[extropy-chat] Self replication again (was MARS: Because it is hard)

Robert J. Bradbury bradbury at aeiveos.com
Fri Apr 16 23:31:34 UTC 2004

On Fri, 16 Apr 2004, Jeff Davis wrote:

> Okay, look, bio nano is here now, fully functioning
> self-rep with 100% closure, but humans are just barely
> embarked on elucidating the details of how this works,

I think this is a *LOT* further along than you think
Jeff.  We've got 100+ bacterial genomes done.  We've
got databases like Biocyc & Ecocyc documenting the
complete biochemistry of organisms.  We've got PDB (the
protein structural database) growing by thousands of structures
each year.  It is moving *very* fast.

> towards the end of developing "mature" bioengineering
> capabilities.  Inserting a gene for HGH into E. coli
> is to bioengineering what a caveman with a rock is to
> modern industrial engineering.  Nevertheless, it's a
> start.

Oh no -- I'm reasonably certain I know how to do whole
genome engineering and the technology is available *now*.
There are at least two or three other groups working on
this as well.

> Nano--as in MNT-- is even more primitive.  Mostly
> theory--good theory, I'll grant, fun theory-- but
> nevertheless theory of the most primitive sort.  As to
> engineering capabilities,... so close to zero at this
> point that well, speaking honestly, it's non-existent.

Actually the primitive requirements for MNT are picking
up steam -- they just haven't really gotten into the
mode where they are operating in parallel yet.

> For a long time I was hooked on the idea of self-rep
> as the holy grail of ultra-productivity.  But recently
> the Foresight people have stepped back from
> self-rep--I think as a way of stuffing the grey goo
> evil genie back in the bottle.

I think it is a combination of things.  But a primary
component is also the concept that a special purpose factory
can do things faster than a general purpose factory.
This is in part due to Josh Hall's paper a couple of
years ago as to how fast a nanofactory might operate.

We have had this figured out in car factories for a
couple of decades -- one doesn't try to make a welding
robot do painting and one doesn't try to make a painting
robot do welding.  Things that are general purpose may
not be able to operate as fast as things that are special

> Which brings me to my point.  Nano schmano.  Factories
> we can build right now.  Nanofactories we cannot.
> NanoSanta lies beyond the Veil of Maya.  MacroSanta
> can be assembled today, off the shelf.

This is true.  It was one of the major points contained
in [1] (which is 22 years old now).  Robert Freitas has
updated the entire set of ideas involved in self-replication
in [2].

The unanswered question is *what* can we build between
factories and nanofactories?  And then further can we
make it work on the moon (where one has to deal with
more radiation and temperature extremes)?  [The Spirit and
Opportunity adventure seem to suggest that there is a lot that
can be done if one invests enough in making it work.]


1. Advanced Automation for Space Missions (NTIS, 1982).

2. Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines (Landes Bioscience, 2004, in press).

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