Gray Goo Hits the Silver Screen

Posted by Osagie Obasogie August 31, 2009
Biopolitical Times
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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has been one of the summer’s top grossing movies, raking in over $256 million in box office sales over the past few weeks.  From a Biopolitical Times perspective, what’s interesting is that the entire plot concerns the disaster and chaos that may come when nanotechnology falls into the wrong hands. From the movie’s Wikipedia page: “In the near future, weapons expert James McCullen has created a nanotechnology-based weapon capable of destroying an entire city.” With this, the usual summer blockbuster mayhem goes forth:

This plot is a variation of the gray goo scenario that many have cautioned against, where self-replicating nanobots eat away at Earth’s matter until its utter destruction. In an influential 2000 Wired article (with its own Wikipedia entry), former Sun Microsystems Chief Scientist Bill Joy noted “Gray goo would surely be a depressing ending to our human adventure on Earth, far worse than mere fire or ice, and one that could stem from a simple laboratory accident. Oops.” A more comedic take on gray goo was recently featured in an online animated short:

How close are we to this scenario becoming feasible? This is yet another area where the line between science and science fiction becomes blurrier as time goes by and technologies evolve. What is clear, however, is that nanotechnology is having an increasing presence in our lives (1, 2), the downstream effects are largely unknown, and there are few serious oversight structures in place. While some good may come out of nanotechnology, it’s not difficult to appreciate why more oversight is needed to prevent such powerful technologies from being misused.