Feeds

World safe from nanobot 'grey goo'

U-turn by prophet of doom Eric Drexler

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Eric Drexler, the man who made nanotechnology synonymous with 'grey goo', now says there is no need for self-replicating machines at all. So the world is in no danger of being mined indiscriminately for all its carbon, and we can all breath a sign of relief.

Phew.

Drexler is known as one of the leading thinkers in nanotechnology. In his 1986 book Engines of Creation he cautioned that self-replicating machines could just keep on replicating until there was no material available for them to build more copies of themselves, leaving the world a seething mass of grey goo.

Now, however, he says runaway replication could only be the result of deliberate engineering, not something that happened by accident. And anyway, we can't build them with the technology available to us at the moment.

In a new paper, published in the Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology, Drexler and co-author Chris Phoenix, argue that discussion of grey goo is distracting from serious debate on the subject.

The authors argue that self-replication is unnecessary. Like Asimov's vision of a robotic future, the vision of self replication is based on lots of self contained, highly complex units being used to carry out tasks. In reality, we use robots as components, arms in car factories and so on. It will be the same on the nano scale, with all the machines being tools, not able to operate autonomously.

However, we cannot rest easy. Far more serious, according to Phoenix, is the possibility that someone could deliberately abuse the technology.

"[There is] the possibility that a large-scale and convenient manufacturing capacity could be used to make powerful non-replicating weapons in unprecedented quantity, leading to an arms race or war. Policy investigation into the effects of molecular nanotechnology should consider deliberate abuse as a primary concern, and runaway replication as a more distant issue," he said.

Don't you all feel better? ®

Related stories

Europe slips behind on nano technology
Nanotech buckyballs kill fish
Nanotech researchers see the light

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?