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Nanotech action figure wins big: $100 million

from the at-least-it's-Max-not-Joe dept.
PR News on Yahoo reports that a nanotech "action figure" [read: doll for boys] is a big hit: " 'All factors indicate that by year-end Max Steel will exceed a $100 million brand worldwide in its first year,' said Matt Bousquette, president of Mattel's Boys/Entertainment division. 'And, that the product line will be a complete sell-out by Christmas in various countries'…Max Steel is a unique aspirational character that kids can identify with and the innovative 12-inch scale appeals to boys four years old and up. Josh McGrath is a cool college student and action sports athlete who is accidentally infused with nanotechnology (N-Tek(TM)) giving him super human abilities and turning him into Max Steel." CP: "Aspirational" is right, and those aspirations just might work out.

17 Responses to “Nanotech action figure wins big: $100 million”

  1. MarkGubrud Says:


    Aspirations to what? To being some kind of comic-book superhero? Great.

    What does this have to do with nanotechnology, or aspirations thereto? Our boys (and girls!) should be reading books, looking through microscopes, programming (not playing video games), building with metal and electronic parts, mixing chemicals and playing with ball-and-stick models. They should be learning the discipline of hard work and the wonder of natural science as well as of human ingenuity.

    But instead the boys (specifically) are encouraged to play-act egoistic fantasies of unchecked aggression and power over others. The idea of technology as the means to fulfillment of such adolescent desires is now to be officially sanctioned and inculcated from early childhood.

    I don't understand how people can fail to see this as a perversion of the idea of nanotech, and a symptom of a deeper sickness.

  2. Adam Burke Says:


    Comic book superheroes are the best examples of posthumans available in popular culture.

    At its worst comics are merely muscle bound power fantasies. But more commonly heroes have to think about the uses of their new found powers. That's a mindset that's valuable in an era of rapidly changing technology. Of course, enjoying hard thinking work and a scientific mindset is also valuable, but it's a rare child who can do that all the time (and a rare peer group, at least when I was growing up).

    I look forward to the release of Jupiter Brain Jill ;)

  3. MarkGubrud Says:

    posthuman aspirations?

    So now we're teaching 4-year olds they should aspire to becoming "posthumans"? They haven't even had a chance to understand what being human is about, but I guess they shouldn't bother. The growing body, the pains and pleasures, the fears and desires, it's all crap, to be shuffled off at the earliest possible opportunity. Growing up, being human, it's such a bore… "I want to be a post-human, better than all of you!" That's what kids should be taught, right?

    You've got it half right. "Posthumans" are comic book fantasies, and those who dream of "becoming posthumans" are stuck in comic book fantasies.

    As for thinking about how to use your super-powers, that is a much less valuable lesson than the lesson of humility. "You don't have any super-powers, you are just another person, quite helpless without the help of others, and you will not make a really big difference, but you can make things a little bit better or a little bit worse." Real heroes know this, and the questions they recognize are, "How will you use your little powers? What kind of person will you be?"

  4. Adam Burke Says:

    Re:posthuman aspirations?

    Well, I suppose there's degrees of post-. The impression I've got is that nanotech and related medical technologies will make possible changes to the human body that can only be referred to as superpowers. Superhuman strength, iron constitutions, subvocal communication, etc. Those things, while cool, do not remove fears and desires. But they do put them in a new context.

    Heroes are still needed. Humility is still needed. Comics are one way, that should be combined with others, to ask "What kind of person will you be?"

  5. Practical Transhuman Says:

    Prozac'ing away humility.

    "Humility" seems to be more a function of contingently low serotonin levels in the brain than a metaphysical constant in the human condition. Hence I doubt that "humility" as an ideal will have much of a future once transhumanizing technologies come onto the market.

  6. kurt Says:


    Mark, you seem to have a real complex about "post-humanism" and those who would be. Perhaps we could discuss this furthur, and help you overcome this.

  7. MarkGubrud Says:

    transhumanists on drugs

    "Humility" seems to be more a function of contingently low serotonin levels…. I doubt that "humility" as an ideal will have much of a future once transhumanizing technologies come onto the market.

    Mark, you seem to have a real complex about "post-humanism" and those who would be. Perhaps we could discuss this furthur

    Obviously, I have been trying to raise such a discussion, but as you know it runs in many threads and one can't follow all of them at once. I know there's extropians and other forums for the various species of trans- and post-humanoids. I prefer forums that lie on the borders of the cult.

    Nanotechnology and other powerful technologies are an emerging and inevitable reality. It makes sense to discuss the fate of humanity as a consequence. In this context, reasonable people can disagree and still carry on an intelligent conversation. You can be an enthusiast for technology without being completely insane.

    Also, I've still never left a serious challenge unaswered; but, to be honest, I am afraid to stray too deeply into etro territory, lest I wind up like Gulliver, tied down by the Lilliputians.

