Cover image of "Moral Code," a novel about dangerous robots infused with artificial intelligence

Consider what possibilities might open up—for good or ill—if programmers could code artificial intelligence into nano-scale robots. Just imagine robots so small and so capable that they could burrow into virtually any microscopically small space, operate individually or as a swarm, and broadcast their findings to distant human (or AI) operators. Undetectable surveillance. Noninvasive microsurgery. Murder by proxy. And so much more. We might no longer recognize the world. And this is the increasingly likely reality that coauthors Lois and Ross Melbourne explore in Moral Code, their troubling novel about potentially dangerous robots.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Introducing ethics and morals into artificial intelligence

The heroine of Moral Code is Dr. Keira Stetson, the creator of the Moral Operating System (MoralOS) that is open to all online. She has built the MoralOS into her AI assistant, Elly, and large numbers of others around the world have enrolled in the open-source program she launched. But Keira’s focus in her company, Opal Technologies, is “to bring educational tech where it was needed the most.” She is on-site in Honduras, where she and her team are conducting a “focus group” introducing slum children to Opal’s know-it-all, AI-driven “costly little robots.” There, buried under tons of rubble from an 8.8 Richter-scale earthquake, she first encounters the nanobots dispatched by one of the world’s richest men to help in the rescue effort.

Moral Code by Lois and Ross Melbourne (2022) 420 pages ★★★½☆☆

Artist's rendering of a nanobot attacking a diseased cell, an example of potentially dangerous robots in our future
Nano-scale robots, or nanobots, promise great potential in medicine and surgery but pose potentially great problems as well in the wrong hands. Image: AZoNano

Dangerous robots that hold potential for good or evil

Roy Brandt is “the tech billionaire and owner of Searcher Technologies,” a secretive private firm that has married artificial intelligence with multi-purpose nanobots. He fully recognizes that his creation can be used for great evil and has built multiple layers of security around the company to prevent prying eyes to discover their existence. Roy and his team fly into Honduras to aid the international effort to rescue hundreds of men, women, and children buried in the ruins of the capital. Keira and the six children she and her robots are working with are among those Searcher’s tech rescues when all else has failed.

“They came with laptops, earbuds, transmitters, receivers, and a canister of what some might call magic,” the Melbournes write. Roy and his team call it Dust. “It wasn’t magic. It was engineered, and these people were its creators. Nano engineers and artificial intelligence experts weren’t typically on speed dial for disasters, until now.” And the chance meeting between Keira and Roy leads over time to a partnership that promises to fulfill the dreams of both teams . . . until everything goes badly wrong. If the potential for evil as well as good is present, it’s almost inevitable that someone will choose the darker path.

The science on which Moral Code is based appears to be solid. After all, it represents coauthor Ross Melbourne’s long-time field of work. And nanobots are not a figment of his imagination. They represent an emerging field estimated to generate $8.6 billion in revenue by 2025. However, the execution of the story is less accomplished. The novel moves slowly, dragged down by often seemingly endless bouts of dialogue about matters that might well have been better presented through action. But it’s well worth reading for the science alone.

About the authors

Photo of Lois and Ross Melbourne, coauthors of this novel about dangerous robots infused with artificial intelligence
Lois and Ross Melbourne. Image: Biblioteca

As the website Biblioteca notes, “Moral Code is not the first collaboration for the husband-and-wife team of Lois and Ross Melbourne. Side-by-side, they grew their software business to a global award-winning organization, as CEO and Chief Technology Officer, respectively. Now Lois’ storytelling brings to life Ross’ deep understanding of the possibilities within artificial intelligence and robotics. Parenting and marriage have been the easy part of this equation. Lois is now writing books, having published two children’s books about exploring careers. Moral Code is her first but not her last novel. You can learn more about Lois at Ross’ current work includes artificial intelligence and robotics. You can learn more about him at And for more about them and the book, you can visit,”

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