The Architectural Model of Self Replicating Machines: RASA

      Since self-replicating machines could be considered a form of life, borrowing traits from living things is useful in developing functional self-replicating machines. One such trait of living things, in my opinion, has been given short shrift: the ability to influence internals and surroundings to better suit the needs of the organism.

      In biology, it is often the organism that is best able to modify its environment that is able to survive and propagate the best. This ability is found in all living things, and is necessary for life. The first cells were successful when they gained a cell membrane that effectively walled them off from the exterior world, and allowed them to evolve their delicate internals with less interference from outside. Today, organisms control their own internals in a myriad of ways: temperature, pressure, pH, nutrients find their way automatically to where they are needed, waste is automatically removed, food is processed, the list goes on. Life’s complex processes are generally feeble and need a very specific environment to function properly. This means that organisms that influence the world around them to suit themselves can survive where others fail.

      Translating this important trait to electromechanical self replicating machines is a challenge because of the unknown complexity of designing a self-replicating machine in the first place. It would be useless to describe the trait in all but the broadest generalities. When considering an imaginary ultimate machine, it would be defined as complete control over three dimensional space and all materials and energy within it. The ultimate machine is obviously not build-able, but it does give us a specific goal and trait to maximize in a self-replicating machine: versatility and control over itself and its immediate environment.

      Rather than revel in the complexity of such an idea, it is easier to think of it simply as the ability to move any amount of matter (M) or energy (E) to point X, Y, Z in three dimensional space. Control of such a system becomes radically simplified, and would be easily controlled by modern computational methods. In fact, it starts to mirror modern computing, which revolves around moving and processing arbitrary data. For the reason that this system appears analogous to computer RAM (Random Access Memory), I call this automation system RASA, which stands for Random Access Spatial Automation.

      Following the information technology lead, we can divide space into a three dimensional grid, and then we need to maximize the ability to move arbitrary lumps of stuff around the grid. We will need:

  • Arbitrary matter to move around: Like computing science, it makes sense to divide it up into pieces of standard size.

  • Something to move the matter around: Since the matter will be of uniform size, the machines that can move the matter around can also be uniform. Standardization is important.

  • An extensible medium to move through: Some kind of framework that allows the cargo machine to move freely in 3D space.

      By dividing the self-replicating machines into these three categories, we can now turn this into an exercise of architecture for robotics. To begin, it is important to identify general desirable characteristics for each of the three categories:

Spatial grid:

  • The bare minimum physical construction needed to allow uniform machines to travel throughout on all three axes. To allow for easy addressing, a three dimensional grid of support struts and tracks is needed to allow a simple machine to travel throughout.

  • Since this framework will define the physical extents of the self-replicating machine, it will likely be the most massive part of the machine. Optimizing the design will require it to be of simple construction, of uniform standard size, and as inexpensive as possible. Ideally, it should be built of materials easily harvested from the local environment.

  • Since this is a self-replicating system, the grid must also be easily constructed by machine.

Cargo Haulers:

  • Must be able to easily travel throughout the grid in all three dimensions, and be able to carry an arbitrary cargo to any point in space within the grid.

  • Cargo haulers must have power, actuators, control systems, sensors and related systems to carry out their tasks of moving throughout the grid.

  • The cargo bin must be able to handle matter in the most arbitrary way possible.

Arbitrary Matter Specialization:

      So far, we have been discussing the standardized parts of a self-replicating machine. Here is where we get into the specializations that make the system function and do what is needed for itself and for us. When it comes to specialization, again it can be useful to draw inspiration from living things. Certain parallels can be made with multicellular organisms. These can be considered as specialized cells that all do their thing for the benefit of the whole.

      As this is a system that will be created by people at first, this can be seen as mirroring an economic system. As the system develops, many functions will at first be done by people. Much machinery will be built and serviced by humans, and tasks will be slowly replaced by innovative robots doing the same work. The profit motive has been incredibly effective in development of new and better machines, and self-replicating machines should not be left outside this process.

      Functionality of what we can put inside the cargo haulers can be divided into four categories:

  • Cargo Level 0: Inert Cargo: Simply put, this is inactive stuff we can move anywhere it is wanted. Examples could include solids, liquids, gas, manufactured goods, waste, etc.

