Study: Self-replicating nanomachines feasible

June 2, 2004 — A useful self-replicating machine could be less complex than a Pentium IV chip, according to a new study (PDF, 1.73 MB) performed by General Dynamics for NASA.

General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems recently concluded a six-month study for NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts that examined the design of “kinematic cellular automata,” a reconfigurable system of many identical modules. Through simulations, the researchers demonstrated the feasibility of this kind of self-replication, which could in a decade or more lead to the mass manufacture of molecularly precise robots, display monitors and integrated circuits that can be programmed in the field, the study said.

The study also examined machine designs that would meet guidelines established by the California-based nanotech think-tank Foresight Institute to ensure the safety of self-replication techniques. The preliminary study is believed to be among the first U.S.-sponsored studies on self-replication in two decades.

“While self-replication is not necessary for achieving the goal of molecular manufacturing, it’s good to see that these NASA-funded system designs are in compliance with the Foresight Guidelines safety recommendations,” said Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute.


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