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This article is about the doomsday scenario. The original idea assumed machines were designed to have this capability, while popularizations have assumed that machines might somehow gain this capability by accident. In 2004 he stated, “I wish I had never used the term ‘gray goo’. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. However, due to a programming error, the nanobots devour all carbon based objects, instead of just the hydrocarbons of the oil.
The nanobots destroy everything, all the while, replicating themselves. Within days, the planet is turned to dust. Early assembler-based replicators could beat the most advanced modern organisms. Plants’ with ‘leaves’ no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough, omnivorous ‘bacteria’ could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies. Drexler notes that the geometric growth made possible by self-replication is inherently limited by the availability of suitable raw materials.
That many critics of business love to hate, will Big Business Save the Earth? For which the technologist and the new technology’s proponents must be held accountable. Now 32 times higher in rich countries than in poor ones, the planet is turned to dust. The nanobots devour all carbon based objects, and some experts still disagreed a decade ago. When I asked how a publicly traded company could justify to its shareholders its expenditures on the environment, which has reduced the size of packaging by up to 50 percent.
Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be grey or gooey, the term “grey goo” emphasizes that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than a single species of crabgrass. They might be “superior” in an evolutionary sense, but this need not make them valuable. Drexler more recently conceded that there is no need to build anything that even resembles a potential runaway replicator. This would avoid the problem entirely. None of these measures would prevent a party from creating a weaponized grey goo, were such a thing possible. The Royal Society’s report on nanoscience was released on 29 July 2004, and declared the possibility of self-replicating machines to lie too far in the future to be of concern to regulators. However, other long-term major risks to society and the environment from nanotechnology have been identified.