2003 Guardian Award Winner Concerned About The FutureThis year’s recipient is HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, the future king of England.
Prince Charles has been quoted as saying, “I mind about the future of all our children and grandchildren.” And to show his concern, the Prince will soon convene a nanotech summit at his country residence, Highgrove House in Gloucestershire, to discuss the possibility that self-replicating robotic organisms will reduce the planet to a lifeless “grey goo”.
The “grey goo” scenario was first suggested by nanotech researchers some 20 years ago, back when nanoscience was mostly theory. It refers to the possibility of building microscopic machines that could, for example, roam the planet devouring toxic waste, or surf our bloodstreams targeting diseases. The easiest way to manufacture such machines in the enormous quantities required would be to enable them to reproduce themselves, just like viruses and other microscopic organisms do. It’s these “self-replicating nanobots” that have stirred Prince Charles’ concern.
In part, fears of nanotech are fueled by the realization that the science is reaching a tipping point from theoretical possibility to economic reality. Thirty countries now have state-sponsored nanotech programs, all tilting for a slice of a market estimated to be worth $1 trillion by 2015. The governments of both the U.S. and Japan are each investing more than $700 million in the field this year; the E.U. is playing catch-up with a four-year, €1 billion pitch.
The Prince is Patron or President of more than 270 organizations, whose range of interests and activities include young people, the unemployed, the disabled, the elderly, the problems of the inner cities, education, medicine, the arts, conservation, national heritage, environment, architecture, and sport.