Attack of the Grey Goo

Grey goo is the eschatological threat of human extinction and complete environmental destruction involving nanotechnology. Self-replicating machines, with unrestrained reproduction fill the earth and perhaps the universe. That is the bad news. Good news and more inside.

The good news is that we may end death and taxes. Nanotechnology offers the possibility of limitless human leisure and near immortality.

Many proponents of nanotechnology suggest that the endless cosmic chemical experiments, both organic and not suggest that no grey goo is coming to get us.

This argument is badly flawed for two reasons.
1) We are the grey goo they warned us about
2) Other grey goos may be on their way.

Richard Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker, explains the Cairns-Smith’s theory that life was created by clay-crystals. According to this theory, RNA came before DNA, and it was originally simply a passive element, used by clay crystals to replicate (read reproduce). Eventually mutation made RNA become self-replicating. RNA then created DNA to increase its replication efficiency. Today, the large chemical machines and large clusters of these machines called, respectively, cells and organisms, fully dominate the earth. The weight of merely the macroscopic life on earth is about 1 trillion metric tons.
The atmosphere contains free oxygen because of life. Most or all coal, corral, oil, wood, glass, toxic waste, plastic, lime stone, slate and natural gas and many other substances exist because of life. Man dams rivers, dredges canals, mines the earth, and even leaves the atmosphere. We are long beyond the age of clay.
Do not tell me that grey goo is impossible. I am grey goo.

Be they clouds of Von Neumann machines or religiously fanatical armadas of green men bent of propagating their ecosystems to the entire universe, there may be other grey goos on the way. Absence of evidence of hegemonic, self-replicating horrors is, alas, not evidence of their absence.

Watch out, the clay is still mad.

Sure, most technology has unanticipated consequences. Often, they are bad. That alone is not sufficient to ban them

Look at what I wrote above. You will notice that I never recommended that we discontinue research into nano-tech. In fact, I did not make any policy recommendations at all.

I doubt it would it be possible to build a nano-assembler with specific restrictions that could not be changed. I believe too much in human ingenuity to believe that. I know that good DRM stuff does not work, so forget about only assembling certain things. Not to mention unfriendly countries selling them to whomever.

We have had computers for over 50 years. We have had bugs and viruses for decades (1946.) Yet, we still do not have good defensive mechanisms for immune like response to computer problems. Are there good reasons to expect this to be different? If nanotech really means total human extinction, “security through obscurity” maybe it will not stop it from happening, but it would allow everyone to live a bit longer.

The Russians stole much of the information they needed for their bomb program. The Chinese stole much of the information for their missile program. The Israelis have stolen entire warships. If nasty countries want nano-weapons and they are available, they will not be stopped.

Giblfiz, I was not intending to be anti-social. The most respect I can give your arguments is to offer them the careful consideration they deserve. By confining my comments to the points of your discussion, I avoid wasting either of our time.

Now, in your most recent comment you committed the Straw Man fallacy. I accept that not all appeals to authority are bad. That was not my argument. To avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority, you need to cite established findings to back your points:
1) That grey-goo outcomes are impossible
2) Human extinction from grey-goo was impossible
3) Aliens are far away if they exist.
You did not do any of those things.

My thousand-year comment was a response to your comment that:
“grey goo” is impossible, they mean “grey goo which can utterly out-compete the flura and fauna which we currently have at a rapid pace

It matters little if grey-goo happens in a year, a decade or 500 years. Extinction is forever.

The space age could make all the difference. If we can wait long enough for a permanent human presence in space, then maybe we can avoid the consequences of grey long enough to save our favorite parts of earth.