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A View from Brad King

Self-Replicating Robots Make First Appearance

‘Wow’, is really all there is to say in regards to this story about researchers at Cornell University who have created very simple, self-replicating robots. Each robot consists of several 10-cm (4 inch) cubes which have identical machinery, electromagnets to…

  • May 12, 2005

‘Wow’, is really all there is to say in regards to this story about researchers at Cornell University who have created very simple, self-replicating robots.

Each robot consists of several 10-cm (4 inch) cubes which have identical machinery, electromagnets to attach and detach to each other and a computer program for replication. The robots can bend and pick up and stack the cubes.

Here is a link to the paper that will be out in Nature, although it keeps crashing on me. Essentially, the researchers believe that self-replication isn’t tied strictly to biological functions, and that if more complex machines can be made to replicate, it would aid space travel in particular.

The paper (when it’s not crashing) brings to mind Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs: the self-replicating clouds of sensors floating around a battlefield, or dispersed to create mobile communication clouds.

And those two ideas, for those who aren’t inclined towards early adopting, are going to scare a lot of people.

When I brought these two ideas up to my students last year in Texas – the idea of self-replicating bots sprinkled in the environment – there wasn’t one person who thought this was a good idea. That was the one moment when everyone took a deep breath, and said, maybe this computing thing has gotten out of hand.

And, it’s hard not to think that, particularly if you’ve grown up on science-fiction or anime. The apocalyptic theme is hard to ignore. That’s a fight for another day, though.

Today, we have Replicators and that’s the first step.

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