Gray goo scenario

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A summary of the gray goo scenario by How Stuff Works (2010), showing Si-based Drexler replicators (1987) taking over the earth.[1] Correctly, Si-based things do not react with each other to make more Si-based products.

In hmolscience, gray goo scenario, aka gray goo problem”, refers to []


In 1987, Eric Drexler, in his Engines of Creation, building on John Neumann's 1951 premise of self-replicating machines, conjectured the following hypothetical scenario:[2]

“I have described [§4] some of what replicating assemblers will do for us if we handle them properly. Powered by fuels or sunlight, they will be able to make almost anything (including more of themselves) from common materials. Living organisms are also powered by fuels or sunlight, and also make more of themselves from ordinary materials. But unlike assembler-based systems, they cannot make ‘almost anything’. Genetic evolution has limited life to a system based on DNA, RNA, and ribosomes, but memetic evolution will bring life-like machines based on nanocomputers and assemblers. I have already described how assembler-built molecular machines will differ from the ribosome-built machinery of life. Assemblers will be able to build all that ribosomes can, and more; assembler-based replicators will therefore be able to do all that life can, and more. From an evolutionary point of view, this poses an obvious threat to otters, people, cacti, and ferns—to the rich fabric of the biosphere and all that we prize.
The early transistorized computers soon beat the most advanced vacuum-tube computers because they were based on superior de-vices. For the same reason, 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. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop—at least if we made no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies. Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known as the ‘gray goo problem’ Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be gray or gooey, the term ‘gray 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. We have evolved to love a world rich in living things, ideas, and diversity, so there is no reason to value gray goo merely because it could spread. Indeed, if we prevent it, we will thereby prove our evolutionary superiority. The gray goo threat makes one thing perfectly clear: we cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers.
I described [§5] some of what advanced AI systems will do for us, if we handle them properly. Ultimately, they will embody the patterns of thought and make them flow at a pace no mammal's brain can match. AI systems that work together as people do will be able to out-think not just individuals, but whole societies. Again, the evolution of genes has left life stuck. Again, the evolution of memes by human beings—and eventually by machines—will advance our hardware far beyond the limits of life. And again, from an evolutionary point of view this poses an obvious threat. Knowledge can bring power, and power can bring knowledge. Depending on their natures and their goals, advanced Al systems might accumulate enough knowledge and power to displace us, if we don't prepare properly. And as with replicators, mere evolutionary "superiority" need not make the victors better than the vanquished by any standard but brute competitive ability. This threat makes one thing perfectly clear: we need to find ways to live with thinking machines, to make them law-abiding citizens.”
Column 14 actuates as the "mind" or intelligence section of the periodic table, owing to the geometry of the valence shells of the elements in this group. In 1987, Eric Drexler, posted that some type of Si-based "gray goo" might be made in a nano-technology lab, and get loose, and spread over the planet, and take over "life".

The majority of this argument defies the basics of chemical thermodynamics of reacting animate things. Namely, thermodynamically, there exists a thermodynamic potential for CH-based things, e.g. human, which are powered CHNOPS+20E chemical species, to react together or "work together", as Drexler phrases things, but there is not potential for Si-based species to react or work together. All Si-based AI-things are but the result of Boolean algebra programing, embedded on silicon chips, to make animations that mimic human animations, thereby lowering the activation energy barrier, as "substrate material", for human chemical reactions.

Physical intelligence

In 2009, Todd Hylton, ran a DARPA-funded program to make “thermodynamic computers” moving and evolving via “physical intelligence”, which is similar to that embedded in The Matrix (1999) film scenario, The Terminator (1984) film scenario, and or the “grey goo” problem, is that the “potentials”, which Hylton speaks of as being the driving force behind the evolution of matter, in the universe, namely thermodynamic potentials, the Gibbs potential specifically for earth-bound surface-reacting social systems, operate between or amid reactive CH-based animation types of chemical species, whereas no sort of similar reproductive Gibbs potential exists between Si-based types of animation, such as computers, CPUs, AI systems, or robots. Correctly, in the human chemical reaction purview, Si-based matter, as found in computers, CUPs, AI systems, or robots, are technically classified as “substrate”, which has the function to lower the activation energy barrier of social reactions.[3]


The following are related quotes:

Gray goo might be able to replace us and yet be unable to evolve into anything interesting.”
— Eric Drexler (1987), Engines of Creation (pg. 183)

End matter


  1. Gray goo (2010) –
  2. Drexler, Eric. (1987). Engines of Creation (gray goo, pgs. 172-73). Publisher.
  3. Todd Hylton – Hmolpedia 2020.

External links

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