Why robot sex could be the future of life on earth
2014 01 24

By George Zarkadakis | The Telegraph



If self-replicating machines are the next stage of human evolution, should we start worrying?

When René Descartes went to work as tutor of young Queen Christina of Sweden, his formidable student allegedly asked him what could be said of the human body. Descartes answered that it could be regarded as a machine; whereby the queen pointed to a clock on the wall, ordering him to “see to it that it produces offspring”. A joke, perhaps, in the 17th century, but now many computer scientists think the age of the self-replicating, evolving machine may be upon us.

It is an idea that has been around for a while – in fiction. Stanislaw Lem in his 1964 novel The Invincible told the story of a spaceship landing on a distant planet to find a mechanical life form, the product of millions of years of mechanical evolution. It was an idea that would resurface many decades later in the Matrix trilogy of movies, as well as in software labs.

In fact, self-replicating machines have a much longer, and more nuanced, past. They were indirectly proposed in 1802, when William Paley formulated the first teleological argument of machines producing other machines.

In his book Natural Theology, Paley proposed the famous “watchmaker analogy”. He argued that something as complex as a watch could only exist if there was a watchmaker. Since the universe and all living beings were far more complex than a watch, there had to be a God – a divine watchmaker. Interestingly, Paley conceded that his argument would be moot if the watch could make itself. This detail has been forgotten during the cultural wars that followed Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species.


An artist’s impression of a self-replicating nano robot – it has been proposed that similar machines could be used to colonise Mars

Self-replicating machines have been around, at least in theory, for decades. In 1949, the mathematician John von Neumann showed how a machine could replicate itself. He called it the “universal constructor” because the machine was both an active component of the construction and the target of the copying process.

This means that the medium of replication is, at the same time, the medium of storage of the instructions for the replication. Von Neumann’s big idea allowed open-ended complexity, and therefore errors in the replication – in other words, it opened up self-replicating non-biological systems to the laws of evolution. His brilliant insight predated the discovery of the DNA double helix by Crick and Watson. He went on to develop mathematical entities that reproduced themselves and evolved over time, which he called “cellular automata”.

Although von Neumann’s model initially worked only in mathematical space, it was a clear demonstration that evolution may influence mechanical evolution. Since then, engineers have taken the principle on board and have produced physical applications such as RepRap machines – 3D printers that can print most of their own components.

The next logical step would be to apply these principles in robot reproduction. For instance, we could have a robotic factory with three classes of robots: one for mining and transporting raw material, one for assembling raw materials into finished robots and one for designing processes and products. The last class, the “brains” of the autonomous robotic factory, would be artificial intelligence systems. But could these robots also “evolve”?

[...]

Read the full article at: telegraph.co.uk




Related Articles
Asimov’s Laws Of Robotics Won’t Protect You
Hive Mind: Robots will use their own ’internet’ to learn from each other
LISTEN: Creepy AI Telemarketer Sounds Human, Denies Being a Robot
Robot Rights: Is it OK to torture or murder a robot?
Tech lets users feel 3D objects on flat screens
3D Printing Bananas and Mushrooms for Astronauts
Terminator 2-style liquid metal can now be 3D printed
3D Printing Could Aid Deep-Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says


Latest News from our Front Page

Hungary’s Orban Bashes Liberal Immigration Policy
2014 08 29
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday lashed out against immigration, setting one of the main policy objectives of his next term in power after winning parliamentary elections in April. “The goal is to cease immigration whatsoever,” said Hungary’s prime minister. “I think the current liberal immigration policy, which is considered obvious and morally based, is hypocrite,” Mr. Orban said. At a ...
China’s “Duplitecture” Cities Mimic the World’s Greatest Architectural Hits
2014 08 29
The best knockoffs in the world are in China. There are plenty of fake designer handbags and Rolexes, but China’s knockoffs go way beyond fashion. There are knockoff Apple stores that look so much like the real thing that some employees believe they are working in real Apple stores. And then there are entire knockoff cities. There are Venices with ...
Kiev loses control of Novoazovsk, rebel troops advance in southeast Ukraine
2014 08 29
Kiev’s troops had to leave the eastern Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk to save their lives, said the country’s Security and Defense Council. The authorities admitted that self-defense forces are advancing and leading a counteroffensive in the southeast. Along with Novoazovsk, Kiev troops have lost control over the villages of Amvrosiivka and Starobeshevo in the Donetsk Region of Eastern Ukraine. According to Ukraine’s ...
Mohammed is most popular name in Oslo
2014 08 29
For the first time in the capital city’s history, Mohammed is the most common name for boys and men, said a study on Thursday. Statistics Norway (Statistisk Sentralbyrå - SSB) has counted the population of Oslo and found that Mohammed is the most common male name in Oslo for the first time ever. Jørgen Ouren of SSB said to NRK: “It is ...
Beaten to Death at McDonald’s
2014 08 29
To the four clean-cut college freshman out on a double date, it had seemed like a typical McDonald’s: spanking clean, well-lighted, and safe. It was in a good neighborhood too, right next to Texas A&M University in College Station -- a campus known for its friendly atmosphere and official down-home greeting: “howdy.” Shortly after 2 A.M. that Sunday, they pulled into ...
More News »