  • Cargo Level 1: Spatial Grid Machinery: This category would include any machinery involved with building, repairing and maintaining the spatial grid. Developing this machinery would give this system its first stage of being a self-replicating machine.

  • Cargo Level 2: Cargo Hauling Machinery: Any machinery that builds, repairs, or maintains the cargo haulers themselves. Construction of these machines would be the second stage of achieving self-replication of this system.

  • Cargo Level 3: Interactive Machinery: This is the category of machines that can interact with each other or the outside world. Examples could be many types of machines that could combine to form an ad-hoc assembly line, or machines that mine ores, or machines that provide goods or services to people, or machines that maintain and repair other machines at this level. Building these necessary machines would “close the loop” and make this a fully self-replicating machine.

RASAFigure 1

      A visualization of the basics of this system can be seen above in Figure 1. The coloured grid represents the spatial grid, and the grey cube represents the cargo hauling machine and the cargo or machine hidden within. The red posts are the structure of the grid, holding everything up. The cargo hauler can ride upon the green rails using retractable wheels. Also, retractable wheels can hang the box off the blue rails, allowing movement in the other direction, allowing for full two dimensional movement within the grid. Allowing the retractable wheels to slide up and down vertically on the box gives it the ability to climb up and down levels, making this a system able to access any random point within.

      Now obviously this system has its physical limitations and overhead, but within the system, we have an infinitely configurable system of machinery. The obvious parallel of this architecture can be seen in the structure of Internet TCP/IP communications. In the same way we have wires, data packets, and the data carried within the packets, we have a grid framework, cargo haulers, and the cargo and diverse machinery within.

      As I see it, the first obvious use of this system is storage and warehousing. This system can easily be set up as an automated warehouse. As far as the first step towards self-replication, I anticipate a machine inside the cargo bay of the box able to construct new segments of the grid by itself. These uses could be profitable for some companies, and I foresee the profit motive quickly driving many innovations once it is released upon the world.


Type I Civilization Construction Set

This is a commentary on my work and progress, sharing some random thoughts and ideas about what I’m doing and why.

While working on my prototype and book, I came across an award winning group of people doing something quite remarkable, building the Global Village Construction Set.  I noticed that a lot of their core ideas, ideals, and values coincided with my own.  Their idea is to have an open set of blueprints to build the minimum needed to set up a self sustaining village with most modern comforts.  A set of 50 machines, such as tractors, generators, and industrial machinery, and homes.  The idea of boiling down our complex society and economy into a set of necessary machines is very interesting to me.  Furthermore, they use cheap, standardized, durable design that’s free to everyone.  This open source concept, where everyone has equal access to the fruits of civilization is both revolutionary, and very practical.

That led me to imagining what a “Type I Civilization Construction Set” would look like.  What is this “Type 1”?  It’s a number on the Kardashev Scale, listing the kinds of possible future civilizations that could exist, or possible alien civilizations that we might discover.  A Type I Civilization is one that has completely mastered it’s own planet, ecology, industry and it’s own biology, and moved to colonize the rest of the solar system.  Most big problems that exist now would be considered ancient history, such as ageing, poverty, fossil fuel use, scarcity of resources, ecological collapse and threat of war.  Currently we’re a Type 0 Civilization, and some great thinkers guess that we may transition to Type I in a few hundred years, if we haven’t destroyed ourselves by then.

So how can I imagine a set of machines for a civilization that hasn’t even happened yet?  I can’t just design my very own portable “Mr. Fusion” device, that takes household table scraps like bananna peels, and generates unlimited energy for my very own flying car, so I can vacation on the moons of Jupiter.  I’m impatient, and I want to get my hands dirty, and I don’t want to live in a fantasy world.  I want to build practical things right now, that will have major results very soon.  Something like this is a very tall order, and by most people’s imagination, impossible.

Imagine my luck and astonishment when I stumbled upon such an idea that satisfies these very strict requirements.  I spent the first few months in surprise at my own thoughts, and spent a great amount of time trying to poke holes in my idea, because I couldn’t imagine it being so simple.  I couldn’t prove my idea wrong.  For this reason, I welcome criticism, and I want people to use rational arguments to try to shoot down my plans.  I hate the idea of going down the wrong path, so any commentary is very valuable to me.

