NANO: Goo color

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sat, 30 Aug 1997 22:04:25 -0500

Damien Broderick wrote:

> And while I'm being sanctimonious, preachy and politically correct, I
> suppose I might as well add that I detest the suggestion that evil,
> rampaging, mother-fucking nanites should henceforth be coded as `black
> goo'. Are people here *really* so deaf to the coded and offensive
> implications? Here's an alternative - I know it's not as neat as
> spectrum-coding, but what about `war goo'? Uber-goo is not a colour, after
> all...

Well, I was kind of attached to spectrum-coding. Green goo, gray goo, black
goo... blue goo for 'munes... purple goo for Barney...

I think that we should keep things in perspective. There's a tendency, which
I fully support, to change the name for "black" every few years(*). Negro,
black, African-American - it'll be something else by the time nano goes
public. And, if I may be so bold, "black" was a silly name in the first
place. They aren't black. They're brown. Just like "whites", who are
actually beige. I'm willing to bet it was some prejudiced fellow who decided
to spectrum-code races with the terms traditionally synonymous with Light and
Darkness. If you're going to code races by color, call them "beige" and
"brown", including "light brown" and "dark brown", and maybe people will start
to realize how ridiculous it all is.

Spectrum-coding is a great way to visualize abstract concepts ranging from
battling nanotech to resistor strength. I'm not going to give it up because
some poor guys got slapped with the wrong end of the spectrum.

"Red goo" is not an acceptable alternate to "black goo" because nobody can
translate it mentally. "Khaki goo" is just plain silly. "War goo",
abandoning the spectrum, is acceptable; as is "death goo". "Mataglap" would
be fine, since it's easy to translate into Something Evil. Except that in
"Aristoi", the term was synonymous with any destructive goo, so we'd be
changing the terminology.

"Black goo" is instantly recognizable as Malevolent Goo. I've taken to
calling the two sides in chess "chocolate" and "vanilla" so that no prejudice
is implied by vanilla going first. I offer this as proof of my concern. But
how we feel about "black goo" may determine the fate of the world. So I'll
use the most appropriate terminology, with the most appropriate connotations,
and to hell with all racist silliness.

One of the most trivial applications of nanotech is to change skin colors.
Maybe then the Sneeches(**) among us will quit fighting.

-- Notes: --

(*) = Because prejudice does build up, attached to a particular name, and it's
harder to hit a moving target. What possible harm could a simple change in
terminology do? (Unless it's a STUPID change, like from "handicapped" to "disabled".)

(**) = Not a racial slur; Dr. Seuss has a wonderful story - makes racism look
as silly as it is, without preaching against it - about the "Star-bellied" and
"plain-bellied" Sneeches, in which a "Star-off" and "Star-on" machine was invented.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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