Neumann Self-Replicating System

Nauri 2
Image from Juan Ochoa

Most people watched them through the feeds of course. They tapped in every now and then or had summaries displayed in their virches. But I've always been fascinated by Neumanns so over the years I did little else but watch them from orbit, my augmented senses drinking in the data flooding in through the satellites. We'd brought about a hundred of them with us, each one no bigger than a caleb. They flew from our craft in drop pods barely bigger than their own bodies. All but two survived re-entry which was well within statistical parameters. We dropped them in small packs and singletons at landing sites distributed across the barren world; far enough apart to give each other breeding room but close enough to cooperate once they'd set up.

That first year was a slow, beautiful progression. They grazed and dug and roamed, spawning little ones that would do the same. Most of the same kind but increasingly of different designs. Small things that burrowed, smaller things that buzzed through the air, and larger models that would grow big enough to scrape quarries in mere megaseconds. I watched as they went from disparate packs to clusters of early civilisation. Little mechanosystems of solar trees, transport tubes and fab-houses. They grew like insect hives made up of hundreds of species. The ground was pocketed with tunnels dug by cthonic bots, cillia seeds coating the walls forming flowstone that ensured a constant stream of minerals to the surface. Giant beetle-like Neumans sat next to storage towers, their probiscis' sucking down raw material to proces in their specialist organs. The refined mattercache they produced was distributed among the ever growing, ever gravid workforce.

The second year was explosive, thousands became millions and from our orbit we could have seen the progress with our biological eyes if we had them; it was like silver fungus growing on an apple. Each night the cities of industry would grow further, dropping spores way outside their borders that would blossom into mechanical life before connecting to the main. During the third year increasingly resources were allocated away from growth and to the terraforming proper. There were hundreds of billions of them now and the surface of the planet was encrusted with manufactories and infrastructure. Thousands of fusion generators pumped energy into the ground to melt the permafrost. Billions of bots large and small erect channels to direct the water to areas being excavated to become our seas (the models there were amphibious and kept working even as the first floods came). Bioforges synthesised soil, biota, seeds and basic life that trillions of machines laid across continents. From my lofty view it was like watching a plague of locust in reverse, swarming over a dead land and leaving it alive.

After a decade the planet was prepared enough that we could move into the cities (so simple compared to the rest of the efforts they were thrown up in the last megasecond, as though an afterthought). There were tens of billion continuing the work of nursing the world from its nascent biosphere to one as rich as Old Earth, but the vast majority of the mechanosystem had been dismantled. Deemed no longer necessary and recycled. My fellow colonists barely gave it a moments thought. But in all the centuries I lived there I could never forget the majesty and the awesome power of those Neumann swarms.

Excerpt from Tyrol's Travel Notes: Terraformers

Self-replicating autonomous machines, mainly referring to those working in space, especially exploring regions too remote to be easily reached by organics.

A Neumann is able to build a working copy of itself using materials in its environment. Use of Neumanns can be extremely dangerous because of their tendency to become self-sentient and act in unpredictable ways, but they are still often used locally or under heavy control to quickly build enormous infrastructure projects or weaponry.

The first true Neumanns were developed in 215 AT using the Genii-2 matter compiler in tandem with a prospector/disassembler system in a joint venture between Neotech Labs in Clarke Orbital, the Xerox Nanoscale Collective in Pasadena, Earth, and the Centre for Self-Replicating Technologies, a Eurasian laboratory on Copernicus Base, Luna. This development created widespread anxiety regarding the possibility of a grey goo outbreak.

[named after Late Industrial Age hu mathematician John von Neumann; one of the semi-mythical founders of computing
von Neumann, J., 1966, The Theory of Self-reproducing Automata, Eden Archives]
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
Initially published on 09 December 2001.