I will soon be posting some very meaty chapter candidates on the details of my ideas, so keep checking back.  I hope you enjoy them, comment on them, and share with the world.


Love, kramboz

A Science Fiction Perspective of Self Replicating Machines

      Since the earliest works of science fiction writing, science fiction has been used as a form of social commentary. It can be a mirror of sorts, that we hold up to ourselves as a species. It can help us gain some insight into our human condition by looking at issues and ideas in novel ways. Self-replicating machines have been done many times in science fiction literature, television, and movies. I would like to share my small tale about self-replication.

      Imagine looking at Earth through the eyes of an outsider, from a considerable distance. Imagine this outside observer to be a representative of an advanced star faring race, who once were where we are, but perhaps tens of millions of years ago. The would probably be so advanced, that they wouldn’t think much us, other than as intellectual curiosities to be studied and catalogued and watched. It’s fun to imagine what they would think of us. How would they compare us to what they know? Would they consider talking to us, or perhaps they would wait until we reached a certain level of development? If they were experienced in cataloguing new civilizations, they would probably have a rough idea of what sort of developments we would go through on our ascendancy towards the stars.

      At first, they would see the pale blue dot. The various frequencies of light coming from Earth would give away that many interesting things are going on, and the radio frequencies would tell even more. As they approach even closer, they would start to see what our astronauts see: Clouds, oceans, land, ice, and green patches of life. On the night side, they would see something surprising, a glow from thousands of cities covering great sections of land. Even in the sunlight, they would see a grey creeping over the land in the places where at night there is light. Perhaps to them, it would appear that Earth, a pristine world, has been recently invaded by intelligent machines that are taking over the world. Even from space, there are obvious signs of machines extracting resources, processing them, paving the world to suit themselves, and drastically changing the environment at a geometric pace. Because of the pace of change, it is obvious that even on time scales as short as a few hundred years, the Earth will probably become unrecognizable compared to it’s old self. A thorough examination of this reckless new machine species and it’s origins would be an obvious priority.

      Imagine their shock, that it’s not the machines themselves that run things, but rather, a native biological species that built the machines from scratch. That would explain the messiness of the development… but what benefit do these machines give a species that is so quickly obliterating it’s environment and building a new one without much large scale planning? Instead of seeing a restful and happy populace, they see instead struggling and toil. Starvation exists in the midst of bumper crops. A world that could easily provide for all the physical needs of even such a bloated population, instead enslaves all but a few to labour as if they are machines themselves. Humans used instead of mining machines underground. Humans tilling fields and picking crops like robots. Humans in factories working mindless jobs. Even more shocking, is a thing called the “economy” that gives people no choice but to covet and compete for these “jobs”, trading off the majority of the useful days of their very short lives for meagre resources, most of which could easily be supplied indefinitely by even mildly sophisticated machines.

      While it seems like human nature to enjoy working and feeling useful, a life of hard toil and a hand to mouth existence just doesn’t make sense while being surrounded by a world of plenty. Considering the relaxed hunter-gatherer history of humans, this modern world that treats humans as worker drones does not seem to be good environment that humanity has created for itself. A telling anecdote is what humans call this system: a “rat race”.

      Now let’s assume the aliens, instead leaving, stay to help. Not by magical technological handouts, but rather, a hand up, to help us work our own way out of this mess with sage advice, guidance, and the odd technical assistance. It would be interesting to think about what they would tell us. Proclamations from above about what not to do rarely helps very well. For real change and growth, people and societies need to find a new, better way of doing things and incorporate that into who they are. What we need is managed growth, to grow into something better. We need to change the game and put into play economic and social forces that don’t pit us against one another, but rather, encourage us to be kinder to each other.

      In the first phase, there would be planted technological seeds. Gifts to humanity, ideas and machines, which could help people in many industries get their jobs done better and faster, and for more money to be made. Also, seeds of ideas, about how the future should look. Humanity would likely already have developed some of these ideas, and these developments would be encouraged and guided.

