"I must admit I had expected something different. "

"A golden cornucopia perhaps? Or some big machine with blinking lights and dials?"

"Yeah. The stuff you showed me was pretty amazing - diamonds, tools, that gun. This looks more like an aquarium. It... "

" looks rather haphazard. Yes. But most of the wires and tubing is for providing feedstock, cooling or signals to the pumps. The real hi-tech is that thin, nearly translucent layer at the bottom. Thats the assembler sheet. That one cost me nearly a year's pay, I have to keep it well protected in gel when not in use and clean it with expensive solutions all the time. It mustn't tear. But it is worth it. This contraption is the greatest weapon since the atomic bomb or the printing press."

Nanotechnology is technology acting on the molecular scale, tiny devices able to move atoms precisely. It promises thorough, inexpensive control of the structure of matter - all matter, be it concrete, petroleum or the human body. Nanodevices can do the same things as biological enzymes do, such as spit apart or connect chemical bonds, react to their environment and follow programmed orders, but in a designed, industrial way. Nanoassemblers can build objects molecule by molecule, disassemblers can pick them apart to determine their structure. Nanocomputers can cram tremendous computing power into invisible specks. The potential is immense.

Current nanotechnology is still fairly limited; it can do a lot, but not everything. The nanodevices are fairly sensitive, and cannot survive well without a controlled environment such as a vacuum chamber or a nutrient solution. They are good at building regular structures such as diamond crystals and polymers, but complex structures are much harder. Most nanodevices are quite dumb, much simpler than gnatbots, and programming them to do what one wants is a nightmare. Still, even these limited capabilities are enough to revolutionize world economics, politics and the human condition - if they are allowed to.

Free-running nanodevices with internal computers and power are called nanites. At present they are fragile and cannot survive in the outside world more than a few hours; ultraviolet radiation, oxygen, free radicals and bacteria quickly destroy them. If somebody can come up with a stable nanite the effects would be tremendous.

What is Nanotechnology?


Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology


Most of the development work in nanotechnology is done using advanced simulations before trying to build the devices. The required computing power is rather extreme; nanohackers seem to never get enough of powerful computers. The designs can then be downloaded into the nanolab, a small vacuum chamber containing the micro- and nano-manipulators needed to build the devices. Usually the nanolab is housed in a tiny case, containing vacuum pumps, chemical stores, computer interfaces, tools and replacement parts (a "suitcase lab").

Originally all nanofacture was done using nanolabs, making it extremely slow and expensive. But after the assembler breakthrough and the first MCs, it has become much easier to build objects. Today the nanolabs are used to test out new nanomachines in a safe and controllable way before attempting to incorporate them in larger designs. MCs are too crude to act as good nanolabs or nanite factories; they are generally more useful for making macroscopic objects.

Needless to say nanolabs are rare, hard to get and very sought after. They are every nanohacker's dream to own, but most have to settle for simulations or MCs.

Matter Compilers (MCs)

Matter compilers, or MCs, are the most practical nanotech devices around. They consist of a large number of assembler units connected to a macroscopic computer that can give them orders. By downloading a specification ("recipe") they can build it from atoms in a feedstock solution. Most Concordat groups want one, and the nanohacker teams who develop and sell them have quickly become major players.

The MCs are in many ways the Concordat's best weapon. With a MC, "transports" of many goods can be done through the net. It can produce boundless resources, and completely circumvents the current economic system in favor of the information economics of the Concordat. In addition, when aligned people get their MCs, they also become able to sell their nanofactured surplus, making the Concordat underground networks grow even faster.

MC Mark I

The first real MC, that was used to bootstrap more advanced MCs. It is a test-tube-like device with walls lined with assemblers. When filled with feedstock solution the assemblers begin to act as programmable enzymes, converting it into whatever chemicals the specification specifies. For example, the feedstock can be converted into drugs or nutrients.

The whole process takes a few minutes (longer if very complex chemical structures such as DNA strands or viruses are to be made).

Vanilla MC Mark I: The most common MC Mark I design, sold by the N Conspiracy, Cautious and Conservative and NRG1 on the Market. It looks like an opaque test tube in protective teflon casing with a standard computer port. It has a volume of 50 ml and is known to be very robust.

