Volume 4, Issue 2 
December 2009

Application of Asilomar Guidelines to Self-replicating Machines

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Dr. Martine Rothblatt during the 5th Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology on July 20, 2009 at the Terasem Island Amphitheatre in Second Life.

Dr. Rothblatt discusses how segmenting the regulations created during the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA would be a useful tool for the self-replicating nanotechnology she deems necessary to implement human galactic colonization.

I would like to talk about reconciling conflicts regarding self-replicating nanotechnology[1], apprehensions about grey goo, scientific ambitions in re-making life, and applying practical biotechnology guidelines to artificial self-replication.

A self-replicating machines conflict is typically a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. People want to use self-replicating machines to make the world a better place, but other people worry that if we do that, we might actually make the world a worse place. The fact of the matter is that self-replicating nanotech is most useful to extended life. We should remember that human bodies engage in massive self-replication as do all forms of life. It is definitely something hard to do without. In fact, if nature cannot do without self-replication, then our efforts to extend nature will be very difficult without self-replicating technology. We have to deal with the ‘damned if we do’.

On the other hand, nature also gave us Small Pox [2] and HIV, [3] which have killed countless millions of people, so there are a lot of reasons to be careful with self-replicating technology. slide 8

That basically leads us to the apprehensions of grey goo.[4] Michael Crichton [5] imagines self-replicating nanobots would swarm against us and the very notion of self-replication scares us. The Foresight Institute [6] noted that terrorists or the like, with some degree of difficulty, could possibly get a hold of self-replicating nanotechnology and cover the world in massive goo; that would obviously be horrible.

Now let me shift to some scientific ambitions in re-making life. One ambition that would probably entail self-replicating technology is that uploaded minds [7] will want nanotech bodies.mar1 It is possible you could create nanotech bodies without self-replicating technology, but anything mechanical will break down at times and self-replicating technology would allow it to repair itself automatically, just like human bodies do.

Vitrified [8] bodies need self-replicating nanotech for revival. When a person is revived, the body is going to go through a tremendous shock when they revive from cryonics [9] with a race against time in terms of fixing what was wrong with the body and saving it from drowning in liquid. It’s possible that it could just be handled with some bolus [10] injection of trillions of nanobots, [11] but it’s also quite possible it can use self-replicating nanobots to continually repair problems with the body as it breaks down.

[1] Self-replicating nanotechnology - systems in which actual physical objects, not mere patterns of information, undertake their own replication.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2004; http://www.MolecularAssembler.com/
August 11, 2009 3:05PM EST

[2] Small Poxn. An acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxivirus and characterized by a high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of papules that blister, produce pus, and form scabs that leave permanent pockmarks. Also called variola.

The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical dic··tion·ar·y . Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 758.

[3] HIVn. Human immunodeficiency virus; a retrovirus that caused AIDS by infecting helper T cells of the immune system. The most common serotype, HIV-1, is distributed worldwide while HIV-2 is primarily confined to West Africa. Also called AIDS virus, human T-cell leukemia virus type III, human t-cell lymphotrophic virus type III, lymphadenopathy-associated virus

The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical dic··tion·ar·y . Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 370.

[4] Grey goo (also ecophagy) - a term coined by Robert Freitas that means, literally, the consuming of an ecosystem. Freitas used the term to describe a scenario involving molecular nanotechnology gone awry. In this situation (called the grey goo scenario) out-of-control self-replicating nanorobots consume entire ecosystems, resulting in global ecophagy. However, the word "ecophagy" is now applied more generally in reference to any event--nuclear war, the spread of monoculture, massive species extinctions--that might fundamentally alter the planet.http://en.wikipedia.org/
August 11, 2009 3:35PM EST

[5] Michael Chrichton(Prey) - In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles -- micro-robots -- has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive.http://www.crichton.html  August 11, 2009 3:39PM EST

[6]Foresight Institute - Founded in 1986, Foresight was the first organization to educate society about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology. At that time, nanotechnology was a little-known concept.http://www.foresight.org/  August 11, 2009 3:40PM EST

[7] Mind uploading - preserving sufficient digital information about a person so that recovery remains possible by foreseeable technology.Terasem Movement, Inc.’s CyBeRev Project.
August 11, 2009 3:45PM EST

[8] Vitrifyvb. to convert into glass or a glassy substance by heat and fusion.Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition . Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, Incorporated, 2005: 1399.

[9] Cryonicsn. The practice of freezing a person who has died of a disease in hopes restoring life at some future time when a cure for the disease has been developed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition . Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, Incorporated, 2005: 302.

[10] Bolus – 3. A concentrated mass of a pharmaceutical substance administered intravenously for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical dic··tion·ar·y . Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 106.

[11] Nanobots (or Nanorobotics) - creating machines or robots at or close to the microscopic scale of a nanometre (10-9 metres). More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the still largely hypothetical nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots. Nanorobots (nanobots, nanoids, nanites or nanomites) would typically be devices ranging in size from 0.1-10 micrometers and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanorobotics  August 11, 2009 4:21PM EST


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