  8. MarkGubrud Says:

    Oh, flamebait, really?

    And just whose unbiased judgement of content quality is that? I reacted honestly and relevantly to the story. This is a serious, important issue — What values are we transmitting to the next generation? What are we telling them is the meaning of technology in general, nanotechnology in particular? I find the idea of this toy disgusting and faintly horrifying. If that attracts flames, let 'em roar!

  9. Kadamose Says:

    Re:Oh, flamebait, really?

    Though I agree with you on this topic, (it is quite revolting) – I do not agree with your morals in a Nanotech world. You see, you are one of those people who wish to keep the ideals of our ancestors intact; in other words:

    1) You do not wish people to live thousands of years old, due to Nanotech. Instead, you would prefer that they have the primitive lifespans that they currently have.

    2) You do not want the Money System to collapse because you are obviously one of those who believes that a status quo is necessary to run humanity – and that, my friend, is a VERY false belief. Humanity started out in Anarchy, even in the Industrial Age, and we will revert back to that. Why? That's simple. Anarchy is more efficient than ANY money system or government combined because there are no rules or standards to seperate people; In a world 'ruled' by Anarchy, EVERYONE is equal – and it is my belief that you fear that type of world.

    3) You are a very intelligent individual who is giving a helping hand to the birth of Nanotechnology. The only problem is, you do not wish everyone to benefit from the technology – instead, you would prefer Nanotech to be controlled by a government which would use the technology to meet its own ends, not everyone elses – you also have a fear and a certain resentment of the idea of people injecting themselves with Nanotechnology in their bodies to become more intelligent, to live longer, and to basically become superhuman. Why do you fear this? Do you feel that humanity must remain the same forever? Do you resent the people with these ideas because they obviously envision a world where they ARE better than their ancestors and where the ideals of those same ancestors are no longer welcome? What are you afraid of? Things change, and in about 12 years humanity is going to make that next big step in our evolution whether you like it or not.

    I realize this is a generalization on my part – so if I am wrong with any of the above statements, I apologize.

  10. MarkGubrud Says:


    I don't know who is doing the "moderating" and I suspect it's no more than one or two persons. Here I am responding to Kadamose, who has written a comment of some reason and substance, which does not deserve a "zero" rating.

    1) I don't know why you think I prefer people to have current lifespans. I am not in favor of aging or dying, and if technology can provide means to prevent or reverse these processes, I am all for doing so. However, it seems a very difficult goal to achieve, and we have to be wary of proposed shortcuts such as simulation or replacement by non-human machinery as a substitute for life extension.

    2) I believe that stability and gradual change is necessary to human survival, because our lives are sustained by a very complex, interdependent, and potentially fragile social-economic web. You might argue (falsely, in my opinion) that some future technology would eliminate interdependence and create the possibility of autarky. However, provision of sustenance is not the only essential function of social order. Suppression and control of an enormous potential for violence is another. You want anarchy? Take a holiday in Liberia. Automatic weapons are bad enough (machetes are bad enough); in an era of nanotech weapons, anarchy would mean annihilation.

    3) a) I do not view government as necessarily an alien regime imposed on us. I believe in the ideal of democracy: that we, the people, organize ourselves in a collective decisionmaking process that is fair and open for all to participate in. That is an ideal, of course, not necessarily a reality. But our current forms of democracy are not altogether bad. I do want technology to be governed democratically; that is the only way in which it may be possible to ensure that everyone can benefit.

    (b)The issue of incorporating technology into the body is complicated. We do this in order to maintain or restore life and health. But if we take this too far, we risk losing these values. We need to draw a line somewhere — many lines, really. Lines in the sand; they are necessarily somewhat arbitrary, but the reason for drawing them — to preserve our species, to prevent its/our destruction — is not. Humanity is all we have.

  11. BryanBruns Says:

    What kind of Anarchy?

    Am I correct that that by "Anarchy" you don't mean any of the following:

    a. Anarcho-capitalism with private money, private courts, and strongly defended private property rights.

    b. Anarcho-syndicalism with a strong emphasis on collective cooperation, social solidarity and mutual aid.

    c. Warlordism and banditry that appear when states break down and power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

    d. Hunter-gatherer bands with low population densities, and no need to interact beyond a few dozen members of the same band and perhaps a few hundred people in neighboring bands.

    e. The absence of global government, the current situation where competing nation-states and businesses seek to take advantage of technologies to maintain or advance their positions, driving change through geopolitical struggle and capitalist "creative destruction."

    f. If what you mean is none of the above, could you explain a bit more about what you do mean by "Anarchy" so we can be clearer about the terms being used in this discussion?

  12. MarkGubrud Says:

    Re:What kind of Anarchy?

