Re: LIST: the Gooies

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sun, 18 Apr 1999 19:09:52 -0500

Lyle Burkhead wrote:
> 1. What is fantastic is the image of goo spreading over the planet, eating
> everything in its path. Microscopic life won't have an advantage over
> large-scale life in the future any more than it does now. Hard life, like
> natural life, will come in all sizes, from microbes to Godzilla, and all
> forms, from algae to insects to mammals, plus other forms that have not yet
> been thought of. The ecosystem of the future will be at least as complex
> and diverse as the ecosystem of today. The world isn't going to be any
> more gooey in the future than it is now.

I'm so glad to know that submarines will never outswim fish.

> 2. The very idea of "nonbiological, free-living replicators" is absurd.
> It is possible to have replicators that use different materials and have
> different sources of energy than natural cells, but any free-living
> organism that replicates will be "biological" in a general sense.

Hmm... Perhaps you're right. Let's imagine this scenario:


THE SCENE: Deep in the laboratories of the Singularity Emergency Response Team.

Mitchell Porter came running in, waving an email. "Zyvex has had a little accident, and grey goo has eaten three major cities! What will we do?"

Eliezer Yudkowsky sighed, shaking his head. "I knew it. Well, so much for this planet. Another warning ignored, only to be proved right all too late." He took out a little book and added a tally mark.

"Quick, let's launch the emergency Mars evacuation vehicle!" cried den Otter. Suiting actions to words, he dashed into the one-man vehicle and took off.

"Let's use the anti-grey-goo nuclear weapons!" cried one person. "No, the blue goo!" "The active immune systems!" Conversation in the room quickly threatened to degenerate into chaos.

"Wait!" cried Lyle Burkhead. All conversation instantly hushed, as the room turned toward the one man who had not spoken.

"If the goo replicates..." he said slowly, his immense forehead bulging from the effort of cogitation, "IT MUST BE ALIVE! It's *biological*!"

Immense excitement ensued. Robin Hanson dashed over to the case marked "Open In Emergency Only", took the mallet, smashed the glass case, and reverently lifted out the Webster's English Dictionary. "Yes! He's right!"

"And look!" cried Anders Sandburg, pointing at the monitors. "The goo, being biological, can't eat our facility and condemn us all to horrible, agonizing deaths! We're saved!"


Then again, perhaps not.


"Biology is anything designed primarily by evolution." - Yudkowsky


> Hard life, like natural life, will be constrained by time, space, and
> energy; there will still be such a thing as bioenergetics. Each species
> will have its own niche. There will still be predators and prey, and there
> will still be an ongoing arms race between predators and prey, as described
> by Dawkins. There will still be symbiotic relationships and parasitic
> relationships between species. In other words the general form of biology
> will remain the same. The essential difference will be that organisms will
> be able to change themselves, like corporations do, instead of depending on
> the blind process of natural selection.

Yes; submarines might be more of a problem if the population was not kept down by the submarine-eating denizens of the deep.

> 3. Finally, the other fantastic thing about the grey goo scenario is that
> it is all supposed to happen overnight.

Says you. It could just as well happen after a decade. Straw man. Nobody specified overnight.

--          Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.