So lots of more synchronicity today!
Now it’s just a little VW Beetle full of scientific instruments, but on the same general subject friend Bill points us to “The Fermi Paradox, Self-Replicating Probes, and the Interstellar Transportation Bandwidth“, an interesting paper all about why there aren’t numerous self-replicating space probes from other civilizations nosing around the solar system (if in fact there aren’t).
And then the thing tying it all together: maybe an hour after Bill mentioned that, as I was going through some really really ancient piles of printouts (remember “printouts”?) in preparation for moving offices, I came across a 22-year-old piece of paper (which may have been sitting in this same pile in my office for all that time) about the then-10-year-old 1980 NASA workshop “Advanced Automation for Space Missions” (which is, amazingly enough, on wikisource), which focuses on Chapter 5: “Replicating systems concepts: self-replicating lunar factory and demonstration“.
So we’ve had this idea for about 32 years. When will we launch the first artificial replicator into space ourselves? And/or when will we first detect one launched by someone else? And how will we know it’s artificial? (Heck, maybe we are some civilization’s self-replicating space probe…)
Other random thoughts (good material for a book of short stories here): maybe it’s relatively inevitable that moments after you have the technology to launch a self-replicating space probe, you also lose interest because you’ve found something more interesting to do than explore the universe. Or maybe you figure out how to explore the universe without physical proxies at all, just sort of beaming your perception about instantaneously (or even at lightspeed for that matter). Or maybe the Watchers intercept your probe, and send you the Welcome letter…
(P.S. book of short stories, did I say?)