Where's My Army of Self-Replicating Robots, Damn It?

Back in 1995, this article appeared in Discover magazine which had an interesting premise.

Given that the article’s over a decade old, and global warming is now seen as “Public Enemy No. 1” one would think that someone’s dusted off the idea and started work on it, but my efforts at googling (Say, do you suppose when the folks at Google suggest that someone do a search for something they say, "Us it and see what you can find.'?) haven’t brought anything up useful.

I don’t know where the author of the original article got his optimism from, but we are still nowhere near being able to build a system of self-reproducing machines. Heck, we’re still trying to build a truly autonomous legged robot. “A few short decades” is probably closer to 8 or 9 decades, not 1 1/2.

So? Why not just use wheels? They seem to work pretty well on Mars.

as some Doper once said:
When a scientist says “it will be completed within a decade”, that’s no more reliable than when the contractor who’s renovating your kitchen says “It’ll be completed within 2 days.”

I read a long time ago that if an area the size of 1% of the Sahara Desert were covered with solar panels, it’d generate the world’s present demand [in the economic sense] for electricity.

I hope some of those “auxons” will be cleaner auxons, or those tracks and solar panels will become essentially unusable due to dust.

Incidentally, what would likely happen to a high-tech solar grid when struck by lightning? It’d probably be practical to break up that big array into many discrete areas, to limit the damage from lightning, fires, etc.

Probably a combination of technological overoptimism, and difficulty in attracting support. Self replicating machines, when they come, will totally change the economy. And they don’t really mesh well with capitalism, which is based on scarcity; look at the problems with the copying of movies and music and such already. Now, extend that to physical products. And a billion dollars isn’t the sort of thing you are likely to get from some wild eyed speculator.

I doubt that it’ll take 8 or 9 decades, however. More like twenty years or less. Faster if we were willing to push for it, but we won’t.

Where’s My Army of Self-Replicating Robots, Damn It?

they will appear just as soon as skynet is turned on

If nothing else, it’ll probably take us a decade or two before solar panels become efficient enough to make this possible. Right now, it takes about 20 years for a solar panel to produce the amount of energy needed for its manufacture, and most panels just don’t last that long.

That Discover article is also assuming that every material needed for the construction of auxons is available in large enough quantity from the New Mexico soil, of which I’m a bit skeptical. What are you making the bodies out of, iron? There’s not much of that on the surface. And what about the germanium, gallium, etc. you need for the semiconductors? What kind of optics do you need for a microchip engraving setup, and can you make that out of desert sand, too?

Before you bitch too loud or too long about not having self replicating robots, you might want to read Von Nuemann’s War by John Ringo and Travis Taylor.
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

I’m much more afraid of self replicating robots than I am of global warming.

And I’m pretty afraid of global warming.

There a vast number of problems with the self-replicating robots idea. First, resources don’t actually exit. Second, the engineering tolerances would need to be vastly tighter than we can actually guarantee. We can’t make general-purpose robots with the ability to manufacture precision electronics. They would be very slow. They would pretty much destroy any natural ecosystem. They would use energy rather than provide it. And even if they did provide it, actually extracting it would be rather difficult.

I’d be suspicious of any cost estimate with a range of 99 billion dollars. In other words, he has absolutely no idea what it would cost. And to call something ‘cheap’ by comparing it to the military budget is hardly the normal use of ‘cheap’. Damn near everything is cheap if you use that yardstick.

Would you like to renovate my kitchen, please? (see post #4)

Quite a logical stance to take, given that the current global warming appears to be caused by a particular variety of self-replicating robot. As are all wars, most infectious diseases, all predation…

You’ll notice that they cover the amount of material contained in soil here:

So, the auxons would be able to find it, they’d just have to sift through a helluvalot of material to do it.

Sorry, Tuck, but I’ve just been swamped this week.

Soon, okay?

If the mentor professor (who doesn’t do experiments any more) gives a time for completion of a project; the graduate student who actually does the work should:

  1. double it
  2. change the unit of time to the next order higher.

thus a guess of 2 hours to complete the work becomes 4 days; 1 day becomes 2 weeks; and a couple of decades becomes 400 years.

While it is an amusing over exaggeration; I do find it to be surprisingly accurate

I highly recommend current graduate students adopt this rule as policy.