[ExI] von Neuman machines

Adrian Tymes atymes at gmail.com
Fri Aug 26 06:05:28 UTC 2016

On Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 9:27 PM, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com>

> Question I have is:  Do any of you know of projects beyond what the
> Wikipedia article mentions?
> Alternately, do any of you have insight into solving the problems?  I
> am particularly interested in proposals to take an asteroid, say a
> carbonaceous chondrite and make it into useful materials to feed to
> the replicator.

One way to get from here to there is not to try to make the first iteration
a universal replicator.  Think instead, self-replicating machine shop.

What tools can make more of themselves, if assisted by suitable macro-scale
manipulators (as in "not a way to sneak in nanotech") and fed smelted
regolith?  I hear a plasma welder could make another plasma welder.

Once you have that set, what can make more of themselves and said

...and the control circuitry and power systems?

...and machinery to gather and smelt regolith?

Rather than focusing on one tool to do it all, think of it as an
industrial, mostly automated city expanding from a seed.  There will be
many things it can not fabricate, at least at first.  But if you have a
limited-capability factory build another such factory, then you have two
factories, and I'm sure you're familiar with the math from there.

By the time you're churning out square kilometers of solar panels per day,
you're probably generating enough power that you can beam some of it back
to Earth.  If the only cost is that seed (which, if you can get to no more
than 5 kg, there are ways to get to the Moon for under $1M), time, and a
rectenna, you can sell the electricity incredibly cheaply.

Of course, that time factor is critical: you'll need something that can
expand quickly.  Being automated so as to go all day every day helps; so
does starting out heavier (if you need X kg, starting at 10 kg instead of 5
is one less doubling), but that runs into diminishing returns (cost
increases more or less linearly, while doublings needed to get to a certain
point decrease with the log).
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