Friday, 8 May 2015

The Connection Between The Double Star And The Robotic Predators

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Captain Nansen hypothesizes that a von Neumann machine, comprising a central computer carrier with several independently mobile observers and constructors, was sent to the double star soon after a nova. The post-nova star would be worth exploring and planetary debris could be used for building material. Such a machine and its duplicates would need both complex hardware and sophisticated software to:

solve new problems;
exploit opportunities;
improve efficiency.

Post-nova radiation mutated some of the programs. As a first step, the constructors would use parts of immobilized machines in the construction of new ones. However, one mutation acquired parts and materials by attacking and processing any other machines that it found, then returned to its home system where it preyed on the space industries, causing famine among the creators of the von Neumann machines.

The problem with such machines is that they must be complex enough to be vulnerable to mutation even just from cosmic radiation in the absence of novae. Thus, no line of von Neumanns ever penetrates very far into the galaxy. This remains speculation but, in a work of fiction, such speculation is to be accepted as an adequate explanation unless and until the author revises it in a sequel.

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