Welcome to the Second Industry mini wiki at Scratchpad!
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These pages are dedicated to the development of an automated system that can grow and replicate itself using only naturally available raw materials (dirt) and energy (sunlight). The notion of self-replicating machines (SRM) has a long history. Their attraction is that they can reduce the cost of production to zero, resulting in literally unlimited benefits to humanity. The feasibility of self-replication has been demonstrated theoretically (von Neumann) and in practice (Life and First Industry). A comprehensive review of the field is given by Freitas and Merkle (2004) in their book "Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines"<http://www.molecularassembler.com/KSRM.htm>.
The basic technologies necessary to realize an SRM has become available in the last few decades, in the form of computer chips and robotic systems capable of describing and assembling objects equal in complexity to themselves. Individual components have been researched in some depth, and many more or less idealized realizations exist, but a detailed design of an actual SRM has been elusive, because of the sheer size of such an undertaking. This site is meant to provide a collaborative framework within which such a design may be assembled by a large number of collaborators, both amateurs and professionals, in the image of "Wikipedia"<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
Much of current work on this topic is directed at nanotechnology, where it is envisioned that machines made out of precisely placed individual atoms build other machines like themselves. Another, older branch of thought is focussed on extraterrestrial applications, where the high cost of transporting material from Earth makes the concept of an SRM very attractive. While both of these are exciting endeavors, the first SRM clearly should be the one that is the easiest to make. On those grounds, a macroscopic Earth-based system is the most likely to succeed. A macroscopic system allows us to adopt processes and components already well developed in [First Industry], and an Earth-based system allows us to test them under realistic conditions in a hobby-shop, garage, or sandbox at home.
The defining characteristic of an SRM is material closure. Each component (material, part, or device) of the system also is a product. Inputs are restricted to what is available in the environment, e.g. dirt and sunlight. Complete material closure is the ultimate goal, but an SRM can achieve much of its potential if some high-complexity components such as microchips or electric motors are provided externally. As with Wikipedia, participants will be working on individual components, and the Wisdom of Crowds aided by the Wiki software will assemble the collection of parts into a coherent whole and monitor the progress towards complete material closure.
The design of an SRM should be driven by the three principles: [simplicity], [automation], [miniaturization]. It is important to note that most of the design principles that enable an SRM also work to make development accessible to amateur tinkerers. In fact, it is hoped that this site would serve as a collection of freely accessible designs and instructions to make useful things with limited means (in the spirit of "Build Your Own Lathe"<http://www.vintageprojects.com/lathe-milling-plans.html> or "RepRap"<http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome>) long before any degree of material closure is achieved.
This site is organized as a collection of components and procedures. Components are described, and must have a link specifying the procedure that produces the component. Procedures specify a detailed list of instructions and links to all components required for execution. In typical Wiki manner, links are created before their content, and the progress towards material closure can be measured quite simply by counting the number of dangling links. Descriptions and procedures will start at a high level (links and a few paragraphs of text), and proceed through multiple levels of detail down to photographs of actual physical objects and field reports of the actual physical execution of a procedure.
Any component or procedure would make a good starting point to explore the system, here is a selection of the more pertinent ones:
Please feel free to add or modify pages -- even this one -- as you see fit. That's the idea of a Wiki.