Feeds

World safe from nanobot 'grey goo'

U-turn by prophet of doom Eric Drexler

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

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

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.