There was a time in my life I might have fattened the lip of someone who told me I should be wearing nanopants. Thankfully, I’ve mellowed with age. Now, my response is more along the lines of an eyebrow-raised, “Reeeally?” followed by a furtive glance in each direction in search of the nearest escape.
But there I was, face-to-face with nanopants. Well, not literally, but virtually as I was surfing the web shopping for easy-care travel clothing. It seems everyone is gaga over the stain-resistant properties of clothing using nanotechnology—the science of manipulating atoms, the fundamental building blocks of nature, into shapes and structures that serve our needs and desires.
I know what you’re thinking—if they can do that with travel pants, imagine what the future may hold—and I’m right there with you. But before you race off gleefully into the stain-resistant future, think on this: Advanced nanotechnology requires miniature (and I do mean teeny-weeny) robots to actually perform the manipulating and positioning of individual atoms, all less than 1,000 nanometers, which is so small they had to invent a long word just to describe it.
Sure, right now, the manufacturers of these pants and shirts are relying on basic nanotechnology. And the hype machine is being fueled by the hot breath of a thousand marketing types ogling over a new word to use with technology that slaps an added $10 to the selling price just to account for the extra letters used on the hangtag. However, today’s basic technology is but a dream away from tomorrow’s scientific advances, and that means nano-sized robots. And don’t think every athletic, adventure, outdoor, and travel apparel company hasn’t already thought of this.
So there you have it—my worst nightmare: Tiny robots running around inside my travel pants.
In his book, “Engines of Creation,” author Kevin Ulmer gets downright giddy over the prospects of microscopic robots assembling proteins into machines. Frankly, the thought of tiny robots scurrying around my travel pants, even if I can’t see them, gives me the willies.
Of course, I can see the advantages for nanopants technology in adventure travel garb. After all, there is a lot to be said for finishing any trip looking as clean as when I started, and all thanks to nanotechnology at work, removing stains here and there, and keeping me looking fresh and primped.
Still, I can’t help but wonder who would actually be controlling these little guys. I mean, what if I don’t get dirty enough for them and they start getting bored? Will they jump ship and start looking for stains anywhere they can find them, such as—and this makes me really, really nervous—in my undies? I can only imagine how hard it will be to walk normally with a million little robots, all wielding nano-sized scrub brushes, darting in and out of my clothes in search of dirt. What if they tickle for goodness sake?
Perhaps, I am overreacting a bit. But someone has to wave the flag of caution here. In April 2003, Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, testified before Congress on the Societal Implications of Advanced Nanotechnology.
In her speech, she warned of a few potential negative effects, such as accidents, lack of access and deliberate abuse. She must have been reading my mind. Certainly, nano-robots will have to be smart, but what if they get too smart and develop a sense of humor. I can see it now. There I am, minding my own business on a very quiet stroll down a European cobblestone street when a band of rogue and very bored nano-robots who’ve been hanging out in the stain-free zone gang up and decide to limit access to my nanopants during a moment of urgent need. That leads to an accident I haven’t endured since kindergarten.
While I realize stain removal is their life, and being responsible little guys they’ll clean up after themselves, I’d still view that as deliberate abuse.
Which is why, out of concern for our safety and our future, I am starting SNROP—short for Society for No Robots in Our Pants. What about robots’ rights you ask? Please. These little guys can get jobs anywhere I imagine—cleaning luggage, cleaning tents, cleaning disgusting airport bathrooms. Just keep them out of my pants!