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Nano-Dad Says No Grey Goo
Eric Drexler is a cult hero. The cult is everyone who thinks nanotechnology is the solution to all the world's problems. In 1986, Dr. Drexler wrote a book Engines of Creation that prophesied a benign nanotech revolution (evolution?) before anyone else did. Mention Dr. Drexler's name at any Star Trek convention, and you will get everyone's attention. Dr. Drexler predicted in his book that nanotechnology would depend heavily on self-reproducing nanomachines.

Dr. Drexler's prediction, and the thought of nanotechnology in general, scared some people and still do. Among the frightened was Bill Joy, Chief Scientist and Founder of Sun Microsystems. Dr. Joy warned that self-reproducing nano-particles could devour and turn the rest of creation into "grey goo."

Winston would like to think this is all science fiction, but it may not be. Dr. Drexler recently co-authored an article in the prestigious Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology. His article argues that "grey goo" is not the inevitable fate of the world. According to the article abstract (emphasis added):

    Nanotechnology-based fabrication can be thoroughly non-biological and inherently safe: such systems need have no ability to move about, use natural resources, or undergo incremental mutation. Moreover, self-replication is unnecessary: the development and use of highly productive systems of nanomachinery (nanofactories) need not involve the construction of autonomous self-replication nanomachines.
Winston is not reassured. The implication of this article is that the opposite is also true. Nano-particles can be created that reproduce, "move about," mutate, and feed ("use natural resources"). The federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year developing nanotechnology, and federal agencies have no clue how to regulate it. Winston hopes the tax dollars are going into nanotech R & D that won't turn him into grey goo.
  • Click for Drexler's Institute of Physics article .

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