      In the second phase, these seeds grow and develop into new businesses and ways of doing things. Eventually, new economies emerge, and old ways of doing things no longer remain practical. This would be a time of radical change, where old ways would be forced out by necessity, lest terrible things happen. For instance, in a world where machines instead of people could provide for us anything we could desire from a grocery store or shopping mall, what place would our current form of capitalism have? On one hand, in our current system of wealth begetting wealth, it would make sense that the rich would own these automatic factories. So despite the production of goods costing virtually nothing, capitalists could still charge exorbitant fees for delivering these goods, keeping the vast majority of the world in a system of virtual slavery. Serfdom could continue indefinitely into the future. On the other hand, I also place faith in people’s natural sense of fairness and indignation. As the system becomes more and more unbalanced, the urge for change will grow to the breaking point. Also, the development of disruptive technologies of production may eventually put the power of production into the hands of common people, incrementally negating the power of wealth over the masses. In the 21st century, information is already virtually free, where the largest barriers to disseminating data are not technological, but rather cultural, economic, and legislative. I don’t think western civilization has barely begun to adapt to this new reality, let alone considered how to adapt to having a machine make us virtually free consumer goods as easily as we now copy data from computer to computer. In many ways, it could bring our whole way of life crashing down around us.

      Rather than cataclysmic class wars portrayed as inevitable by some failed visionaries such as Karl Marx, I think a managed decay of the powers of capitalism will prevail, because after all, what meaning does wealth have when we have machines that can within certain limits give us whatever we wish for? There are always limits of scarcity, so economic forces will always have a place, but they will likely look radically different from what we have now. The economies and societies that don’t change in the face of the new realities will fail, perhaps tragically, to be replaced by those which can grow in new ways. The role of leadership in engineering a sensible path for social change without catastrophe will be invaluable. I very much see this as a process of positive growth rather than destructive change.

      In the final phase, post change, humanity would look very different, and happiness and contentment would abound. This would not be a utopia, but rather, a higher base level for humanity. I don’t know if cancer would be cured, or cheap fusion energy would be built, but I think it’s reasonable to give everyone in the world a guaranteed standard of living that’s far above what first-world countries enjoy now. Given our ability to destroy the Earth in a puff of radioactive smoke, I think levelling the inequalities in the world, giving everyone the opportunity of an education, and blunting the attractive pull of greed as a motivator are necessary for our survival. Development in the final phase of the automated industrial revolution would involve us learning to use our new-found powers in radically new ways. With control over an automatic economy that can scale geometrically to do whatever we see fit, we could literally move mountains on a whim. Even radical projects such as terraforming our neighbouring planets would be reduced to a big but manageable exercise in science, engineering and logistics. We would as a race become the ones dreaming up and managing great projects and goals, and enjoying the fruits of those labours instead of being stuck as the machines doing the work, desperately toiling just to keep the pay-cheques coming. After all that, then, we would become something I could see as worthy of having an interesting conversation with our visitors.

      This science fiction fantasy is great as a way of looking at ourselves from the outside, but I don’t think we need an alien to show us the way to a good future, we can do it for ourselves. Many of these developments I’ve touched on are already moving forward and in some ways I believe they are inevitable. The problem with inevitable forces is that they are largely uncontrolled, much like our current form of economic growth that’s devouring our planet’s ability to sustain life at a frightening pace. The purpose of this book is a seed to help the world transform this chaos into an achievable goal, with the means towards the goal not seen as toil and moral obligation, but rather, as a self-reinforcing and self enriching economic path of least resistance that will gradually free humanity. I don’t mean to just talk about grand theories and generalities, but also to discuss practically and in as much detail as I can, things that would bring us towards this great goal in a self-reinforcing and immediately profitable way.

Humaniform vs Roboform General Purpose Machines

      Recently I read news articles about a major tech company investing in robotics. Normally I would be excited about the details and dive into the article, but this time, I was not. Instead, disappointment. I caught myself saying “Wrong, wrong wrong! Such a waste.” This is such an unusual position for me to take, and thus I decided to explore these feelings in writing.

