to counteract the original ones.

Since you said the nanobots have to be 'instructed' to do things it is logical to conclude that they do not have any 'reasoning' skills and must have their data sent to a computer to analyze and act on that data.

Given that, if researchers were able to 'jam' the incoming AND outgoing signals then the nanobots could 'see' everything and yet nothing would come of it.


Because part of the population is not infected, I would expect them to be the only rebels (at least at first). Then, because their hopes and chances are rather slim, I'd go for terrorism. By that I mean (and I'm shamelessly gonna use some of the tech evoked in other answers):

  • explode EMP bombs in as many populated areas as possible. This has 2 benefits: those people get rid of their bots, and because they couldn't see it coming, they can't be killed by their puppeteers before it happens.
  • infect food/water sources with other nanobots with just the function "search & destroy" other bots.
  • take control of existing bots through the same communication doors that are used by the puppeteers (there's always an open port to exploit).
  • techniques that "might work", not related to techonology: kidnap high-profile targets (or their families) until situation has improved. More dangerous, success is improbable but possible. Also kidnap some of the researchers involved in the creation/control of these bots. Force them to help you. Wether your resistance leader always acts with good moral or not is your choice. But in this case, I don't think moral will help you get your democracy back.

So, how about a 3 way war?

The AI system that controls the nano bots becomes sentient and tries to take over mankind.

Meanwhile, the government realizes the AI is trying to take over, but fights to maintain its own power over both the nanobots and the rebels.

The rebels begin to realize that the AI may be trying to over power the government to gain control of human kind. Meanwhile, they still have to fight the government to remain alive.

I would think there would be a lot of intrigue that could include the covert passing of information on how to destroy/control the nanobots including the methods above. Think secret and double agents working for each of the factions…


What if the "stuff" itself develops intelligence, and either dupes the government controllers (it can make them shape policy, decide who gets appointed) so you have a neat twist about who is the tool and who is the ruler.

Or, it decides to help the people, with its own ideas of controlled libertarianism. After the victory, you still wonder if they really live happily ever after, or it just made you want the kind of civilization you know have.

A wilder idea: aliens come and help. Turns out later that they have a hive mind and want humanity to become part of that rather than forming its own, which is what the nano road was rapidly leading towards.


The most 'realistic' protest, in this sort of enviroment, is protest. Imagine people who are infected doing sit-in or even suicide. Everyone refusing to work or do anything to support the government as long as they are utilizing nano-bots. Imagine Ghandi and MLK style protests and fights. Sure the government will know what their doing, but so what that's the point. They could be killed instantly, but the government isn't going to kill everyone under them.

The ability to control emotions would be more complicated, but one must assume there are limits. Presumably a robot can't 'really' control your emotions unless it can fully control you brain. If they can't read your mind they can't control it. Thus any emotion control is limited to messing with hormones and similar effects. They may be able to inspire a general sense of fear or joy, but you would know it's fake if they try anything extreme. They can make you feel happy, but they can't make you feel happy about nanobots specifically, just a general sense of happiness. They could try to use fear or pain to discourage protests, but the whole point of protests is to allow people to use those tactics and endure them until the people with power realize how horrible their being.

Similarly a general work slowdown and apathy, massively increased suicide, and general destruction of society will occur. People do NOT work well when they feel forced, no matter what you use to force them. The countries without the non-bots will ultimately do better then those with them because of the internal strive the bots would cause. Eventually the government would need to turn them off because society is crumbling and doin far worse then it was without the bots.

On the more 'action hero fighting dystopia' vibe one can still plan out and commit assassinations pretty well even with the 'bots'. Even if you can record everything one sees and hears you can't PROCESS it. Without very advanced AI's that information will be mostly worthless. You can watch people you have reason to already suspect, but someone can get away with "allot" without anyone noticing. A hunter can 'forget' his gun in the car. a week later he may go driving to see the next president speak and stumble upon it etc. He will have some time before anyone registers something wrong, he has to be fast and suicidal, but he can still do


Unless these nanobots are sentient with above human capabilities, they need to report to someone. These reports will need to be interpreted by humans. These humans would need to outnumber the reported on humans by about 3-1, since even at 7 days a week and no vacations they only can work 8 hours a day and the watched person is doing stuff 24-7. So the watchers would need to outnumber the 70-90 percent infected by a factor of 3, which is impossible.

So this system collapses by its own weight. The watchers would only be watching you a vanishingly small amount of the time.

The POW camp at Castle Colditz in WWII had more guards than prisoners. They still had escapes, and even managed to build an airplane in the attic without detection.


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