    I'm not entirely sure who your question is directed to, Bryan. Nice taxonomy of anarchies, though. I don't think any of them are viable models of nanotechnic society. But they are not all equally anarchic, either. I don't think we face a diametric choice between anarchy and totalitarianism. Private property and private pursuits, and self-directed cooperation and solidarity, are all desirable institutions, but there will always be a need for an overarching system of government, or else the situation will decay toward your scenario c. or worse. Your condition e, the absence of global government, combined with military confrontation, is meanwhile leading us toward the possibility of a future spasm of destruction that will not be so creative.

  13. BryanBruns Says:

    Law and liberty


    My reply to Kadamose's post was made in hopes of getting some clarification of what kind of anarchy he was referring to, since I thought he was raising some issues worth discussing.

    One point I was leading towards is that, at least for either anarcho-capitalist or syndicalist forms of anarchism, there would still be plenty of controls on behavior, they would just rely on other institutions beside government courts and laws. Relevant analogues with government, but which might still rely strongly on other institutions would be:

    1. A minimalist libertarian ("night watchman") state

    2. Highly decentralized governance emphasizing small communities. This would be the decentralized extreme of what is more generally discussed in terms of federalism, subsidiarity, and polycentric governance. (Such ideas are often implicit in visions of the future emphasizing local communities, self-sufficient bioregions, worker-controlled businesses, etc.)

    To me it seems that future technologies won't bring a society where individuals can do absolutely whatever they please (outside of virtual reality fantasylands). Rules and standards are a necessary part of freedom. It is worth considering that social norms, community customs, networks of contractual relationships and other institutions could play a major role, rather than assuming that government laws are the only way in which dangerous actions might be restrained. Such polycentric governance institutions offer one way of thinking about what is evolving now with international treaties, growth of international civil society, changing norms about what is acceptable behavior by states, and limits on sovereignity. That suggests ways in which threats arising from nanoweapons or other new technologies might be dealt with, without necessarily having to establish a world government. Within the jurisdiction of nation-states, I think we will still continue to have more conentional laws and courts, and so it is worth discussing them, rather than assuming that nanotechnology would somehow make laws and other restraints on freedom obsolete.

    The end of the rule of law is, not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law: and is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists. (For who could be free when every other man's humour might domineer over him?) But a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be the subject of the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.

    - John Locke

    Second Treatise, sec. 57, p. 29

    [Quoted in Friedrich A. Hayek,

    The Constitution of Liberty, chapter 11, p. 162]

    And, just to keep this remotely on topic, the enforcement of laws will probably still have a role for people out on the sharp end, facing danger to stop those who are breaking the rules. Some kids might want to think about growing up to be the future equivalents of police or firefighters, and recognize the bravery of such tasks through playing with action figures, (even if we hope most problems can be prevented or dealt with through more peaceful means).

  14. Adam Burke Says:

    Re:Oh, flamebait, really?

    I have to agree, the post was unusual but civil. Moderation is probably unnecessary until articles start receiving ~50 posts.

    From the /. moderation FAQ:
    Bad Comments are flamebait. Bad comments have nothing to do with the article they are attached to. They call someone names. They ridicule someone for having a different opinion without backing it up with anything more tangible than strong words. Bad comments are repeats of something said 15 times already making it quite apparent that the writer didn't read the previous comments. They use foul language. They are hard to read or just don't make any sense. They detract from the article they are attached to.

    I can also see how, to the moderator, Mark's comment might have been seen as simply stirring. I would simply suggest that such stirring is not a bad thing in discussion of future tech. The real problem here is that due the size of the forum at the moment, only one moderator will be nominated at a time, and if they have indigestion, some people get caned :)

  15. MarkGubrud Says:

    Re:Law and liberty

    …there would still be plenty of controls on behavior, they would just rely on other institutions beside government courts and laws.

    That's how it already is. There are always other controls, beginning with the individual's conscience, and fear of the law; then there are many levels of management and private enforcement of private rules; and there are civil-society institutions, watchdog groups, citizen's movements and so on. But this does not eliminate the need for laws and a system for making and enforcing them when all these other mechanisms fail, or when they conflict with one another. Which happens rather frequently.

    A minimalist libertarian ("night watchman") state

    Code for a massive transfer of sovereignty to wealthy individuals and institutions. What laws would this "night watchman" guard? The landlord's laws.

    Highly decentralized governance emphasizing small communities.

    The Libertarian Party was/is a strategy for the wealthy Right to coopt the anti-establishment Left. Right meets Left when pot-smokers move to Alaska to homestead and stockpile guns for when the G-men come. I think this "small communities" business is just a faint echo of the communal dreams of the hippie movement. Still, I'm all for it, but as an evolutionary direction, not another pseudo-revolutionary pipe dream.

    It is worth considering that social norms, community customs, networks of contractual relationships and other institutions could play a major role, rather than assuming that government laws are the only way in which dangerous actions might be restrained.

