This just in:
- Eric Drexler, known as the father of nanotechnology, today (Wednesday, 9th June 2004) publishes a paper that admits that self-replicating machines are not vital for large-scale molecular manufacture, and that nanotechnology-based fabrication can be thoroughly non-biological and inherently safe. Talk of runaway self-replicating machines, or “grey goo”, which he first cautioned against in his book Engines of Creation in 1986, has spurred fears that have long hampered rational public debate about nanotechnology. Writing in the Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology, Drexler slays the myth that molecular manufacture must use dangerous self-replicating machines.
“Runaway replicators, while theoretically possible according to the laws of physics, cannot be built with today’s nanotechnology toolset,” says Dr. Drexler, founder of the Foresight Institute, in California, and Senior Research Fellow of the Molecular Engineering Research Institute (MERI). He continued: “Self-replicating machines aren't necessary for molecular nanotechnology, and aren’t part of current development plans.”
... Science fiction writers focused on this idea, and ‘grey goo’ became closely associated with nanotechnology, spreading a serious misconception about molecular manufacturing systems and diverting attention from more pressing concerns. This new paper shows why that focus is wrong.
The authors explain why self-replication, contrary to previous understanding, is unnecessary for building an efficient and effective molecular manufacturing system. Instead of building lots of tiny, complex, free-floating robots to manufacture products, it will be more practical to use simple robot-arms in larger factories, like today’s assembly lines. A robot-arm pulled from a factory would be as inert as a light bulb pulled from its socket. And the factory as a whole would be no more mobile than a desktop printer, besides requiring a supply of purified raw materials to build anything. Even the process of developing the factories would not make anything remotely like a runaway replicator - the early machines would be tools, unable to operate by themselves.