Transhumanism and gray goo

Mark-Sherman SQUAREYou know, I always like to think about things that put day-to-day life in perspective, and with the 275 inches of snow we’ve had this winter I couldn’t have come up with something better than reading about transhumanism and gray goo.

Transhumanism can be defined as “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, esp. by means of science and technology.” (Of course I didn’t find this definition in the dictionary, which can’t keep up with modern-day progress, but rather on the Internet.)

Transhumanism is the strongly held hypothesis that evolution need not stop with human beings as we are currently constructed, but that, with the use of nanotechnology, life forms — combined with technological enhancements — are possible that go beyond human. For those few of you so behind the times that you don’t know what “nanotechnology” is, here’s the definition, and this is in the dictionary: Nanotechnology is “the science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices (as robots).”


Incidentally, within the transhumanist field, there are those who believe that by somehow combining biology with nanotechnology, ultimately some kind of immortality will be possible – although a sizable minority of transhumanists feel that this would not be desirable for a number of reasons, including the fact that living forever would be boring. Of course, this might only be the case if you don’t have HBO.

Overpopulation is another concern for those opposed to pursuing immortality. And this possibility certainly is worrisome. Even in this old-fashioned world in which we live, with death an inevitability for all, the fact that the world population is increasing at the rate of more than 200,000 people per day is a concern. But if large numbers of people can live forever, then what happens? Think about the lines at Disneyworld! And, worse, the lines at public bathrooms everywhere.

Ray Kurzweil, who apparently would like to live forever, is one of the leaders in the transhumanist movement. According to one Internet source from a few years ago, “[Kurzweil] currently takes over 150 supplements per day, eats a calorie-restricted diet (a proven technique to prolong lifespan), drinks ionized water (a type of alkalinized water that supposedly protects against free radicals in the body), and exercises daily, all to promote the healthy functioning of his body; and at 60 years old, he reportedly has the physiology of a man 20 years younger.”

He is hoping to hold on until nanotechnology can provide ways to keep him going indefinitely.

Lest you are thinking, this guy is nuts, consider this: He is director of engineering at Google.

Then there is “gray goo.” Just when I thought there was nothing else to worry about, after climate change, overpopulation,racism, poverty, gender issues, and whether or not I should dry clean my favorite sweater, I read about “the gray goo scenario.” This came from following a Google trail starting with transhumanism. And if you haven’t heard of either, you are lucky. Up until this morning, neither had I.

So what is the gray goo scenario? First of all, gray (or grey) goo is not to be confused with Grey Goose, a brand of vodka, though after reading about gray goo some may want to reach for Grey Goose, or whatever kind of mind-altering substance is your own special favorite.

You see, according to Wikipedia, “Gray goo is a hypothetical end-of-the world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario that has been called ecophagy (‘eating the environment’).”

This is all a bit reminiscent of the great hit song of the Sixties, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago.” Its author, Norman Greenbaum, was clearly ahead of his time.

Finally, think about this: Much of this transhumanism and nanotechnology is centered in Silicon Valley, part of the Bay Area of California. Are they doing things to make sure they are the first to achieve immortality, leaving the rest of us to die off like lemmings? As many of us already suspect, perhaps Google is trying to take over the world. (And if you think that sounds crazy, just Google “Google is taking over the world” and see how many hits you get!) And though they’ve made us think that the origin of their name is the word “googol,” which means “one followed by 100 zeroes” (a very large number!), perhaps it’s simply an extension of “goo.” Google. Gray goo.

Just a coincidence? Who knows? Is the theme music from Twilight Zone playing in your head right now? It is in mine.