MC Neat: A MC Mark I hidden inside what looks like an ordinary pen (it can even be used as a pen, but the ink doesn't last very long), with minimal electronics (interfaces with an ordinary computer through infrared signals). It can be used by opening the end and connecting a feedstock supply. The volume is just 10 ml. Produced by NRG1.

MC Mark II

A more advanced MC, able to build 3D-structures from the molecular scale. It is a chamber (the original versions were millimeter-sized, the currently largest are around one meter across) containing a plate with assemblers that slowly move upwards, leaving the object behind. The plate is the crucial part, the rest is just support, so if the plate gets damaged it has to be replaced at great cost (or the owner has to build things around the damaged section, or just accept the flaws).

MC Mark II cannot build all shapes (due to gravity) and has trouble with soft materials, but it could build a block of diamond, a pistol or a complex nanocomputer cluster. The process takes one to several hours, depending on the object being made and how large it is.

Vanilla MC Mark II: The Concordat workhorse, exists in several versions by the various nanotech groups. Most variants looks like an aquarium or tank with feedstock bottles, computer connections and special cleaning devices. The "Care and Handling" manual is very thick. N Conspiracy: clunky but inefficient, NRG 1: fairly small but fast, Cautious and Conservative: several sizes, from "holiday" (1 liter) to "family size" (one cubic meter).

NRG1 Stephenson Microwave: The casing looks exactly like a microwave oven, and it can even be opened to reveal what looks like an ordinary microwave interior (suspiciously clean). Actually the assembler plate is hidden beneath the floor, the oven contains a hidden feedstock pump and the microwave controls can be moved aside to reveal the MC control panel. It does not work as a microwave oven.


The state of the art, not found outside prototypes in TU nanotech cells. The Mark III looks like the Mark II, but works in true 3D. When started the assemblers produce secondary devices which build a gridwork inside the MC chamber. On this scaffolding other devices then affix atoms and substructures, gradually replacing it with the finished object. Almost anything with known specifications can (in theory) be built this way.


The feedstock solutions are used to provide assemblers with the necessary atoms for their work; without feedstock the MC can't build. Originally they were designed for convenience and were usually very specialized, but a few standard recipes are becoming common. They can in principle be mixed together by anybody with chemistry knowledge.

Standard feedstock solution: this is a feedstock containing water, long-chained alcohols, sulphur, nitrogen and tin compounds. This is the feedstock used for most mechanosynthetic work, when the output is diamondoid or other nanosystems. Price: 0.1 IOU/liter

Biofeedstock: a solution somewhat similar to the standard feedstock but with elements in the right ratios for building objects with a biological composition. Price: 0.1 IOU/liter

Special feedstocks: there are specialist feedstocks containing metal salts for building metal objects and other compositions suitable for specialized kinds of work. Price: 0.2 IOU/liter

Feedstock Converter

A very useful invention by the German nanohacker NanoNemo, which can process water with normal organic contents into biofeedstock (seawater, sewer water or chicken soup will do, it becomes more efficient the more similar the original water is to biofeedstock). It looks like a dull black pencil. When a button is pressed it unfolds one end into a complex fractal bush, which can absorb and convert chemicals into feedstock. The feedstock is pumped from the other end, and usually collected through a thin hose in a container. Energy is provided by sunlight and some chemical reactions.

The converter is short-lived; depending on its environment, certain pollutants that block its devices and how much it is used it may produce between one to ten liters of feedstock solution before becoming unusable. It can produce around one milliliter per second, ca 3.6 liters in a hour.

NanoNemo has developed a macroconverter, a large device that becomes over ten meters wide when fully unfolded. Currently it is only known to be used by the Ghosts, and it requires external power to run.


Without recipes MCs are pointless. Recipes are programs that allow them to assemble macroscopic objects (or chemicals, in the case of MC Mark I). Some always produce the same product, others are programmable and can manufacture customized devices. Once you got a recipe, you can make as much of it as you have feedstock.

