Re: Major Technologies

Anders Sandberg (
12 Jan 1999 20:04:45 +0100

"Max M" <> writes:

> There is a strong argument that under the conditions that we now live in,
> that the biological form is close to optimum. If a simpler nano machine
> could develop the infinite reproduction loop, it would probably allready
> have happened. wouldn't it?
> If grey goo is simple, shouldnt it happen spontaneous in nature or at least
> in the complex chemical compounds in living creatures?

Not necessarily, diamond is an excellent material but the biochemistry found on wet planetary surfaces can't produce it (the forces involved in its synthesis are likely beyond those proteins can stand). It is beyond a very big fitness desert. Life haven't evolved spaceflight, for the same reasons.

The argument "it hasn't evolved yet" is strong, but only when referring to what existing inside volume of forms terrestrial life can reach. It is a good argument against a biological organism overrunning the entire biosphere (haven't happened at least since the split between procaryotes and eucaryotes), but not against grey goo.

(It should be noted that evolution is highly contingent; the number of forms life can take is much larger than the number of forms evolution can test, so evolution is just a small cluster of species exploring a huge search space. So there might still be surprises out there.)

> Probably something that has been engineered can be better than what nature
> has stumbled upon, but we simply don't know how much. Perhaps grey goo is
> impossible because of complexity factors. I hope so.

I don't think so. In our paper, Henrik and I sketch a diamondoid goo device that seems feasible - tricky, but not impossible given nanotech (it is mainly "off the shelf parts" from Nanosystems). But the problem for goo is that it has to be able to survive well enough in the environment (which includes hungry bacteria, radiation, weird chemicals and other nastiness), get nutrients and reproduce. It is not trivial in the real world, it might work nicely in a test tube. Making goo that would thrive in the human body turns out to be even harder, given what the immune system can do with free radicals and other nastiness.

What I wonder is the relative energy levels between (say) diamondoid and living matter. Life cannot digest diamondoid (as far as I know), which means that even a bad replicator could slosly convert the biosphere to diamondoid without being the unstoppable wave of grey goo we usually talk about (just bigger and bigger piles of diamond on the deep sea floor).

> This doesnt rule out the development of extremely dangerous viruses of
> course. Which can equally as dangerous as grey goo from a human perpective.
> Probably nonbiological nanofabrication has to take place in controlled
> enviroments. Just like we living creatures has skin to protect us from the
> enviroment, an advanced nano facility will exist in a nano-womb.

Yes, this is the sane thing to do. But what must be studied is the risks of insane things, so we will know how dangerous the area will be. If it is safe, great, if it is dangerous we better find ways of handling it, and if it is nearly impossible to avoid disasters we should look at escape opportunities. I remain an optimist, though.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y