Colin is a very prolific scholar, and his major publications follow an unusually straightforward trajectory: Many of us are familiar with his book Nanovision: Engineering the Future, which looks at nanotechnology as a cultural and scientific concept, bringing the splatter and gray goo
of nano[particles] into discussions of apocalypse and the posthuman.
In Engines of Creation, Drexler defined nanotechnology as a potential technology with these features: "manufacturing using machinery based on nanoscale devices, and products built with atomic precision." In Radical Abundance, he expands on his prior thinking, corrects much of the misconceptions about nanotechnology, and dismisses fears of dystopian futures replete with malevolent nanobots and gray goo
. He clearly identifies nanotechnology with atomically precise manufacturing (APM) in order to avoid other incomplete or simplistic ideas.
Once a craft lands on moon, planet, or perhaps a captured asteroid, the printer could use the materials around it to construct building blocks for structures, tools to repair ships, and perhaps even other 3D printers (though this does raise the specter of the "gray goo
" concept, where out-of-control self-assembling machines consume all available matter within reach).
You just flew a textbook approach down to minimums where all you saw was a bunch of gray goo
. You're close to the ground and in the clag, so you need a ready plan for flying the missed approach with the Garmin G1000 to get out of Dodge safely.
Drexler also described the dark twin of this vision: the "gray goo
Following Eric Drexler's warning that self-replicating nanodevices could someday cover the world in "gray goo
," there have been lots of questions about safety and environmental risks many of them more plausible than the gray goo
The inherent replication ability of assemblers also makes them a potential danger (see the discussion of gray goo
below), and more recent MNT theories focus on the use of fabricators as an intrinsically less complex, more efficient, and less dangerous solution.
Though it seems an unlikely endpoint for nanotechnology (or for humanity, for that manner) the gray goo
scenario has alarmed some serious thinkers.
From the start, nanotechnology has carried with it a whiff of science fiction horror, in which incredibly small self-replicating robots, called nanobots, reduce the living world to mush in what is known as the "gray goo
While there may be some unknown risks, the concept of this science is so fantastic that it has generated such imagined concerns as self-replicating nanobots that absorb the world in "gray goo
." Good science fiction, perhaps - but not possible, according to the laws of physics.
But there's a danger, which he calls the "gray goo
" problem: the possibility that assemblers could be designed to replicate themselves, multiplying like malignant cancer cells and consuming everything in their path.
Together with almost magical possibilities, it portends brutal military applications, dystopic scenarios in which parts of the world turn into "gray goo
," and we are moving one giant step closer to playing with the very basis of life.