Sometimes the owner of a nanodesign wants others to nanofacture it once or a limited number of times, but not give the recipe away. One solution is "meterwared" recipes. The manufacturers run a recipe program on their MCs that sets up a connection to the server of the designer. There essential parts of the design are downloaded when needed and combined with the local program in a way that (through some neat cryptographic tricks) makes it impossible to copy or falsify them; the MC produces the design and the designer debits the manufacturer. This is used especially for some valuable recipes like the "Midas recipe" and nanofacturing large sums of playmoney. Meterware isn't that common (normal recipes are easier to use and maintain), takes much longer to compile (since the MC must remain in touch with the server), but gives the designer a certain measure of control over the copying.

There is great paranoia about the spread of recipes; it would be very easy to smuggle a "backdoor" into the design to create bugged, booby-trapped or dangerous stuff, so the authentification of recipes is always carefully checked and often their contents validated by independent nanotechnologists. Using anything not carefully validated can be extremely dangerous.

Some typical recipes that can be bought on the Market or found in Alexandria are:


Nanomachines are tiny, and communicating with them is hard. Most advanced nanosystems rely on electrical or micromechanical signals, but freely moving nanites and other nanoobjects require other mechanisms. One simple method is chemical signals: the presence of a certain chemical causes the nano to perform a certain function. More advanced methods involve sequences of laser light or having internal computer networks in macroscale nanotech objects.


This is a property nanotech constructs can be given when they are built. The structure is deliberately undermined, and if a signal (chemical or electronic) is released the construct will begin to dissolve into hot diamondoid sludge. Perfect to erase any evidence of what has been going on.


A nasty possibility is to hide extra code inside a nanofacture recipe, enabling all sorts of surprises: remote control, an extra self- destruct, hidden bugging equipment, poisons or viruses, you name it. This is the reason freeware nanorecipes should never be trusted unless they have been validated by credible nanohacker groups.

A good example was two recipes for a diamondoid dagger and a gun that appeared on the net in October 2015. It turned out after a while that they were of WETF origin, and in contact with a certain chemical "pheromone" would disintegrate into spontaneously igniting diamond dust. Most likely they were intended to give WETF an edge in conflicts with the Concordat.


The opposite to a matter compiler. A sheet of nanodevices scans a surface, recording the molecular structure and positions, sends the data to a nanocomputer (nothing else can handle the massive dataflow), and then removes the outermost part of the surface, continuing the process a little bit deeper.

Theoretically this could be used to duplicate anything by linking it with a MC, but in practice disassemblers are extremely tricky to use: molecules tend to slip away, the disassembly changes the material, data management is hard, the data is easily erroneously interpreted and the sheet can easily break down. Among nanohackers disassemblers are sometimes called Murphy Machines. Still, disassemblers are a great way to get approximate structures that can be reverse engineered into better recipes.

NanoDream Disassembler: Looks like a MC, but scans the interior at around 10 millimeters per hour. Internal nanocomputers can buffer around a liter of comparatively simple structure (like plastic) or a few cubic centimeters complex material (wood). Tends to break down easily when dealing with chemically resistant materials.


I would bet that if you asked some agencies funding us what their most hoped for outcome would be, they'd want proof that quantum computing is impossible.
John Preskill
The creation of computing nanosystems is one of the greatest promises of nanotechnology, the holy grail of many nanohackers and chip manufacturers. At present the main problems are both creating useful, reliable computing units and coordinating them - nobody knows the true potential of networks of several billion computers.

The two most common kinds of nanocomputers are quantum blocks and rod clusters. The quantum blocks are diamond blocks with quantum dot cellular automata, usually made using Mark II MCs, which act as general purpose quantum computers (most are designed to be plugged into normal computers). At present the blocks are mainly used by Brinists, Cryptoanarchists and likely certain FOG agencies to break codes, and sometimes by nanohackers to model new molecules. The rod clusters are networks of mechanical computers (looking like black or opalescent crystals) with interfaces to normal computers, able to do massively parallel computing, such as running neural networks, simulation software and genetic algorithms (and the virtuals: wow!). Practically every cell in the Concordat wants one.