    The more dangerous the actions, the more certain we must be of the restraint. In matters of great danger, there is a need not only for laws but for vigorous and sometimes intrusive and burdensome enforcement by government. All of the kinds of institutions you mention lessen the need and the burden, but they don't eliminate it. In spite of all the factors you mention, there is still lots of crime and malfeasance not only by street thugs but by corporations allegedly very concerned about their public images and contractual liabilities, and yes, by government officials and politicians, as well–but that's why we have checks and balances, sunshine laws, watchdog groups and so on. We strive for the rule of law, and without it chaos would triumph.

    threats arising from nanoweapons or other new technologies might be dealt with, without necessarily having to establish a world government.

    I've suggested the rubric of "an integrated international security system," which would not be a government in any sense comparable to the role of the Federal Government in the United States, but which some might still see as inescapably equivalent to government of the world, in some sense. But from the same point of view, we already have world government, in some sense. We have treaties, norms, global institutions, the UN, etc. It's all not so very integrated, but it is interlocking and with continual care and feeding it may suffice. My view is that the security system needs to be much more highly integrated than the governing system, and unfortunately, at the moment the reverse seems to be true.

    Some kids might want to think about growing up to be the future equivalents of police or firefighters, and recognize the bravery of such tasks through playing with action figures,

    The fantasy of receiving special powers releasing one from the constraints imposed on ordinary mortals does not seem to me to be fostering the mentality we would like to have in our police or other public servants; rather, it would seem to encourage a proto-criminal mindset.

  16. pethorne Says:

    How "Max Steel" portrays NT

    "Max Steel", a half-hour Sony series, now in its second season on KidsWB, is CGI produced by Foundation Imaging (originally by the now-defunct Netter Digital). "N-Tek" is a secret UN-chartered antiterrorist group, with a public corporate identity as a manufacturer/sponsor of extreme sports equipment/events. [Like B5 and DS9, the premise bears superficial resemblances to that of Hasbro/Mainframe's "Action Man".]

    The protagonist, college sophomore Josh McGrath, stepson of an N-Tek high executive, follows a suspicious intruder into the corporate HQ one night and gets a tank of prototype "maxprobes" spilled on him. They integrate inseparably with his organic tissues; he must be periodically infused with "transphasik[sic] energy" to survive. [No tree sap for them!] They provide enhanced strength, speed and durability when he "goes turbo"; upped sensory accuity; and maybe also invisibility (that might be an aspect of his N-Tek uniform). He also gains a single alternate appearance (blond-to-brown, facial contours).

    N-Tek's maxprobes seem also to be used to change the shape of Josh's car ("Viper"-style), and to provide self-repair capability to the N-Tek SSTO. Mr.Dread, leader of the criminal organization that's the main antagonist, is obsessed with obtaining samples of the maxprobes. He has some success with "dreadprobes" that eat the maxprobes in Josh.

    Despite his stepfather's reservations, Josh insists on joining N-Tek as an agent with the new look and name "Max Steel". In the stories, Josh sometimes becomes over-reliant on his powers, or disregards the skills of his ordinary-human co-agents. He's remote-coached in his missions by 18-year-old techhead Dr. Berto Martinez, who watches through a wireless implanted bio-link (possibly non-NT). He also suffers the standard secret-identity stresses vis-a-vis his classes and girlfriend.

    For the past decade (I watch for these things), NT has been chiefly portrayed two ways in TV SF: (1) freeswimming nanoprobes in a human host, either bestowing superpowers or injury; and (2) collective "slime mold" shapeshifting masses. Type (1) have appeared in "Action Man", "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda", "RoboCop:Alpha Commando", "StarGate SG-1", and "Star Trek" (Borg, mostly). Type (2) have featured in "Earth: Final Conflict", "Phantom 2040", and "RoboCop:Alpha Commando". I've never seen NT used for manufacturing, although they're repeatedly cited as performing shipboard maintenance in "Andromeda" (and once in "Max Steel"). Controlled medical applications have only appeared in "Star Trek" and "Andromeda". Further discussion on this axis deserves another thread or Anthony Napier's nano-sf list .

  17. MarkGubrud Says:

    Re:How "Max Steel" portrays NT

    Thank you for a very helpful comment. Some of the "story" elements you describe sound mildly thoughtful, but as anyone who visits the website can immediately see, it's basically all about fantasies of unrestrained aggression and tech-empowered violence. I find it especially significant that the violence begins with a violation of the self–the invasion of the body by "maxprobes," separating one from the "biological" race and what it symbolizes: family, community, society and the restraints these impose on aggressive impulses. While the storyline implies a continuing input of critical feedback from these sources, it is clear that "Max" is going to find his liberated, cyborged manhood is spasms of ultraviolence.

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