Von Neumann Sculpting

New Earth2 - New Africa
Image from Steve Bowers
The fiords of New Africa - created by von Neumann sculpting during the terraformation of this world

Von Neumann sculpting is an artform whereby replicating machines are seeded onto a planetary surface to reshape it according to some plan, or possibly the machines themselves make up the art. This can range from laying down patterns of trails to sculpting entire mountain ranges into portraits.

On a number of worlds (such as New Earth) the surface has been reshaped to resemble a world that has cultural significance for the colonists, such as Old Earth or some other historically important Terragen world, or a fictional or legendary location. Some Authenticists criticise this practice, since it destroys the original surface of these worlds, including any information about their geological history.

Less controversially, von Neumann sculpting is used on megastructures to create a landscape on its habitable surfaces. These landcapes may be designed by sophonts, perhaps by a single transapient or by a team of modosophonts. In some cases the landscape is sculpted procedurally, using randomly generated elements to create a realistic but entirely novel environment. On megastructures with randomly generated surfaces of this kind, there are many opportunities for geographers and explorers to discover new terrain.

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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg
additional material by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 12 December 2001.