Nanocomputers are very rare and hard to get; they are the cutting edge. Especially quantum blocks are kept under strict wraps. Quantum computers are a technological bomb waiting to go off. The current quantum computers are unreliable, exceedingly rare and hard to use, but that will change. They are able to crack several of the major cryptosystems. If the existence of quantum computers became publicly known, the result would be a crisis of confidence in digital trade that would be much deeper than the 2002 crisis: far too many systems rely on advanced cryptography that could be compromised through quantum computers. Neither the Concordat or NSA, SGDN, PLA, BND and the other intelligence agencies want that to happen. At the same time the potential is too great; the race is on in secret, with everybody trying to make sure the others don't get the technology and that nobody discovers that it already exists. And WETF is going to do its outmost to unleash it.


This is what everybody fears. Nanotech has the potential to create truly awful new weapons: weapons that can replicate, attack anything on the molecular scale, penetrate any macroscopic defense. Fortunately, so far their development has been slow since current nanotech still has trouble with the things that could create truly devastating weapons. But most people in the know expect that this will change; the field advances every day and sooner or later nanotech weaponry will become a major danger.

The simplest form of nanoweapon is nanofactured ordinary weapons. With a MC it is trivial to build a knife or a gun. They can even be improved slightly by better materials, but they remain knives and guns. Of course, anybody who has encountered the Tessin Fractal Special may disagree.

The next level is radical improvements on old systems. Nanoexplosives are an example: by building explosives from the bottom up it is possible to create truly powerful explosives that no sniffers (yet) recognize. D4 from N Conspiracy is the only nanoexplosive whose recipe is sold on the Market. It looks like an ordinary plastic explosive, but is close to the theoretical limits of what a chemical explosive can do. However, making explosives is usually extremely energy intensive, and most MCs fail at that unless given specialized feedstocks.

Trillicon Arms is an endless source for more or less bizarre designs for nanotech improved weapons, ranging from diamondoid bullets to knives with active edges. Few have been used in practice; they aren't worth the trouble, and nobody would like the police or public to find them. But that doesn't deter the intrepid designers, who regularly announce yet another bizarre weapon on SubNet.

The cutting edge is nanite weapons. Since nanites currently do not survive well in the environment or the body they are limited, but the potential is awesome, especially if they can be made to replicate.

White Dust

WETF have developed the feared "white dust". It consists of attack nanodevices folded together into microscopic balls. In the dust form it is very inert, and can be mixed in food or drink, injected or otherwise spread around. It can last indefinitely like this, but when a certain chemical signal is received it shifts into berserker mode: the nanodevices unfold, and attack their surroundings like molecular tanks (there is also a chemical disarming signal that makes the nanodevices self-destruct). They preferentially try to break peptide bonds and cell walls, disrupting and dissolving living tissue. The resulting damage produces internal bleeding and a very strong allergic immune reaction that damages the tissue further. The result is a mess; even if the nanodevices cannot survive for more than an hour in berserker mode before they break down or their reserves run out, rupture blood vessels in the whole body, causing shock, massive internal bleeding, brain hemorraghes and heart damage.

White dust has so far only been used a few times by WETF, mainly for blackmail ("It is in you; if you don't cooperate, we will send the trigger signal"), but it is a nasty premonition of what nanoweapons could do. NRG1 has offered a major reward to anybody who can give them a sample so that they can develop a countermeasure, while WETF is developing an even more deadly version.

[ Each milligram of white dust does one level of damage when attacking internally, over the span of around one hour. Each level of the victim's Endurance reduces the damage by one; if a person with Fair Endurance is injected with 5 milligrams of dust he will just take one level of damage (experienced as a severe allergic reaction).

White dust isn't as effective on the skin, it takes several minutes to get through and overall behaves like a corrosive. For the first ten minutes it only produces a single level of damage, and then it will do only half damage. Washing with water lessens the effect, but to really get rid of it Goozer is needed.]


Nanomachines need to be coated with inert surfaces or biomolecules to be accepted by the body; most still succumb to the immune system or damage within a few hours. Still, implanted nanites could become a major area of human enhancement and a few designs exist on the Market or as prototypes.

Diamond Blood

An old idea recently implemented by Atoll and Cautious & Conservative: microscopic diamond spheres in the blood that store carbon dioxide and oxygen, and release it when needed. The result is an extremely good oxygen retention, which enables the users to survive without breathing for over half an hour (less if they exert themselves); after that the spheres must be recharged by breathing normally for at least ten minutes. The spheres are injected, and one dose lasts for a month.

