Seeing all this advanced nanite self-evolving technology all around us all the time has always bothered me a touch or at least kept me thinking about it now and then.  It is sort of a break from my AI research work I suppose. I mean really, all around us are small microscopic machines, tiny mechanical computers using proteins to communicate to the various parts of the device with built-in algorithms around self-replication and evolution between generations.  We see massive colonies of these nanites commonly referred to as trees everywhere.  We are our selves are just nanite swarms… or rather we are an abstraction running on software running on electro biochemical massively multi dual processing supercomputer made of nanites that are highly specialized.  To say ‘life’ as we colloquially call these out of control nanites implies something ‘magical’ which I argue ‘life’ is not magical.  It is a form of very very advanced technology.  Maybe we don’t understand it all the way but that doesn’t mean its not technology or is somehow ‘magical’.

I guess in physic’s I can’t get past this second law of thermodynamics around this idea that increasing complexity in a closed system can never happen.  And if that’s the case, how did we get here given the universe is a closed system at some level?  and this hogwash about complexity increasing in one spot if chaos increases in another spot that evolutionary biologist cling too just does not fly with me.  The second law of thermodynamics is immutable unless proven otherwise.  That gets us back to that question about how did we get here.  Sure, we evolved but self-evolving nanite machines is not breaking the laws of physics in any way.  But they don’t just ‘happen’ magically… I’m not saying there is a god or not but it seems likely that there is some intelligence out there and if you like you can call it god or a god but let’s focus on us now and here and what we can prove.  For me, I must start with what I can prove and the 2nd law of thermodynamics is good and us being super advanced nanites that self evolve is all nice and provable.

In science fiction we have these ideas around probes and due to limitations in physics (such as the speed of light) of how you might explore the universe, one of the ideas is to send out massive numbers of super small ships sent out in every direction at or near the speed of light (the galactic speed limit) and these tiny probes build copies of themselves and repeat the process.  These probes are called ‘Von Neuman’ probes after the guy that thought of them.  Or well the part he thought about was just these self-replicating probes but this idea has been explored in detail in science fiction.

So lets just put this idea out there… what if ‘WE’ are the Von Neuman probes?  what if we started off as a tiny collection of nanites in a tiny lander (like tardigrades and such that can handle space in real life) that was seeded to the earth.  Over the eons, they evolve into intelligence enough to send radio signals so that everyone knows we are here and then we eventually replicate new probes and then the earth or any world doing this is ready for a more robust probe or colonization and thus the universe is explored? (you caught that about ‘this’ world being ready to colonize now right?)

Oh and let’s face it this idea of nanites and the grey goo scenario..?  really any tiny machines like that are going to be fragile, there are power requirements and complexities and life as we know it is probably the best that can be done.  Any nanites as we thinking of them colloquially, are going to be fragile, easily destroyed things that work in a narrow bandwidth of heat and other parameters.  Don’t get me wrong I’m sure we can make them dangerous but it’s not going to be the grey goo science fiction imagines… just let me get my blow torch out and the nanites will be dead or you could freeze them or a nice EMP pulse would do the trick or we use one of these neutron bombs… I suspect would work great too.   soooo just saying…

I’m not one to write science fiction much and given my research into AGI cognitive architectures I just need this out of my head so I can focus… that said I wrote this following story that sort of has three phases as a short science fiction story that sort of explains my vision for how YOU too might just be a Von Neuman probe…

The Archangel Micheal

Michael let the report flow around him.  Usually boring and mundane it did remind him of today’s decisions looming ahead.  It was time for him to get up and recharge for the day and go through his morning routine.  Talk at work had been about the set of signals that had come from the probes.  This meant they finally (again) had some worlds to go to, to expand to and grow too.

It had been a long time and Michael so loved the colonization of a new world.  To bring it into the warm embrace of the Collection of Worlds.  But colonization was a long process.  Drawn out over eons or so it seemed.  The latest wave had gone out so long ago but now the great colony ship was almost ready.  They almost had a second colony ship ready too and there are 14 quantum gates ready to go with the ship.  The gates would allow people to flow through to the new world and another great burst of expansion pushing back the chaos.

The process sort of worked like this.  First with the great observatories strewn across numerous star systems to scan the heavens.  Then to identify the new stars in new sectors and the ones with worlds that had the right set of resources for the Von Neuman probes that would be targeted in those areas.  Then the millions of the small Von Neuman lightship probes would be scattered to the intergalactic winds towards the millions of new worlds that ‘might’ be right that had been identified.  It was too costly from an energy standpoint to send a colony ship from world to world or star systems to star system especially not knowing up front which ones would work.  So, goes the work the tiny Von Neuman probes which would arrive as a swarm across so many potential worlds with their self-replicating nanites, so fragile but so tenacious.    Each world might only see one or two working probes but each probe had a few billion nanites but only a few types.  The small computers in each nanite would use a number of complex algorithms to form increasing complex systems until they could mine the world create the resources needed for quick colonization and build new probes with the new infrastructure they had built and the cycle would renew across that region of space.  We would know when a world is ready from the radio signals that would come.  With their signals being like a massive flare guiding us and letting everyone know that a new world had emerged ready to colonize.

And now there were 12 such worlds in the new sector.  It took a long time but 12 was enough to move forward.  For most worlds the probes found, of course, it never worked out.  Nanites are such fragile things.  There was one strange anomaly which made them wait at least 100 years prior to counting a new star as ready where a lot of times we would get signals but within a hundred years or so there would be a gamma-ray burst and another massive amount of radio noise and it would stop suddenly before we even had gotten to the point of sending a ship.  This tended to happen a lot and no one knew why.  An eon ago or so an explorer ship had been sent to a few of these worlds that had snuffed out and they were found to be radioactive wastelands, where the nanite systems had blasted the surface of the world apart destroying most of what they had built.  It seemed that on these worlds that we had explored after and an event like this, there would still be some groups of nanites struggling to rebuild but the system had collapsed, the infrastructure that they had built to transmit the signals were just destroyed and the resources corrupted.  Thus far after millions of worlds, no such world recovered to the point of usability.

