A group of self-identified terrorists has sent several mail bombs to nanotechnology labs and researchers in Latin America, injuring two people earlier this month in the engineering department at the Monterrey Institute of Technology outside Mexico City. In an online manifesto, the group calls itself Individualists With Savage Tendencies (this a translation from the Spanish Individualidades tendiendo a lo salvaje, or ITS), and writes about how they are trying to stop a "gray goo" scenario where self-replicating nanobots destroy the world.
ITS says it's just getting started with its mail bomb campaign, and cites American scientists like Eric Drexler and Bill Joy as major reasons why they came to believe what they do about the future of nanotech. They also say their tactics are inspired by former math professor Ted Kaczinski, who called himself the UNABOMER. Kaczinksi, who wrote a manifesto about how technology is destroying society, killed three people and severely injured several American computer scientists with mail bombs in the 1980s and 90s.
The Chronicle of Higher Education says the group is linked to another letter bomb sent to a Mexican university earlier this year, and to similar bombs sent to targets in France, Spain, and Chile. None of those bombs hurt anyone, but earlier this month they managed to hit some victims. The Chronicle's Marion Lloyd and Jeffrey R. Young write:
The blast wounded its intended target, Armando Herrera Corral, director of a technology-transfer center, which the group's manifesto said is key to the university's plan to promote research projects that "are relevant for the progress of nanobioindustry within the country." The explosion also wounded a nearby colleague, Alejandro Aceves López, director of the university's graduate school of engineering and science. Both men are expected to recover from their injuries.
In an explanation of their actions, the group wrote (this is a translation from the original Spanish, provided by War on Society):
The ever-increasingly acceleration of Technology will lead to the creation of nanocyborgs that can self-replicate automatically without human intervention; this is obviously a worrying fact for these scientists who for years have given their entire life to the creation of human self-destruction.
One such scientist is the American Eric Drexler, one of the best molecular engineers in his country and promoter of nanotechnology in the international world.
He has mentioned, highly shaken, the possible spread of a gray plague (gray goo in English) caused by billions of nanoparticles self-replicating themselves voluntarily and uncontrollably throughout the world, destroying the biosphere and completely eliminating all animal, plant, and human life on this planet. The conclusion of technological advancement will be pathetic, Earth and all those on it will have become a large gray mass, where intelligent nanomachines reign.
This realistic scenario was not invented by we who are opposed to technological progress, surprisingly, it has been raised by one of the best scientists in the history of the United States.
They're referring to comments Drexlter makes in his book Engines of Creation, whose ideas were later adapted into Bill Joy's famous essay in Wired, "Why The Future Doesn't Need Us." Joy imagines a future where self-replicating nanobots run out of control, consuming all living matter and converting it into more nanobots. The ITS seems to think that killing and injuring researchers will prevent a gray goo scenario from happening.
The Chronicle of Higher Education scoffs that "scientists say the notion is pure science fiction," and compare ITS' ideas to Michael Crichton's novel Prey. But it's worth remembering that the group's claims are based on statements written by scientists, not fiction writers.
ITS connects the use of nanotechnology with other kinds of technology they consider "dehumanizing," especially social media. They write:
Facebook is not just a harmless communication network, but a social experiment in mind control which the Technological Industrial System is using with great effectiveness to exclude the Naturalness of human contact, that is, to develop in grand form the total alienation of individuals to Technology.
Like many contemporary pundits, from Bill McKibben to Andrew Keen, ITS believes that humans' focus on technology is destroying our social connections. They view nanotechnology as just the next stage in a scientific movement to erode the distinction between nature and technology.
In their first manifesto, which is full of footnotes, the ITS lists several researchers and research institutions (mostly in Latin America), suggesting that they might be future targets.
Image of the mail bomb via ITS.