[ Diamond blood increases Endurance with one step, beside the effects on breathing. ]

Nanoimmune systems

There is a frantic race towards nanotech "immune systems", nanodevices that can protect humans and other things from nanoscale attacks. The problem is complex, but the incentives are strong: without good nanoimmune systems nanite weapons will be unstoppable, and there is a large risk that life on earth may end.

There exists a prototype immune system, another of the projects from the Atoll and Cautious & Conservative collaboration. It can bind to certain kinds of nanites and immobilize them, but it also causes a serious allergic reaction when it activates. The cells are currently testing it.


A nanotech countermeasure developed by NRG1; a bit crude, but it works. Goozer comes in the form of a sprayed liquid. The liquid contains "antibodies" that bind to diamondoids and most known nanite surfaces (updates to the recipe are made regularly). The nanites get stuck to each other or their surroundings, and when irradiated with sunlight or UV they are destroyed. This is a practical way of sterilizing an area from nanites, as well as destroy sensitive nanotech equipment. Unfortunately it cannot be used inside the body; it immediately causes anaphylactic shock when injected.

Nanotech and the law

If a feral technology superceded the police arsenal and made the cops obsolete, who would enforce the law?
Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker
Interpol is the international coordination agency for nanotechnological crime. So far it has not built up much organization to handle this but there is talk of creating a technological crime branch to handle all forms of international crime involving advanced technology. Currently nanotechnological, digital and genetic crimes are handled by a subdivision of the General Crime branch.

The situation in the US is rather confused; a lot of agencies have not yet managed to build a working system to deal with nanotech. The FBI, FDA, DEA and BATF are openly fighting about who is responsible for handling nanotech crimes. FBI of course claims it is the logical agency. BATF officials regard nanotech as a form of weapon, DEA as a drug (partially based on the fact that Mark I MCs can be used for drug production) and the FDA because they regard nanotech as dangerous medical devices (or medical drugs, depending on the interpretation of the rules). To make things worse, the CIA, Department of Defense, Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research and Department of Energy are quarreling in the NIC ( National Intelligence Council) about who should be doing what, and generally getting involved in the affairs of the law enforcement agencies. The Secret Service recently got into the mess due to the appearance of nano-forged currency (likely due to a WETF plot to make them go after Underground Reserve). In the background the NSA, US Army Special Weapons Research Division and the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office are working on their own, and doubtless several other agencies are involved in nanocrime tracking and possibly illegal research.

In PRC nanotech crimes are to be dealt with by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) as "crimes endangering state security". However, the PLA Second Department (the military intelligence) is also pursuing nanotech crime, both in the PRC and abroad. To make the situation trickier, both the PLA Institute for Strategic Technology and the MSS Tenth Bureau (Scientific and Technological Information) are rumored to be gathering nanotech information and perhaps capability, in direct competition to each other and the overall system.

In Europe nanotech crimes are bundled together with biotech crimes and handled by the Europol fifth directorate. National law enforcement and security agencies are supposed to notify Europol when they have any suspicion of nanotech involvement, and the fifth directorate will send their "advisors".

In general, most ordinary policemen haven't got the faintest clue about what nanotech is, how it works or how it looks. Some have been briefed, but most wouldn't recognize a nanolab or a matter compiler unless explicitly presented to it. However, sometimes they have some experience with underground laboratories (usually drug labs or more rarely biohacking) and can guess when there is something unusual going on. Usually they call in assistance or expertise from higher agencies, and it is then things get truly dangerous.

Nanotech is a hot potato in the intelligence community. The objectives are conflicting, on one hand the various agencies are to stop nanotech development, on the other hand it is of national interest to get one's hand on better nanotech, on the third hand the other blocks mustn't know about this, and so on. The result is a complex web of red tape, secret agendas and double-crossing that slows down the agencies despite their other abilities.

The Concordat is doing its best to profit from the confusion, but realizes the need to be very, very careful. Members are instructed to avoid revealing nanotech capabilities to others as much as possible, and make sure the enemy doesn't learn anything new about nanotech by picking up pieces left behind. Nanotech weapons are bad PR, and tends to get the wrong kind of people interested.