Friday, 11 July 2014

How Robotic Evolution Began

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Aug 2013.

In Poul Anderson's "Epilogue", sea rafts, self-repairing motorized floating boxes with solar batteries, inertial navigation devices and homeostatic systems, took dissolved minerals from sea water, delivered to shore depots and returned for more while continually assembling duplicate rafts even after life had become extinct.

Hard radiation mutated the rafts' electronic templates of their own designs and some of the imperfect duplicates had advantages like the ability to get metal from other rafts instead of from the sea. Through hundreds of millions of years, machines went ashore and proliferated into different types. Evolutionarily refined solar batteries store dielectrically on the molecular level in microscopic cells. Alloys are not as labile as, but are more durable than, amino acids. Parts are either processed (eaten) or used (like organ transplants). Sessile machines (plants) use acids in glass-lined compartments to break down ores, manufacture alloys and concentrate dielectric energy.

Mobile machines get metal from sessiles and from each other. They did not invent hunting but evolved as hunters, as if men were descended from tigers instead of simians. One form specializes in reproduction; another in strength and agility. Two body patterns heterodyne and crystallize in currents and magnetic fields. A "person" becomes comatose only in an emergency when his cells are extremely polarized.

Would this evolution generate consciousness? Computers as such are not conscious because rule-governed manipulation of symbols is not knowledge of their meanings and because simulation of anything, including intelligence, is not duplication. Consciousness arises when organismic sensitivity to environmental alterations quantitatively increases until it is qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation. However, these mechanisms are interacting with their environments and are being naturally selected for sensitivity... 

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