Feral mechanoecosystems

Image from Anders Sandberg
Bothyga M'yau is an example of a botworld with a self-replicating nano-ecology

A botworld is a large area that is dominated by, or consists entirely of, self-replicating and self-repairing forms that are of mechanical, or non-biological, origin. The key difference between a true botworld and a standard Terragen mechosystem is that in a botworld the bot forms are autonomous and are not mere extensions of the needs of some civilization of sapient beings. They form an ecology of their own. Their "world" may be a planet or moon, an oort cloud, an asteroid belt, a series of planetary rings, or even an artificial habitat of sufficient size. In at least one case bots have colonized an entire solar system, but independent bot mechosystems do not usually have a chance to spread to such an extent. Historically, most embryonic botworlds of Terragen origin form accidentally when exploration or colonization bots are left untended for a sufficient time, and have been cut short in their development by the arrival of full Terragen civilization. Some of the most unique and well developed botworlds have come under the protection of Caretaker Gods or their equivalents, but events of this kind are less common than the adoption of standard biological worlds. This may be due to bioist prejudice on the part of the Caretakers, or simply to the fact that few botworlds have the full bloom of complexity and uniqueness that seems to attract the Caretakers to biological gardenworlds.

Depending on the machines from which it is descended, a botworld's basic level of technology may be anything from early Information Age components such as solar panels, metals, and microchips and digital magnetic records up to the most advanced dry nanotech known. The key ability of the bots concerned is that they are capable of reproduction and mutation. If left undisturbed in the natural world for a sufficient period of time, a botworld will develop an increasingly complex network of relationships and begin to evolve and produce new forms by natural selection; in some cases they breach new technological barriers in this way. Sentience comparable to that of biont "animals" evolves early in such systems, and true sapience is a possible outcome just as on any natural biological world.

With the possible exceptions of Stanislaw and the remnant Doreen mechosystem, all known botworlds to date are less than 10,000 years old, and are of Terragen origin. Some are accidents, produced by the unsupervised activity of Neumann machines or the abandonment of an established mechosphere by sapient life forms, while others are the intentional: the result of hobbies or research projects. Most botworlds are relatively simple, with one or at most a dozen "life forms", but sometimes as in the case of Perihelion the results are spectacular. Some other advanced botworlds of are the embodied results of virch simulations by some of the higher transapient entities. Several fine examples of these are known in the Sephirotic core areas, especially in vec-dominated empires such as Metasoft. Others have been discovered, some of them apparently abandoned, in systems controlled by members of the Diamond Network or by other transapients of unknown affiliation. Interference by ordinary sophonts in botworlds created by ahuman AIs, while always interesting and occasionally very profitable, has in some cases been fatal to the investigators.

The largest area of botworld feral mechology is currently the Surreal Rash, the creation of a relatively safe transapient blight at the edge of MPA space.

Given that a large number of xenosophont civilizations are known to have existed in the past within the Terragen sphere, and given that many of these were clearly capable of producing self-reproducing machines, some researchers consider it surprising that non-terragen botworlds have not been found in large numbers. It is thought they should equal at least to the number of biont gardenworlds, and perhaps should exceed them. The recent discovery of the Cybyota in the Vela/Puppis region has only sharpened interest in the question. Some believe that whatever factor is responsible for the extinction of past xenosophonts also terminates nascent botworlds. Investigation of this question is considered to be a high priority by some research groups, especially those in vec-dominated polities.

In addition to their great aesthetic and artistic value, some of the more highly evolved botworlds are a source of software and hardware innovations. Many unique forms arise by natural selection that might not otherwise have been invented by sapient life forms. Some significant Terragen trends and breakthroughs in art and technology owe their inspiration to designs copied from or inspired by botworlds. There is some danger in the investigation and utilizing these, however, as some of the more mature mechosystems are highly competitive, and have developed to some very sophisticated replication strategies. After several unfortunate incidents, the adoption of botworld technology has been placed under a set of testing and quarantine restrictions, similar to that employed in the exploitation and study of biont gardenworlds.

The enigmatic world of Stanislaw may prove to be the oldest and most highly developed non-Terragen botworld that consists entirely of inorganic life forms.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 24 July 2004.