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Grey Goo


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7 replies to this topic

#1 harris13.3

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 03:27 AM


According to Wikipedia, "grey goo" is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves.

What many transhumanists and nanotechnology advocates forget is that simple earth-based bacteria and viruses also operate on identical principles to the hypothetical "grey goo". A bacterium converts nutrients and water from the environment into organic matter for reproduction. If a bacterium were to divide every hour, there would be enough bacteria to cover the entire surface of the Earth after just a week.

Of course, we know this doesn't happen because limiting factors will eventually slow down and stop the rate of reproduction. Similarly, in a "grey goo" scenario, the self-replicating nanobots would not continue replicating forever. Eventually, the raw matter needed for replication would be exhausted and the replication rate would be reduced to a crawl.

So why exactly do people continue to say that "grey goo" a threat to mankind?

#2 valkyrie_ice

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 03:49 AM

According to Wikipedia, "grey goo" is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves.

What many transhumanists and nanotechnology advocates forget is that simple earth-based bacteria and viruses also operate on identical principles to the hypothetical "grey goo". A bacterium converts nutrients and water from the environment into organic matter for reproduction. If a bacterium were to divide every hour, there would be enough bacteria to cover the entire surface of the Earth after just a week.

Of course, we know this doesn't happen because limiting factors will eventually slow down and stop the rate of reproduction. Similarly, in a "grey goo" scenario, the self-replicating nanobots would not continue replicating forever. Eventually, the raw matter needed for replication would be exhausted and the replication rate would be reduced to a crawl.

So why exactly do people continue to say that "grey goo" a threat to mankind?


Mainly because it is a sensationalist anti-nanotech propaganda piece, too often protrayed in fiction as a boogy man.

The Grey Goo Problem is one Drexler listed as a extreme, and extremely unlikely, danger in Engines of Creation due to his concerns that no-one would take the issue of developing safeguards for nanotech development seriously. And sadly, people like Richard Smalley, and Hollywood, continued to spread this idea to all listeners. Grey Goo is akin to making a car that can not only go out, chop down a tree, convert it to fuel, and use it to keep itself fueled while simultaniously mining the raw ores and other elements needed to make a copy of itself, processing them, and manufacturing it's identicle twin. It is TECHNICALLY feasible, but the levels of complexity needed are far beyond what would be required for manufacturing, even if self replicating systems are used. The simple solution even when dealing with self replicating systems is removal of the ability of a self replicator to fuel itself. So long as it had to exist in a solution of fuel and preprocessed materials, a far simpler task than making it self fueling and self processing, even self replicating systems could be easily contained.

There are legitimate uses for full self replicating machinery, particularly in space, where size and weight limitations make a good reason to allow self replicating machinery to exist, but here again, even making self replicating mining bots can be controlled with proper design. A self replicating miner could be sent to the asteroid belt and allowed to process the raw materials, but it need not be a nano machine. Small fist sized robots would work just as well. Similarly, terraforming bots would utilize nanofabrication internally, but also need not be nanoscopic themselves.

The majority of fears relating to Nano scale fabrication is due to a failure to comprehend what is actually involved, and fed by the same fears that hampers AI research, a fear that our machines will destroy us. In all cases, it is primarily due to lack of solid information and misconceptions. The only solution is education.
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#3 eternaltraveler

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 06:15 AM

What many transhumanists and nanotechnology advocates forget is that simple earth-based bacteria and viruses also operate on identical principles to the hypothetical "grey goo". A bacterium converts nutrients and water from the environment into organic matter for reproduction. If a bacterium were to divide every hour, there would be enough bacteria to cover the entire surface of the Earth after just a week.


The only thing that keeps one particular bacteria from multiplying until its progeny covered the entire surface of the earth is other bacteria and other cellular based life that already cover the entire surface of the earth. In theory an artificial replicator could be built with much more initial complexity than a natural replicator could ever have in the begining. This allows for fundamentally different modes of operation than the life we are familiar with or that could ever occur naturally. Think a tiny flash drive instead of using DNA, having bluetooth capability instead of signaling molecules, using carbon nanotubes instead of lipid as a barrier, and a host of other things that would give it and it's progeny an extreme selective advantage over conventional life. Biological life is extremely limited by particular choices evolution made very early on. Of course it is highly doubtful that we could take some initial self replicator and have it turn the mass of the earth into copies of itself. We aren't that good of designers. But we don't need to be.

Once a replicator is created and starts replicating it will evolve. Evolution does a damn good job of designing better replicators. It may be that you can go in a hurry from an artificial replicator that can barely replicate itself in ideal lab conditions to one that can replicate in the environment and compete directly with cellular based life. If they end up competing with biological life for resources evolution might decide it's useful to produce something like ethylene oxide gas that will kill all bacteria (and people) but leave replicators based on different fundamental building blocks unharmed.

We should be careful about how we go about creating new forms of life.

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#4 Reno

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 05:12 AM

Well I don't really see the problem. Isn't that what an electromagnetic pulse is for?

Edited by bobscrachy, 06 March 2009 - 05:13 AM.


#5 Designer Evolution

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 05:22 AM

A problem still remains to humanity

The Grey Goo ate every metal on the earth thus throwing us into the new dark ages with out swords and such.

No fancy technology, or houses put together with nails and wood.

#6 nickthird

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Posted 22 December 2011 - 10:21 PM

Yeah I agree this idea is ridiculous, there are lots of bacteria already competing for resources at the nano level.
Its hard enough to make a robust machine on the human scale not to mention then nano scale, any of the first machines made would barely be able to survive the conditions outside the laboratory, not to mention replicate.

#7 A941

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 10:32 PM

I think it wouldnt be a problem for them to survive, but we already have many selfreplicating things around which have never managed to take over the world (or consume it), like the mentioned bacteria, all sorts of insects, mammals, plants and us.

Yes, nanomachines would do it on a more basic scale, but is it that different if there is any competition?



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#8 ADVANCESSSS

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 04:58 AM

Don't forget it's not about them being out of the laboratory but in a safe area/areas, and also they could later overcome any bacteria around them too so it's not a problem, and if succeeded to replicate then they will~ It's a very good idea to quickly do this as it is one of the ways to advance technology alot as in making anything and healing us to live forever.






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