Disaster 3: Green Goo

 

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Green Goo is the idea that the true danger of nanotechnology does not come from some perpetually reproducing destructive nano-bots run amok, but rather from the accidental uptake of nanotech by our environment.  Even if we assume humanity will use the technology cautiously and respectfully, we can’t forget that all new tech also affects the entire world around it… with potentially dangerous consequences. How dangerous?

Take the respirocytes proposed by nanoexpert Robert Freita: They’re a harmless application, just a kind of artificial red blood cell that pumps oxygen more efficiently and with more stability than the natural equivalent–236 times more efficiently, to be precise. Because of this dramatically heightened performance, they would be invaluable in treating disorders such as anemia and asthma, or simply to oxygenate the blood for better endurance and performance in sporting events. In other words, they’re blood- borne nerd fixers. With even higher doses of these nanobots, their hosts could also be capable of super-human feats, like holding their breath for several hours or running at a dead sprint for nearly twenty minutes.

And that’s great!

How many of you would want to be able to do that? Now, how many of you want anybody else to be able to do that? Go ahead; raise your hand if you want sociopaths who breathe underwater, sprinting rapists, and serial killers who never tire (put your hands down, aspiring serial killers and rapists. Your vote does not count here).
 
Not to mention the worrying fact that these machines are by no means human-specific. The respirocytes take a kind of frat- boy approach to blood: If it’s warm, it needs to be pumped. No further distinctions need to be made. Also of concern is the fact that their durable outer shell and self- sustaining programming make them seriously hardy devices, easily capable of surviving and functioning outside of their intended environment for long durations. And when you factor in how easily they could spread (their transferability by blood and other bodily fluids) you start to get a worrisome picture. One bad accident at the local zoo with somebody hosting these nanobots and next thing you know, you’ve got untiring, superspeed pythons racing through the streets and a terrifyingly literal sea lion roaring at the bottom of your pool. In an instant, the food chain is drastically reordered.

Though the only “realistic” concern for now is the effect a modified species could have on its local ecosystem, any supercharge in the efficiency of predators is the last thing we need. After all, humans are only at the top of our food chain because we’re smart enough to compensate for our insane physical incompetence as a species. So . . . maybe you should start studying. Because pretty soon, a billion tiny robots might be seriously hot- rodding up some grizzly bears, and you?

Well, let’s just say you’re going to have to get a hell of a lot smarter in a big hurry if you plan on making it back from the store with both arms.

Robert Brockway is the author of Everything is Going to Kill Everybody and an editor and columnist for Cracked.com and runs the successful humor site IFightRobots.com. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


Find more of Robert’s Disaster A Day content here: Disaster A Day with Robert Brockway