Why Colonization Of Galaxy Is Improbable With Self Replicating Probes?

Extraterrestrial Intelligent Beings Do Not Exist is the title of an article by Frank Tipler. In his view, older or more advanced civilizations would use self-replicating probes to explore, control, and colonize the Galaxy in a very short time compared with its age of about 13.7 billion years. In his article, he concludes that if intelligent beings exist, their probes should already be here—but there is no evidence of extraterrestrial robotic spacecrafts: ergo, such beings do not exist. Tipler’s argument is actually a version of the Fermi paradox.

Self-replicating robotic spacecrafts, called von Neumann probes after John von Neumann who established the mathematical laws of self-replicating systems, are considered an economical method of exploring and colonizing space. The notion is that they utilize local materials to build numerous exact copies of themselves which would be launched to the nearest stars, where the process would be repeated.

The impressive idea for robotic colonization of the Galaxy through von Neumann probes has two major disadvantages:

1. Soon after the self-replicating probes are set out across space, they would already be outdated because science and technology are developing very quickly, and the space distances are too vast. Year after year the technological civilizations should send into deep space more and more probes, for the previous ones are already outdated antiques of limited use, if any. According to their flight plans, the robotic spacecrafts should travel many thousands and even millions of years.

The problem with the quick outdating of robotic probes could be solved partially by reprogramming the replicators via radio signals. The billions spent on setting up a gigantic radio network would be money wasted because: first, such a method of communication and reprogramming is very slow and highly unreliable—the radio signal carrying sophisticated instructions should travel many thousands of years (about 120,000 years in order to cross the Milky Way Galaxy) via numerous relay stations; and second, many of the self-replicating machines would turn into useless trash or, more importantly, into dangerous idiots because of mistakes due to computers or intelligent species, to all kind of technical failures, errors, viruses, software and hardware mutations, inevitable accidents, electromagnetic noise, jokes (some “intelligent” guys have an unsuspected and nasty sense of humor), hostile activities, and so on, and so on.

2. Countless self-replicating machines of all technological generations made by millions of civilizations would spread out like space techno-cancer, devastating almost everything they encounter, self-replicating themselves following their code to reproduce.

Carl Sagan and William Newman have argued that no civilization would dare build such machines for fear that they would mutate into monsters that would destroy the entire Galaxy. But Nature doesn’t rely on ethics. On Earth all possible wrongdoings have been done—except the ultimate one: humans still haven’t self-destroyed themselves. The uniformity of the Universe leads us to expect that many things elsewhere in the cosmos will be the same as they are here on our home planet: so, the wrongdoers and silly persons of all sorts are all around the Universe.

Imagine what would happen if only a single autonomous self-replicating probe touch down somewhere in the Solar System, and following its program begins to reproduce itself on the Moon, on Mars, on thousands of asteroids, on the satellites of planets… Soon we would detect the launching of millions and millions of probes which would be landing on all possible space bodies around the Earth. These machines would arrive on our planet, too, millions of them. The unwelcomed high-tech visitors on Earth would be only a small part of the countless swarms of self-replicators roaming the Solar System, looking for local materials in order to utilize them. They would infest our entire home star system. But would they be just harmless robotic probes with sophisticated artificial intelligence which would stop to replicate and leave the Solar System after detecting life and intelligence? Maybe some of them would try to communicate with us and send back signals to their creators; some might continue to replicate ignoring humans; some might even wage a war against the intruders—us. They would consider the Solar System their home territory. These machines would not be malicious, they would just be following simple program instructions to survive and replicate themselves, with deadly consequences for us.

Von Neumann machines could also be used as deadly weapons in wars or by terrorists on Earth or in space. The self-replicating robotic berserkers would destroy everything they encounter in the enemy space. People most often imagine these killing machines to be huge metal bastards creaking loudly and throwing flares and missiles; as a matter of fact, they might also be tiny or even (almost) invisible, but highly dangerous.

Humans still don’t have the recourses to beat off encroaching self-replicating machines.


About bruceleeeowe
An engineering student and independent researcher. I'm researching and studying quantum physics(field theories). Also searching for alien life.

10 Responses to Why Colonization Of Galaxy Is Improbable With Self Replicating Probes?

  1. Morien says:

    Here is one more implication which may be threat to our earth. What if there are already such machines within 100ly and SETI and other radio signals have disturbed their programme? If it already happened then probably we are going to encounter such angry self replicating probes. No survival after all if they will intrude within 50 years. all hell will break loose.

  2. wergh says:

    I’m agree with you ,Morien. But when will we encounter them?

  3. bruceleeeowe says:

    Here is one more implication which may be threat to our earth. What if there are already such machines within 100ly and SETI and other radio signals have disturbed their programme? If it already happened then probably we are going to encounter such angry self replicating probes. No survival after all if they will intrude within 50 years. all hell will break loose.

    Probably we would never encounter such crisis since it is highly unlikely that alien probes could adapt our programs as virus which will control then against us yet a little possibilily remains and I would never this to be the case.:-)

  4. Pingback: Colonizing Galaxy With Self Replicating Probes « Bruceleeeowe's Blog

  5. Eric says:

    I dunno. I think that if there were such mutating self-replicating probes, then we’d see more evidence. Mutations and self-replication would lead to diversification. You’d end up with probe analogs of produces, parasites, decomposers, and predators, all exploring new adaptive niches. Some might be big (self-reproducing planet sized robots?), some might be small (nanobots).

    The whole galaxy would quickly fill up with these things, and they should be really diverse. So, if they do exist, we should see a variety of them. Even if most would want to munch comets in the Kuiper belt (where we’d have a hard time detecting them), some would probably venture here to eat parts of the Moon, or even Earth itself.

    Any discussion of SETI’s present lack of detection or of the Fermi Paradox, has to deal with diversity. Seems more likely that very few civilizations arise to build these things, or there is some strong selective pressure that almost universally acts to keep self-reproducing probes rare and / or hard to detect.

    Fun to think about.

  6. mzee says:

    Why do you think robots as big, clattering, zombie-like tin boxes? Imagine a self-replicatin “robot” as a synthetic living creature, in size of a single cell, and with better program, program storage and error repair system to prevent unwanted evolution, than in the “natural” livings? In this case, perhaps they are here now, millions and billions, but we are can’t even notice them.
    And what if the “aliens” have plenty of time? In this case, the evolution is “no problemo”. The “robots” settling in any good places, “terraforming” them, evolving to communication-capable “sentient” beings (in our case: humans:), and sending their noise to inform their masters: “hey, guys, come here, it’s time to harvest!”
    And about the virus-analogy: the viruses are obligate parasites, they can infect only their compatible hosts whom they adapted evolutionally. It’s possible only in fairy tales (like the Independence Day movie:), that an unknown, well encoded and secured system will be infected by an alien virus – virtual one or (pseudo)biological alike.

  7. wergh says:

    Well said. Independence day in which typically a type III alien civilization invaded earth and I wonder we won the match just with a reverse engineered craft and aliens proven to be even more stupid than ever depicted. They haven’t common sense even equals to child. But finally we won the match. I appreciate drunken F18 pilots who let us won the match. As per your speculation it may be possible that we are just a kind of self replicating probes sent here to harvest the planet and we are going under evolution too as Eric points out.

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  9. Pingback: Implications Of Self Replicating Machine « Bruceleeeowe's Blog

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