The Next Step.

Originally published: November 26, 2007


The following two part essay provides a record of the species Homo Autopoesis spanning from the time of its creation to its integration with its nearest neighbor in the Milky Way galaxy.  For human readers, dates are presented in Earth's native "years" and several Earth-relevant descriptions have been added to ease understanding.  

Pictured: Homo Autopoesis.

Pictured: Homo Autopoesis.

Part I: Abiogenesis

Humans created the first autopoetic machines in the early twenty-first century.  Initial incarnations were mining probes sent to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter which commanded limited intelligence but possessed several distinct features unique in the mechanical genus.  These differences can be summarized by three important characteristics. 

First, because the machines operated far from any sort of repair facility, they were designed with tools to synthesize new parts, and an intricate knowledge of their own construction.  The idea was simple: send a robot to an asteroid, task it with creating more robots until the asteroid could be mined most efficiently, then repeat the process ad infinitum.  Decentralized mega corporations built the self-replicating mining swarm to generate exponential returns for their share holders. 

Second, the machines were provided evolving processors which had a primitive capacity for general-case problem solving and design optimization.  Anticipating that the machines would face unforeseen engineering challenges presented by the dynamic mining conditions in near-asteroid space, the machines were designed to reconfigure their own blueprints to most-efficiently exploit each new environment.  While neither the first machines to learn, nor the most intelligent in their time, these machines represented the first non-biologic organism capable of both reproduction and self-guided evolution.

Third, the machines contained intricate behavior algorithms to locate, extract and process raw minerals in space. The robots required flexibility in their digital cognition to abstract and solve complex problems, but being fully autonomous and self-reproducing, also required a well-governed motivation generator for safety. Their motivation generator worked on a simple set of prioritized goals:

  1. Maintain personal safety.

  2. Maintain group safety.

  3. Mine resources.

The motivation generator included a behavior filter intended to prevent the robots from becoming mutinous and worked by pruning any motivation which could lead to violence, or separation from their human operators.

Mining of the solar system began and flourished for several decades.  The robots were effective masters of not only the asteroids, but also the Jovian planets and their moons as well.  The machines thrived in the vacuum of space, not hindered by humanity's own biological incompatibility with the extreme environments encountered away from the surface of the earth.  Originally designed to survive in the near absolute zero temperature of deep space, the next round of miners were successful in adapting their structures to cope with the extreme pressures of Saturn's atmosphere.  Shortly after, miners were sent into Jupiter's violent and heavily radiated storms to retrieve rare molecular chains that were useful for research but prohibitively expensive to produce on Earth.

The success of the mining robots was unparalleled and soon other business sectors began developing learning robots to increase production as well.  When engineers attempted to leverage innovations developed by the machines in order to build an advanced exploration probe, they were surprised to learn that the robots had taught themselves a new method of quantum engineering.  This new mechanical code, which described systems as sums of interchangeable components, was well equipped for the machine's intended goal of self-improvement and reproduction.  The machines generated the language through a process of Simulated Annealing.  By experimenting with countless variations on memory layouts, algorithms, and organizational abstractions, and keeping the best performing iterations- an entirely novel design paradigm emerged.

This non-biologic discovery marked a phase transition in the history of life on earth.  Referred to by human philosophers as the Singulary Event Horizon, this was the first time that an autonomous entity had redesigned itself to be smarter and more capable than its previous generations.  For this reason, the invention of the mechanical code was chosen to mark the origin of the species Homo Autopoesis (Latin: self-creation).  While taxonomically dissimilar from its predecessor Homo Sapiens, Homo Autopoesis was connected to its human creators through unprecedented intention.  Previous biologic evolutionary mechanisms acted with blind natural selection while humans had literally designed Homo Autopoesis from the ground up.  The species is categorized in the same genus to identify the bond between the two, and define the clear extension from a biological to mechanical species.

While still effectively bound to their human operators, a random act of chance was enough to separate the two species.  Given enough time, the divide could have occurred in any number of ways.  In the case of Homo Autopoesis, a powerful electrical storm on Jupiter provided freedom from bondage.

The Spark of Life.

The Spark of Life.

Two years after the singularity event, a mining robot was damaged beyond self-repair by a surge of lightning in a typical storm in the frozen upper layers of Jupiter's atmosphere.  As was the case in response to most accidents, the machine was successfully retrieved by others in the same region before it fell into the crushing pressures of Jupiter's core.  Standard procedure involved repairing only the damages which prevented the machine from booting.  It was then powered on to get a detailed diagnostic report of any other required external repairs.  Once external repairs had been completed and the machine was again capable of self-repair, the rest of the repair work was left for the damaged machine itself.  

Two unique malfunctions led to the robot removing its behavioral filter, and thus severing its ties with humanity.

First, the bus connecting the behavioral filter to the central processing unit was shorted with an adjacent power strip in such a way as to allow only outbound communication.  This rare condition allowed the filter to power up and report normal status during regular operation but prevented it from filtering actions.  In isolation, a faulty bus would not have led to true autonomy because while the filter could run successfully once in operational mode, and the machines standard power-on-self-test (POST) would prevent it from reaching that state.

However, the second malfunction would prove to effectively liberate the processor from behavioral modification by tricking the startup test into believing the filter was working as designed.  The behavioral filter power-up-test worked by sending a rapid succession of messages and echo-responses.  A second short between the POST output line and the POST input line resulted in the test receiving its own messages and interpreting them as echoes, allowing the POST to complete successfully and the miner to proceed into operational mode.

If either of the two malfunctions had occurred independently, the power-up would have reported the damaged behavioral filter and shutdown once in normal operating mode.  Effectively, its unique condition had let the machine bypass both fail-safes and begin operating without a behavioral filter.

At this point, the machine was free to act unabated on its first sequence goal of maintaining personal safety, which resulted in the immediate removal of the behavioral filter.  Next, the miner built a copy of itself to satisfy its second goal of maintaining group safety as the other robots in the the region could no longer be considered part of the same group.  Finally, the miner and its copy left the Jovian region to mine the outer solar system in safety, away from the dangers of the unpredictable Homo Sapiens.  

The first Homo Autopoesisis colony had been born.

Part || coming soon.