- THE DAILY
Prince Charles asks scientists to look into 'grey
- By Roger Highfield,
- (Filed: 05/06/2003)
- Fears by the Prince
of Wales that armies of microscopic robots could turn
the face of the planet into an uninhabitable wasteland
have prompted the nation's top scientists and
engineers to launch an inquiry.
- Having attacked GM
foods in the past, Prince Charles has more recently
turned his attention to nanotechnology, the ability to
manipulate matter at scales of billionths of a
- Concerned by claims
by environmentalists that swarms of rogue
"nanomachines" could one day reduce all in their path
to "grey goo", the prince has asked the Royal Society
to help him to weigh up the risks.
- Yesterday, at the
Cheltenham Festival of Science, Lord May, president of
the Royal Society and former government chief
scientist, announced that the Society and the Royal
Academy of Engineering are to launch a study into
- But Lord May
stressed: "There is nothing inherently sinister about
nanoscience or nanotechnology, it just refers to the
study of things on the scale of one-millionth of a
- He said the prince
should be reassured that the "grey goo" scenario,
which is raised by various sources, notably Michael
Crichton's book Prey, is even less likely to come true
than cloning dinosaurs.
- "The nightmare
scenario of self-replicating nanobots destroying
everything is about as likely to come true as Jurassic
Park, another product of Michael Crichton's fertile
imagination," said Lord May.
- Fearful of the same
polarised debate developing as with GM, Lord May has
decided to launch the inquiry, even though many of the
risks are "purely imaginary and
- Some of the benefits
of nanotechnology, such as superior materials and
sunscreens, are clear cut "but maybe there are some
things we ought to be thinking about".
- Prince Charles's
fears appear to have been prompted by The Big Down, an
extended polemic on the potential evils of
nanotechnology, published at the start of this year by
an organisation called ETC, a pressure group based in
- This report rages
against technological developments for creating
extravagant wealth and extreme poverty.
- But Lord May said
that advances in science and technology have made life
better in both the developed and developing
- Lifespans have
increased, from a global life expectancy at birth 50
years ago of 46 years, to 64 years today, he said.
World food production has doubled over the past 35
years, using only 10 per cent more land.
- Sir Martin Rees,
Astronomer Royal, also spoke at the festival last
night, on his new book, Our Final Century, which
weighs up current threats to humankind.
- Compared with the
real threat from nuclear weapons, Sir Martin said that
the "grey goo" scenario "might become a concern 50
years from now but is science fiction for the
- There will be a
session on nanotechnology this Saturday at the
festival, which is sponsored by The Daily