Re: NANO: Goo color

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sun, 31 Aug 1997 11:13:41 -0500

Anders Sandberg wrote:
> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <> writes:
> > "Red goo" is not an acceptable alternate to "black goo" because nobody can
> > translate it mentally.
> Huh? I see no problems at all with this term. In our culture red is often
> associated with aggression and danger, and red goo makes sense.

Except that if you try to translate it mentally, without having heard of it,
it comes out as "hot goo". I want a term that's recognizable without
training. "Blue goo" is better than "gold goo" or "white goo" for protective
goo, because "white goo" isn't Benevolent in the same way that "black goo" is
Malevolent, and "gold goo" sounds Nice without being Protective. (Note that
in the standard spectrum, gold goo actually has a malevolent meaning.) "Blue
goo" initially sounds like "cold goo", and in this sense "red goo" would make
a nice opposite. The police-protection sense, I think, is confined to America
and a few other countries. (Is it an international symbol?) Note that "red
goo", in some places, might have the connotation of "stop sign"; they'd think
it was the opposite of "green goo". "Silver goo" might be as good as "blue
goo", again because of the instinctive translation; silver is the opposite of
black in a way that white is not. It also has the connotation of protection,
particularly if mentioned after "black goo", and does NOT translate to
ANYTHING malevolent.

In this sense, I think "silver goo" is superior to blue goo, since - although
not necessarily protective - it's clear that this goo isn't doing anything
bad, and if mentioned in the same context as "black goo", it's obvious that
the "silver goo" is set up to oppose it.

> > "Khaki goo" is just plain silly.
> Why? It might not be a deadly serious term, but it suggests something that
> has come out of a military lab and used by the traditional (IMHO soon to
> be very outdated) armies.

Because nobody can visualize khaki in the same way they can visualize blue or
silver. It takes up too much cognitive sub-effort; the term turns into a mere
noiselike label. Khaki is not a semantic primitive in the same sense as
"silver", "black", "war", or "death". This makes the term "khaki goo" a
subrecursive term, making it harder to think, harder to use, and harder to chunk.

> > "War goo", abandoning the spectrum, is acceptable; as is "death goo".
> War goo is an useful term, since it tells what is intended, but death goo
> is a bit too diffuse: does it mean death to a certain person (like the
> "quicksilver" I wrote a short story about), all people who are in contact
> with it or all ordered systems?

For goo of a unique purpose rather than a general philosophy, or an esoteric
philosophy, a spectrum term should not be assigned. Spectrum coding
translates only into very basic connotations. "Assassin goo", "poison goo",
and "chaos goo" are the appropriate terms in each case mentioned. "Red goo"
can substitute for "chaos goo", but only for Magic card players.

> > "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.
> I have added Mataglap to my terminology pages since it is an interesting
> term, but it is too vague to be very useful. It has the connotations of Evil,
> which is impractical in serious discussions about goo capabilities since
> we are more interested in the tactical or long-term aspects, not whether
> the nanites themselves have some metaphysical evil (one could argue that
> gray, red, khaki and green goo are all evils, but the nanites themselves
> are just tools for somebody to comitt evil).

Nobody is getting mystical about "black goo", although it could be argued that
I've gone off the deep end with respect to color coding. Having the term
recognizable as Malevolent is also important to having understandable
conversations. And like it or not, the connotations of a term form an
important part of the framework on which we hang all associated knowledge.
"Goo" has the connotation of being formless, despite "black goo" (at least)
being very highly ordered. Complain about that, if you're looking for
unhelpful connotations.

> > "Black goo" is instantly recognizable as Malevolent Goo.
> Yes. I don't think it is specific enough to be useful, but it is recognizble.
> The problem is that it encompasses accidental goo, deliberately designed
> malevolent goo and Ubergoo built by Powers that look malevolent but really
> isn't (see the story _Kadath in the Cold Waste_ for a fine take on it
> (forgot the author, but make a web search for Kadath and Mars, and you
> will likely find it)).

Not really. Any malevolence has the connotation of being deliberate.
Particularly by contrast with gray goo. Anyway, such sub-connotations are a
matter of usage; the important thing is to have a term whose connotations
sketch, and do not conflict with, the usage we intend to hang on it.

And, as always, I ain't discussin' Ubergoo. THEIR problem. Not mine. Great
story, though! And I'm borrowing the term "Kadath" as a scenario label for a
Power-class collective VR with new information as a ultimate goal.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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