      It’s not that they were investing in robots, it’s that it was all the wrong kinds. I saw several companies all specializing in advanced robots that mimic people. Walking robots, talking robots, the works. How could this possibly be a bad thing?

      Before I address the question, I would like to bring the reader to another class of extremely successful robots. Just about every business, large or small, owns one of these. In a large part of the world, it’s safe to assume there’s one of these in nearly every home. These robots excel at one task… they take stacks of paper, draw arbitrary computer fed patterns on the paper, and present the paper to the owner. Some are even multifunctional robots, who can also fax, scan, email, or copy documents as well. What they all have in common is that they have absolutely nothing to do with people’s standard perception of what a robot is. Neither people nor printers would benefit from printers having human-like characteristics. This is so much the case that people generally don’t consider printers to be robots at all. However, the truth is that robots have been happily working in offices and homes for at least a generation now and everyone has forgotten this obvious fact.

      This never used to be the case. Some early printers mimicked humans punching on manual typewriters, complete with typewriter ribbon and mechanical strikers. Other printers, called pen plotters, mimicked humans holding pens. These automatic pen machines would draw in the same fashion a person would, just faster, and with better accuracy. Printers today don’t resemble either typewriters or pen plotters, but rather, they exist as boxes with very complicated internals, that spit out documents that we need. The mechanisms, usually either ink jet print heads or laser drums, have come a long way from automated typewriters or pen machines. The truth is that while people may be pretty good at doing a lot of things passably, any kind of efficiency or specialization of machinery usually ends up looking nothing like a human being.

      Add to this, the incredible complexity and expense of making a human-like machine, and these kinds of contraptions become even less appealing when a small box a thousandth the cost can do a far better job. It doesn’t make sense. Machines shouldn’t be any more human than they need to be.

      The argument from the other side is that human-like machines can be flexible in their tasks, and often times that ability to do just about anything is paramount. The idea of the human-like machine doing work the same way as a factory worker or butler or farmer does has been around since the very first dream of robots. Obviously, general purpose machines would have a clear benefit to mankind by removing the toil of manual labour. They would change everything. Looking at the problem this way, it’s easy to understand the investment in their creation.

      Rather than applaud research in this direction, I see it as lacking imagination. Why would a general purpose machine that can do anything we ask of it need to look like a person? Even modified with extra arms or head or whatever… why? In my opinion, following the principle of just about every commercially successful robot ever made, human-like robots are completely irrelevant. What is needed is a complete re-design from scratch, to define from basics what it means to do general purpose work, and start from there. To do that, following the principle of not dragging our humanity into this, we should throw out our human notions of what general-purpose work should look like in the first place.

      How do we define general purpose work? For most people the obvious answer is a good pair of hands working hard and the mobility to move around. And that description is obviously wrong. Hands are handy, but totally useless compared to even the most basic of tools. How far would a carpenter get without his tools? Most people wouldn’t even get through dinner without putting at least one tool in their hand. Even stone-age people knew the limitations of their hands as they picked up sticks and rocks and made tools out of them. Hands aren’t so handy as much more than the general purpose connectors to the tools that we use. So the true obvious answer isn’t hands as much as it is the handy access to a variety of tools suited for job at hand. That’s the real definition.

      Now how about the other part of the equation… mobility. Even compared to the animal kingdom, people aren’t particularly mobile in a useful way. Most animals that need to be mobile do it better than we do. Similarly in the stone age, people built rafts, made shoes, and rolled heavy objects on logs because they understood how limited their bodies were compared to even the simplest machines made from stone, wood, and animal parts. Where would civilization be without the wheel? Rather than spend exorbitant resources designing and building a machine that walks like a man, slapping a pair of wheels and a motor together and calling it a day can be done a million times over for the same effort. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when the wheel works fine.

      There is a third part to this definition, and that is the know-how needed to do the work. A craftsman isn’t paid for the quality of his tools, he’s paid for how well he uses them. How could a dumb machine compare to the high-tech intelligence of a machine built to look like and work like a man? This question is easier to answer, because robots can’t think. Computer science hasn’t even settled on what the idea of cognition means in the most basic sense, let alone design a machine that can think for itself. Based on this, the idea of designing bodies for machines that we don’t even have a clue how to properly control is foolish and absurd.

