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.


3. Macroscale Kinematic Machine Replicators

Specific proposals and realizations of von Neumann’s kinematic replicators and related physical implementations of macroscale machine replicators or self-replicating factory systems are of the greatest interest in the context of this book. Penrose [683], quoting Kemeny [243], complained that the body of the von Neumann kinematic machine “would be a box containing a minimum of 32,000 constituent parts (likely to include rolls of tape, pencils, erasers, vacuum tubes, dials, photoelectric cells, motors, batteries, and other devices) and the ‘tail’ would comprise 150,000 [bits] of information.” Macroscale kinematic replicators will require a great deal of effort to design and to build, which may explain why so few working devices have been constructed to date,* despite popular interest [652, 653, 2907]. However, small devices that can assemble themselves from a few simpler parts have proven remarkably easy to build. Conventional factory automation technology continues to evolve toward increasingly flexible manufacturing systems that are collectively capable of self-replication. A fair number of specific macroscale self-replicating machine systems have been proposed in some detail, and a handful have been physically constructed and even patented [650, 651]. In this Chapter we describe and review these pioneering theoretical proposals and experimental efforts.

* At the Second International Conference on Evolvable Systems in 1998 (ICES98), the Program Chair, Moshe Sipper, arranged for an official “Self-Replication Contest” to be held during the conference [654]. The object of the contest was to “demonstrate a self-replicating machine implemented in some physical medium, e.g., mechanical, chemical, electronic, etc.” The rules further stated that: “The machine must be demonstrated AT THE CONFERENCE site. Paper submissions will not be considered. The most original design will be awarded a prize of $1000 (one thousand dollars). The judgment shall be made by a special contest committee. The committee’s decision is final and incontestable.” Despite the financial enticement, no entries were received.


Last updated on 1 August 2005