Gray Goo discussion [convo excerpt + reply]

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Tue Jan 09 2001 - 08:21:30 MST

[Note to Extro readers: Herewith, some recent parts of a discussion I
have been having off line. Apologies for the reverse chronological

Since what we can actually do with MNT today is nonexistent, i.e., since
MNT doesn't exist yet, there is a lot of "here there be dragons"
sentiment possible once you hear of the concept of gray goo. It's a very
powerful image of an utter earthly cataclysm. It behooves us to address
this as prudently as we are able.

The first thing to be published that might qualify as "research" on gray
goo is Robert Freitas, _Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous
Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations_, available online
(I think the URL is
I think there may be some holes in that. Go for it!

See also the Foresight proposed guidelines on MNT research, modeled
after the accepted guidelines for biology.

These are recent, concrete attempts to formally and publicly address
this issue. And please note that various people in the media are having
fun with how wiggy, far out and science fictional these documents are,
since they can always get a sound bite from some scientist saying that
assemblers, replicators or disassemblers are utter bilge. Well, they're
not utter bilge just because they don't show up on his radar.

As I mentioned, and as I suspect Eric might agree, a bigger risk is from
things closer to home: biotech hybridized or enhanced, with or without
MNT. Bio already has the replication trick down.

Now, do you want to call anything that replicates and kills people "gray
goo"? I don't.

John Marlow wrote:
> Sure; go ahead. I'm not referring to folks on the list (unless they're
> using cyberaliases). Drexler's Engines seems to downplay gray goo threat,
> even though you say it was a greater concern then.
> Would you mind pointing me to the research you've mentioned, which Joy has
> failed to poke holes in, as well as any useful references to goos red,
> green, and gray (love those terms!)--just in case I've missed something?
> john marlow
> --
> At 07:06 PM 1/8/2001 -0800, you wrote:
> >I am not saying the thinking of 1985-88 is obsolete. Far from it. What I
> >am saying is that since then, serious, detailed and public work has been
> >created by people who are just as fundamentally desirous of not being
> >eaten by gray goo as Mr. Joy is. And he didn't pick holes in that work.
> >If their thinking is flawed, it should be debugged by careful analysis.
> >Just wailing and gnashing teeth about generalities is not maximally
> >responsible.
> >
> >There are certainly some people on the Extro list who are "Hey, cool
> >tech; full-speed ahead, guys." Could you be more specific about who you
> >mean? I can then address whether a particular "downplayer" has done his
> >homework or is just being a kneejerk "noveltarian".
> >
> >I think the evidence is clear that a red or green goo event is MUCH more
> >likely and thus MUCH more dangerous. I think those are my coinings, BTW.
> >These are both names for biovores based on extant biology with a
> >souped-up bag of tricks provided by nt. Red goo attacks meat (think of
> >all mammals contracting Ebola), green goo attacks plants.
> >
> >Gray goo _qua_ gray goo is much more difficult to do. This doesn't mean
> >it is a zero probability, and surely some precautions should be taken.
> >I'm not exactly sure what those precautions are, today.
> >
> >The low hanging dangerfruit, it seems to me, is based on other tech than
> >"dry molecular nano".
> >
> >Permission to post this (last pair only) exchange to the Extro list?
> >
> >Mike
> >
> >john marlow wrote:
> > >
> > > No; not at all. I was tangentially aware of the tech, but didn't really get
> > > into it until a few years back. The "early thinking" you refer to I'd like
> > > to learn more about--as well as why Joy's this-stuff-is-extremely-dangerous
> > > attitude should be, as I guess you're implying, obsolete. (Feel free to
> > > point out any useful links.)
> > >
> > > To be perfectly honest, I see some fairly prominent people in the field
> > > making statements to the effect that this technology is not all that
> > > dangerous--and it just blows my mind. I think they're insane, and I
> > feel they're
> > > propagating a very dangerous attitude: "Hey, cool tech; full-speed
> > ahead, guys."
> > >
> > > Relinquishment, however, is clearly impossible; thus its desirability need
> > > not even be debated.
> > >
> > > jm
> > >
> > > --
> > > When Mr. Joy started speaking out about relinquishment he was working
> > > >from a concept base comparable to the early thinking of 1985-88. Twelve
> > > years of thought by a number of other intelligent people was not
> > > addressed at all. But you've probably heard this from others--including
> > > some of those people.
> > >
> > > --
> > > The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I
> > > can't, and the incapacity the tell the difference. --Calvin
> > >
> > > Sent through GMX FreeMail -

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