Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Today's word is "von Neumann."

Two fascinating perspectives:

Growing the Interstellar Probe (Centauri Dreams)

Freitas later turned to nanotech ideas in advocating a probe more or less the size of a sewing needle, with a millimeter-wide body and enough nanotechnology onboard to activate assemblers on the surface of whatever object it happened to find in the destination system.

Now we're looking at a biological variant of this concept that could, if extended, be turned to self-replication. Rothemund says that he wants to write molecular programs that can build technology. A probe built along these lines could use local materials to create the kind of macro-scale objects needed to form a research station around another star, the kind of equipment we once envisioned boosting all the light years to our target. How much simpler if we can build the needed tools when we arrive?

Are Von Neumann Probes Ethical? (Chris Wren)

Von Neumann probes would be small, self-replicating robots. Small, easy to manufacture in large numbers and because of their low mass, easy to accelerate t

We're still grappling with the ethics - and unforeseen consequences - involved with releasing genetically modified strains of crops into the environment. There are always unforeseen consequences with any technology. The more sophisticated the technology, the more extensive and impossible to foresee those consequences are certain to be.

Would a more advanced civilization, if they were also more ethically developed than we are (not hard to imagine) consider von Neumann probes a form of cancer and take steps to eradicate them? Worse, would they take punitive measures against any civilization irresponsible enough to set them loose?"

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Anonymous said...

Interesting article, but I'm afraid Chris Wran hasn't gone all the way on that chain of thoughts.

First, absence of von Neumann probes is not so clear as one might initially think. As a matter of fact, I think there are many things that might point they exist, eben in our solar system.

Second, I don't believe "ethical" civilization would destroy von Neumann probe at sight. It would first determine whether it is "good" or "bad" probe - bad meaning a probe that doesn't control it's replication speed, consumes planets harboring life and even attacks other civilizations. As a matter of fact, the only way for ethical civilization to control the situation is to build it's own von Neumann probe. Sounds like a paradox but ir isn't. That is the only way to find the possible rogue probes and destroy them before it is too late. The only thing that can destroy exponentially growing cancer is exponentially growing cure.

Therefore I believe most technological civilizations launch their own von Neumann probe and they do it out of a fear of rogue probes. There is a quite lengthy discussion about this on BAUT forum.

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