Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines

© 2004 Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Ralph C. Merkle. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2004.


2. Classical Theory of Machine Replication

The early history of machine replication theory is largely the record of von Neumann’s thinking on the matter during the 1940s and 1950s, particularly his kinematic and cellular models, described below. Von Neumann did not finish or publish most of his work on this subject prior to his untimely death in 1957, but Arthur Burks, a colleague of von Neumann, extensively edited and completed many of von Neumann’s manuscripts on the subject. Automata theory has advanced and been refined in the decades since, with many alternative models of machine replication having been proposed and discussed as will be described later. By 1980, a detailed technical study co-edited by Freitas [2] concluded that “there appear to be no fundamental inconsistencies or insoluble paradoxes associated with the concept of self-replicating machines.” Physics professor Jeremy Bernstein concurred [1040]: “I believe, on the basis of the history of technology, that human nature is such that whatever can be constructed, in theory, will, eventually, be constructed. Since self-replicating automata are possible in principle, they will, I think, eventually be built. When, by whom, and what for, I do not have the foggiest idea.”

The following is a brief overview of the classical theory of machine replication from the 1940s to the present. Mathematically inclined readers are encouraged to study the original literature for more rigorous details of various proofs which are beyond the scope of this book.

Some of the material in this Chapter borrows extensively (and appreciatively) from R. Laing’s summary of pre-1980 replication theory that originally appeared as a major portion of Section 5.2 of Freitas and Gilbreath [2], and from two of Burks’ edited texts [3, 4].


Last updated on 1 August 2005