Implications Of Self Replicating Machine
April 27, 2010 8 Comments
Any sentient extraterrestrial civilization desiring to explore the Galaxy beyond 100 light-years from its home star should find it more efficient and economical to use self-replicating star probes because of the benefits of exponentiation. This will secure the largest quantity of data about extrasolar systems by the end of an exploration program of some fixed duration. The entire Galaxy can be explored in times on the order of 106 years assuming interstellar cruising speeds on the order of O.1c, now considered feasible using foreseeable human technology . Many who have written on the subject of theoretical galactic demographics have suggested that most extraterrestrial races probably will be found 100 to 1000 light-years from Earth and beyond. Hence it may be concluded that the most likely interstellar messenger probe we may expect to receive will be of the reproducing variety.
One of the tremendous advantages of interstellar probes over interstellar beacons in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is that probes may serve as cosmic “safety deposit boxes” for the cultural treasures of a long-perished civilization. The gold-anodized Voyager records are a primitive attempt to achieve just this sort of cultural immortality . Starfaring self-replicating machines should be especially capable of maintaining themselves against the disordering effects of long periods of time, hence SRS will be preferentially selected for survival over nonreproducing systems. This fact, together with the aforementioned preference for using SRS for very long-term, large-distance galactic exploration implies that any alien machine we might find in our own solar system (as part of a dedicated SETI effort) still in adequate working order will most probably be a replicating system.
A number of fundamental but far-reaching ethical issues are raised by the possible existence of replicating machines in the Galaxy. For instance, is it morally right, or equitable, for a self-reproducing machine to enter a foreign solar system and convert part of that system’s mass and energy to its own purposes? Does an intelligent race legally “own” its home sun, planets, asteroidal materials, moons, solar wind, and comets? Does it make a difference if the planets are inhabited by intelligent beings, and if so, is there some lower threshold of intellect below which a system may ethically be “invaded” or expropriated? If the sentient inhabitants lack advanced technology, or if they have it, should this make any difference in our ethical judgment of the situation?
Oliver has pointed out that the number of intelligent races that have existed in the pant may be significantly greater than those presently in existence. Specifically, at this time there may exist perhaps only 10% of the alien civilizations that have ever lived in the Galaxy – the remaining 90% having become extinct. If this is true, then 9 of every 10 replicating machines we might find in the Solar System could be emissaries from long-dead cultures .
If we do in fact find such machines and are able to interrogate them successfully, we may become privy to the doings of incredibly old alien societies long since perished. These societies may lead to many others, so we may be treated, not just to a marvelous description of the entire biology and history of a single intelligent race, but also to an encyclopedic travelogue describing thousands or millions of other extraterrestrial civilizations known to the creators of the probe we are examining. Probes will likely contain at least an edited version of the sending race’s proverbial “Encyclopedia Galactica,” because this information is essential if the probe is to make the most informed and intelligent autonomous decisions during its explorations.
Further, if the probe we find has been waiting near our Sun for long enough, it may have observed such Solar System phenomena as the capture of Phobos, the upthrusting of the Rocky Mountains or the breakup of Pangaea, the formation of the Saturnian rings, the possible ejection of Pluto from Neptunian orbit, the possible destruction of a planet in what is now the Asteroid Belt. the origin of the Moon, or even the formation of our own planetary system. Perhaps it could provide actual visual images of Earth during the Jurassic or Carboniferous eras. or data on the genomes of long extinct reptiles (e.g., dinosaurs) or mammals, possibly based on actual samples taken at the time. There are countless uses we could make of an “intelligent eye” that has been watching our planet for thousands or millions of years, meticulously recording everything it sees.
SRS probes can be sent to other star systems to reproduce their own kind and spread. Each machine thus created may be immortal (limitlessly self-repairing) or mortal. If mortal, then the machines may be further used as follows. As a replicating system degrades below the point where it is capable of reproducing itself, it can sink to a more simple processing mode. In this mode (useful perhaps as a prelude to human colonization) the system merely processes materials, maybe also parts and sub-assemblies of machines, as best it can and stockpiles them for the day when human beings or new machines will arrive to take charge and make use of the processed matter which will then be available. As the original machine system falls below even this level of automation competence, its function might then be redirected to serve merely as a link in an expanding interstellar repeater network useful for navigation or communications. Thus, at every point in its lifespan, the SRS probe can serve its creators in some profitable capacity. A machine which degrades to below the ability to self-reproduce need not simply “die.”
The SRS is so powerful a tool that it could have implications on a cosmological scale. With the SRS humanity could set in motion a chain reaction of organization sweeping across the Universe at near the speed of light. This organized part of the Universe could itself be viewed as a higher level “organism.” Instead of merely following the laws of mechanics and thermodynamics, something unique in our knowledge would occur. The degree of cosmic organization would increase. Life could become commonplace, whereas now it seems quite rare. New rules, the rules of life, would spread far and wide.