You might die someday of nanotech-related causes, and the culprit very well could be gray goo -- no, not like in John Marlow's scary Nano novel, or Michael Crichton's silly Prey -- but if you are killed by nanotech, the cause likely will involve the concept of "gray goo". Let me explain.
Here are three different ways gray goo might kill you, in ascending order of probability:
3. Tiny nanobots swarm over and disassemble your body, atom by atom. Chances of this occurring? Probably less than being struck by an asteroid. Theoretically it could happen, but don't worry about getting life insurance to cover it. We've written before that goo-type machines not only will be very difficult to design and build, but also that other malicious kinds of nanotech will be easier to make and more efficient to use.
2. Public worries over gray goo, fanned by ill-advised critics like Britain's Prince Charles and immoderate organizations like the ETC Group, lead to a ban on the development of molecular manufacturing technology in the United States and most of Europe. Predictably, this only allows nations with fewer scruples to develop and make use of the technology -- eventually selling ultra-lethal weapons capability to transnational terrorist organizations, who attack without warning. Instead of making a cumbersome gray goo, they simply send hundreds of millions of miniature super-computer-guided stealth aircraft to devastate every major city in the developed world. And that's how you die. Chances of this occurring? Higher than you might think.
1. Authoritative U.S. scientists and nano policy makers persist in their ridicule of gray goo scenarios and their dismissal of nanobots as "impossible". As a result, no policies dealing with the consequences of molecular manufacturing are debated and no attempt is made to cooperate on an international level with other potential developers of the technology. When, a few years later, it is discovered that a heretofore secret program in a non-aligned nation may be on the verge of a breakthrough, other major powers decide to jumpstart their own programs. Before long, several countries find themselves involved in a new, highly unstable, upwardly spiraling arms race. The next war -- truly the war that does end all wars -- ends your life, and billions of others. Chances of this occurring? Probably high, if present trends continue.
So goo itself won't kill you, but extreme reactions, whether of hysteria or of denial, just may.