      So… based on hands and feet not being so useful, and artificial intelligence not even existing yet except in the minds of science fiction writers and gullible investors, spending huge sums of money building stereotypical “robots” is a complete waste. They are literally spending money building machines based on a science that hasn’t been invented yet. They are trying to copy hands and feet that (on their own) weren’t even good enough for cave men. Even chimps have the sense to wave sticks around. Venture capitalists must be a lower form of evolution. This disconnect between fantasy and reality is what drove me to react so negatively to the news reports of companies investing in human-like robots. It’s madness!

      So the idea of building general purpose machines is a fool’s errand. Well, at least it is to people who cling to traditional ideas of what robots should be.

      Discarding those ideas leads to much more optimistic prospects. A variety of tools at hand is easy to understand to anyone who’s ever changed bits on a screw driver. Mobility is easily solved for anyone who understands wheels and motors. Almost all basic problems have been solved long ago by mechanical and electronic means. Even intelligence is a problem that can be solved only with what exists today. Robots like printers are already about as intelligent as they need to be, they can even respond to issues like low ink or lack of paper in a meaningful way. What computers do well is simple tasks done repetitively. Building a moderate level of intelligence into individual tools is the key. People controlling the system can then automate processes, leading to a startling level of complexity without any large machine intelligence needed. What is needed, is the sense to abandon useless old ideas, and the imagination to invent something new that only relies on what is readily available. We don’t need science fiction ideas, we need to put the tools we have to proper use. Rather than bring to life the robot dreams of the old science fiction masters like Isaac Asimov, we need to invent what we can, and thus bring into the world an amazing reality that science fiction has never even imagined.

Introduction: The Case for Automated Scaffolding

     Scaffolding? Automation? This is probably where most people would stop reading. How could this subject possibly be interesting? For me, it’s not just interesting, it’s exciting! It’s not just a cheap thrill, it’s constantly held my passion and focus for years now. If you have the courage to read on, you will either discover the monomaniacal obsession of an eccentric bearded nerd, or perhaps… something very wonderful indeed. You decide.

      The first thing that makes this exciting is that I take a very broad interpretation of the word “scaffolding”. Not just something for construction workers, I’m working on a re-think on how just about any man made structure is built. This means that this is a huge deal. The possible uses for automated scaffolding can be about as varied as the uses for computer chips, but it’s good to start with something people know and are familiar with. This is why I chose to use the word “scaffolding” instead of a long list of other technical terms. This is an introduction, after all.

      Scaffolding in it’s current form hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s, and has existed since the dawn of time (paleolithic era). There are many fancy scaffolding systems in use today, but they all lack a combination of certain general qualities that I think are necessary, though these qualities are relatively easy to add in.


  • Cheap, simple, locally available, appropriate structure.
  • Simple, modular, machine build-able structure.
  • Built in such a way that the building machines travel throughout the structure as it is built, instead of building it from the outside.
  • In the same way as the building machines can travel, general cargo machines can haul anything throughout the structure.

      This combination of feature gives this kind of scaffolding infinite possibility, and this is why I think it is so exciting. Having cheap, self-building structures, that can contain any combination of materials or machinery within, all automated, will bring industry, technology, and society to a place almost unimaginable except in science fiction. It could truly lead to a new era of the industrial revolution. If you think this is awesome too, please, read on in my blog. I will be posting chapter candidates for my book soon, as well as random thoughts and ideas. I would love all input, and hopefully, collaboration.



Welcome one and all!

Welcome to Spatial Automation.  I made this blog to share my book writing with friends, family, and the world.  Since I’m not an experienced writer, I would love any feedback.  So far my most productive method is to pick an idea, and write about it.  This works well, but so far, collecting my work into chapters is a mysterious and scary process that I have not even attempted yet, so any input from an editing point of view is most appreciated.

First, I’ll write a brief primer on the general concepts I want to share, then I will start posting chapter candidates that I have alread written.  Then, I’ll start sharing new writing as I write it.  Also, I will start documenting the work so far on a working prototype.

All that being said, if nothing else, I hope you enjoy my wacky ideas!