After millions of years, the next wave of signals had been detected from the Von Neuman probes.  Signals from 12 worlds had been received in the past 1000 years or so and the High Collective was preparing the colonization plan.   Normally a few more worlds would be detected in the process but 10 was enough so there were two to spare.

It’s not that getting there was out of reach just that each faster than light jump was expensive from an energy standpoint. And so, it was the way of things, waves of small nanite ships sent out, when they found a world they would replicate and send out new copies in that region and so far across the cosmos and with such worlds sending out new probes they were ready to be colonized at that point and thus grew the collective.  Slow and steady through the eons of the universe.

The First World

The jump was complete and the mighty ship drifted silently in the darkness.  A leviathan to progress.  The great ship was like a cathedral to the might and eons of the collective.  Michael gazed out over the prow which seems a horizon going out almost infinitely in every direction.   The host star seeming to be a distant light coming up over the horizon of the prow almost a world unto itself.  Then it hit the ship like nothing the ship and experienced.  A wave of gamma rays that was not so unfamiliar as to not know the cause but its effect was like a dark shadow over the crew.

Michael in shock went to the projector and he descended through space to the world at the source of the gamma rays.  And as Michael descend the pillar of light made by the type 1 nanites that carried him, he moved across the deep of the burned husk that was to be a new colony world.  What caused the nanites to so frequently do this?  It’s like the nanites would form groups and destroy each other.  But nanites didn’t have the processing power to create intelligence, they were just so small and fairly simple.

Michael drifted in the darkness for a long time but eventually came to land.  Gazing over a resource concentration that around the edges still had the nice resource piles organized randomly but with a strange order to them.  Pillars of glass and steel and stone that stood around the gaping hole caused by small suns that had appeared in all or most such resource concentrations.  It was so strange that these self-replicating nanites created order like this and then destroyed themselves.  Michael bent down and ran his composite materials hand through the water in the bay in front of the destructions.  Dead nanite slime clung to his hand.  He knew that out there, there would still be some nanites left but there was no hope for this world… such a waste…

Then another light moved… a great noise from the horizon approached, small lights clung to the noise as it drifted over the burned-out resource collection site.  Its self, a small collection of resources, some sort of machine created by the nanites but so primate.  It has some concentration of glass up front and various random trinkets all over it but had a spinning set of swords where it literally beat the air into submission for locomotion.  So primitive as to be laughable.  None the less interesting as it spotted Michaels glow it behaved almost as if it was intelligent.  Michael could hear its radio wave emissions change to something different but still random like all the radio noise created by nanite machines in this stage.  Ready to harvest… but still, there was something Michael didn’t understand here.  Michael could see what appeared to be two functioning nanite swarms shaped much like himself through the glass resource concentration in the front of the machine.

How strange almost like they were intelligent, hanging in the air through their primitive means…  Michael wondered what if?  But alas these nanites had killed themselves if not completely then soon with the radiation that soaked this burned out world.

The Second World

The jump was complete, the mighty ship again glided silently in the darkness.  A behemoth temple to progress.  The great ship was a cathedral to the might and eons of the collective or so Michael imagined.  Michael gazed out again over the prow like so many other times before which seemed a horizon going out almost infinitely in every direction.   The host star seeming to be a distant light coming up over the horizon with its rays of hope.

Michael considered as he glided down the hall, his crystalline mind almost shifting in its composite body.  In the procedure room, Michael was about to turn off the nanites in this new star system and begin the colonization.  Only a simple gamma-ray transmission and they would shut down and the colonization would begin.  A thought came to mind, what if?

Michael decided to change his procedure and went to the projection hall to project himself down to the world waiting for his warm embrace and for its ascension for the Collection of Worlds.  Michael descended as the same pillar of light created by his type 1 nanites.  In many ways, they were super small versions of the machines created by the type 2 nanites that swarmed this world.

Michael had descended into an area a bit of a way away from any nanite concentration where the great piles of glass and steel reached for the stars, this was just the natural wild sort of state the nanites created in a few short millions of years.  The intense greens of the solar collectors and an almost infinite variety said that this was a very mature set of nanites.  Even this far from the collection sites the concentration of resources had started.  Streams of the concentration of resources crisscrossed the landscape and sometimes a machine here or there moved along them.  Then a most wondrous site, a concentration of high energy type 2 nanites came around the bend as Michael drifted through the solar collectors.  This concentration was much his height and shaped very much like himself.  Why was it they formed this particular shape?  Of all the evolutionary paths the algorithms would design too, he was starting to see a pattern that always leads to this shape more or less.  But the same one always like this seemed strange.  Unlike most high energy nanite swarms this was the kind that concentrated the resources.  The wet and primitive chemical goo light receptors of the swarm fixated on him.  It, of course, was only a swarm of nanites so specialized as to not be able to function out of its swarm and so fragile as to die if torn asunder but it was like it had its own sort of intelligence that somehow had emerged.  It didn’t move.  Staring at him for the longest time then it emitted some strange vibrations and one of its primitive manipulator arms formed out of chemical goo and nanites reached out to touch Michael.  In fear Michael commanded the great ship to turn the nanites off and in an instant it was like a new star in the sky and the swarm dropped to the ground and the green solar collectors turned brown and the world was ready for colonization.

please let me know any thoughts on the same… 😀