The acceleration of technology is the central driving force of our world. My goal is to explain what it means for you.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Evolution of Leggo? New Robot Self-Replicates In 2 1/2 Minutes

Out of Cornell rises a self assembling/ replicating robot composed of independently functioning cubes allowing it to assume a range of three-dimensional shapes. Each cube is preprogrammed with step-by-step instructions on how to replicate the robotic structure.

(This is part of a developing story about the rise of personal desktop fabrication and replicators).

Dismissing any doubt that self replicating machines are possible, the modular design with intelligence built into each module, points a way to self-repairing, assembling and replicating robots.

Applications

More complex robots are possible. Adding grippers, cameras, new sensors etc. would allow the assembled robot to see, hear, move... A robot could assemble and reassemble itself into a new structure to deal with novel events.

The research team has set it's sights on a molecular version. The cubes, like molecules, are held together with magnets that turn on and off. Like biological life forms, they (crudely) replicate in 2005 and programmed to stop reproducing after 2 generations.

Implications

Nanomachines: Lipson is interested in making these machines at microscale. That could drive major advances in Nanotechnology because huge numbers of robots are needed to manufacture things at a molecular scale. Self-replication is how biology does it.

Imagine scaling the size of this self replicating design down in half each year. Increasingly complex structures, detail and properties would emerge. Each new generation would be exponentially more capable. Every 3 1/2 years the modules would shrink to one 10th the size. The cubes are now about 10 centimeters square. By 2010 the modules would be about smaller than the ball of your pen. By 2015 they would approach the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Each with equal or greater computational power than they have now, loaded with sensors and new properties.

Each module could become a pixel in the construction of an object. Kind of like those "Pin Art" toys that you press to your hand, face or some object. It would form itself from instructions and be able to walk, roll, climb and move about. Perhaps even swim or fly. And replicate as long as the supply of modules lasts.

It's absolutely conceivable because Technology is inherently self-accelerating. In an ever quickening loop, the power of technology naturally accelerates in speed, magnitude and scope while dropping in cost.

Beyond that is the doorway to manufacturing with molecules. At the molecular scale it would be capable of producing perfectly designed objects, energy sources, even food. It is a very powerful existence proof of what is on the near horizon.

The movie (accelerated 4X) is eerie to watch. It's easy to imagine a clutter of cubes picking themselves up and walking towards you.

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