Von Neumann Machines

Please forgive me if this has been answered before, I didn’t find anything using search. Then again, I didn’t find astro’s post with the SAME EXACT TITLE about the insects so whatever.

After re-reading all of Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker novels as well as Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series, is it possible that Von Neumann machines could actually work? I was under the impression, flawed as it may be, that after a certain number of repititions, flaws would creep in such that the duplication would become hopelessly unusable. Am I correct in this?

Since no system of replication could possibly be completely error-free, I think what you would get would be evolution. Von Neumann machines which built offspring so flawed as to be incapable of reproducing would die out; VNM’s which reproduced, but not as well as other VNM’s, would eventually be crowded out and replaced by mutations which had some reproductive advantage.

What do you think’s been going on on this planet for the last 3 or 4 billion years?

Um, I’d have to say evolution. But that’s only true for living things as far as I can see. I was more asking about the machine aspect. Granted, I understand about natural selection but would the same hold true for a NON-living object such as a computer?

Sure, why not? (And just try getting a definition of “living” out of an evolutionary biologist.)

One thing, though–this means that your VNM may not “work” for very long in the sense of doing what it was designed to do. (How long depends on your error-checking procedures.) Thus, if you have two Saberhagen Berserkers, both of which are programmed to a) reproduce and b) kill everything living, and one of them says “Screw killing all living things. I’m just gonna reproduce” (or rather, one of them has a manufacturing defect such that it’s “kill everything living” directive has been deleted), then the “Berserker” which doesn’t waste a lot of valuable time and resources killing all living things will have lots more time and resources to reproduce itself. Pretty soon, you’ll have lots more of the variety 2 “Berserkers” than you have of the original Berserkers which do what they were actually designed to do.

This is definitely something to think about when contemplating nanotechnology and all those neat ideas like injecting yourself with self-reproducing nano-robots to clean the plaque out of your arteries and help your immune system fight off infections.

If it has generations, and passes down its template with changes (i.e., descent with modifications), then it’s by definition evolving. What you might not have realized is that a machine that exhibits these characteristics fulfills most of the definitions of life, and so cannot really be called “non-living.”

Of course, self-replicating machines don’t exist now (and might not ever exist), but, if they did, they’d be arguably alive.

*Originally posted by xploder *

In order for a system to evolve you need three things:

  1. Replicators (things make copies of themselves)
  2. A Mutatation Mechanism (but the copies aren’t all perfect)
  3. Selection Pressure (and some die out)

Any time you have these conditions, things start evolving. You can see it in living creatures, but also in language and other memetic systems (like graffiti), and in computer simulations.

D’OH!!! I hadn’t thought about memes. Thanks for the input guys :smiley:

      • I read a cool magazine article about this ages ago. The main subject was robotics, but this was discussed also. They had someone who was a preeminent researcher who had helped design the Furby or something. When asked about intelligent/self-replicating machines, the guy pointed out that machines aren’t bound to the same constraints of reproduction that humans are. His list offhand:(aspiring sci-fi writers take note)
  1. Machines capable of directly reproducing themselves.
  2. Primary machines capable of reproducing other secondary machines.
  3. Primary machines capable of using other secondary machines to reproduce copies of primary machines.
  4. Primary machines capable of using secondary machines to reproduce other intermediate machines (-and so on).
  5. Machines capable of using humans to reproduce themselves: machines that exploit some aspect of human behaviour to their advantage, or machines which alter themselves to become “useful” to humans, making it easier for the machines to replicate themselves by any other method. I’m not sure if this means Furbys or not, but it kinda creeps me out.
  6. And computer viruses/software, which he classed as another whole type of machinery, that are capable of moving between physical locations and using any of the above methods.
    He pointed out that the main problem we have today in computer viruses was unimagined 100 years ago, and the stuff we worry about now might not end up meaning a thing 100 years off. He also noted that the direct method of reproduction (#1 above) is the most obvious but also the most difficult, and he felt, the least likely to happen on its own - though he did say he’d bet that it would eventually. - MC
      • Damn Smilies! - MC