Grey Goo Destroys The World

“What is that stuff?  Cannibalistic nanotechnology, or pesto sauce?”

What if you could build really tiny robots?  *Really* tiny, say, molecular-sized? And you programmed them to be able to make more little robots?  Say, one robot could pick up atoms around it and build another little guy.  Then the new guy starts making more little guys.  Pretty cool, eh?  They might be fun to play with.  You need something done?  Just turn one little dude loose, and he’ll cook you up a mess of helpers.  But now for a chilling thought — what if you couldn’t turn them off?

If you’re working on self-replicating nanorobots in your basement, you need to drop everything right now and make sure their “off” buttons are rock solid.  I mean it — right now.  Step away from the computer, and triple-check your wiring.  Because if you don’t, and those little suckers go hawyire, you’ll wind up with an uncontrollable mass of Gray Goo eating through the basement walls and devouring your neighborhood.  The “goo” is a big ol’ gob of these self-replicating micro robots, that just eat through everything in sight, turning all matter it consumes into more robots.  It’s a similar exponential-growth problem as a computer virus that copies itself onto every computer it can find, except in this case, you can’t just unplug the damn computer.

This nasty scenario would start by some incompetent (or malicious) nanotech inventor who lets a batch of the self-replicating bots free, who then proceed to consume all matter in their path to make more nanobots, akin to the “Nothing” that eats away at Fantasia in The Neverending Story.  (Timely cultural references, eh?)  Legitimate Smart People (not just Entertaining Wacky People) are actually worried about this possibility, and are pushing for laws and controls over nanotech research to prevent such a thing from happening.  We’re a long way off from having to worry about it, but it isn’t out of the question — molecular nanobots have been proposed for good uses, such as for being let loose in the bloodstream to take out germs, repair blood vessels, etc.  So they’re an active area of research, being monitored by people like Robert Freitas (the guy who coined the term “Gray Goo”, and another even better term, “Ecophagy”, meaning the consumption of an entire ecosystem).

A related way that science could kill us all is the idea of “Green Goo”, which is the biological equivalent of Gray Goo — in this scenario, the little robots aren’t riveted beeping aluminum boxes, but instead artificial life forms we create, made out of DNA and proteins and whatnot.  It would probably kill you just as fast, but it’s more likely to involve a lot of mucus than the Gray Goo.

Once again, put it best:   ”The only thing that will save us from getting transformed into globulets of grey goo in a few years will be if the Large Hadron Collider kills us first.”

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