(Note, this project's outline is still being fleshed out, very much a work in progress – get involved!)
Mission 1 – Create self-reproducing synthetic artificial life
Mission 2 – Create the ability to communicate and control said synthetic life, ultimately extending oneself beyond the body – achieving pseudo-apotheosis.
Mission 3 – Create the ability for two or more people to share conscious thought; direct ubuntu
This is a moonshot project that's eventual goal is transhumanism; enabling us to become more than just single individuals by employing rational science and technical methodologies. It is also an educational and societal initiative to improve scientific inquiry by breaking down the ivory tower so that science and innovation are not restricted to just those who go through established educational channels.
The project does not aim to recreate the historically purely biological "mother nature" that came before us, nor aim at fantastical pseudo-science (well, a bit of sudo-science 🙄). We will include human technical creations like power outlets, used electronics, recyclables, and trash in our set of building blocks. The differentiation we will make is that the reproducibility of the robots must not require any parts that are premade by humans for the specific purpose of being used in the robots' reproduction. The point is evolutionary self-reproducibility, not recreating what exists already. In addition to having more resources at our disposal, this approach also mitigates most worries of creating monster chimeras via the runaway genetic mutation of current living organisms because, although the synthetic creations will able to autonomously reproduce, they will be resource dependent on things made by humans and remote break points can easily be added that can be triggered if things get really out of hand. In addition, the goal is not creating creatures with separate needs and desires but to extent our consciousness into these creations.
Along the way, we will attempt to commercialize on any innovations that are developed, so as to have the project be as self-sustaining as possible.
Ideally, the goal is to have multiple parts of the project being worked on at the same time. The main determining factor here is the interest this project generates and the number of people who decide to start working on it. To make it as simple as possible to get involved, easy to use documentation should be set up and possibly a 'getting started' physical kit should be made available to purchase that has a prototyping framework made up of the existing design so far. The advantage of this is it would make sure that everyone is working in compatible hardware, although whether it would make practical sense because the system will be constantly evolving, remains to be seen. Reaching out to both elementary and secondary schools and colleges as well as maker spaces should be a high priority.
The approach we take should be in recognition that quantitative analysis and digital tools, while powerful for some applications, do not make sense in others. For example, quantum physics attempts to quantify nearly everything at a fundamental level but many people forget that mathematics itself has inherent limitations in scope and knowability. This results in spending enormous efforts to create systems that use a relatively small quantity of idealized particles without consideration for the messy world around us. We need to define our hypotheses on iteratively refined believes, informed by the qualia of sensory input. Qualia, or "the essence of experienced perceptions", as put by Deepak Chopra, are inherently non-quantitative. As Tarski's undefinability theorem states, 'arithmetical truth cannot be defined in arithmetic'; the definition of a numerical system requires more qualia for each quantity than is expressed by the quantity itself. It is the encapsulation of many numerical systems into abstract key values that enables us to understand and manipulate things that would otherwise be too complex. But it is important to realize that these encapsulations are not quantitative in-and-of-themselves, nor are the applications of the quantitative methodologies. Therefore, we propose trying a high level, macro-scale approach to things, whereby the desired goal is established and then iterative attempts are carried out until what we want is achieved in a closed loop fashion instead of looking at things at a fundamental level and then trying to scale up.
For physical features, start with a pre-built rolling base with motors and steering already included in it, then attach a plug that extends beyond the base and is attached to a battery charger and battery that can run the motors and electronics. The plug should be mounted on a flexible extension with programmable actuation so that it can change its position to account for different locations that the outlet may be at. Using a Raspberry Pi as a controlling system, connect at least one magnetometer, two or more distance detection sensors, and possibly a visual camera. Then, after all the physical parts are in place, program the Raspberry Pi so that the robot can detect power outlets in the environment and plug itself in when it is in need of a charge.
Note: this is not a new idea, other robots have been created that have the ability to self-identify and plug themselves in(See References). There are no widely used commercially available robots to date that employ this method of charging, however. Creating one from scratch enables a deeper understanding of robotic sensing, easing the transition to reproducibility.
One use of this part of the project that could spin out to be a company of its own could be a better Roomba vacuum that actually has storage capacity and can be deployed in large buildings so that the system does not need to return to a dedicated charging base. Really, any autonomous rolling robot that is powered by electric batteries could make use of this concept (or, for that matter, things that require a lot of power to do their main task, but also need to move to different locations, like a really powerful vacuum).
Once the power source has been worked out, then comes the process of converting human made parts into things that can be made in a more autonomously recursive manner. While the majority of this task is the purview of the Metabolism and Growth group and eventually all the groups will need to merge, power storage and retrieval is also an important thing to consider. It may make sense to look into microbial fuel cells for power storage instead of trying to make regular batteries.
Another part of the project needs to be finding and utilizing material building blocks in the environment around us. To achieve this, an automatic and mobile method for detecting different types of materials is necessary, a challenge to be sure. However, using the same electromagnetic range detection sensors that are used to find energy, it may be possible to record the frequencies that are returned in the environment and develop a mapping of certain frequencies to certain types of material. Combining this with visual input and possibly pressure/acceleration to determine density and malleability, it should be possible to figure out the type of material. As most waist is not made up of a single material and there are many different sizes and shapes that are found in trash, there will also need to be a method of chopping up and separating the components. This is unless the robots are small and can reproduce using microplasic in the environment or use small scraps that are only one material. It probably makes sense to start out trying to work on the microplasic scale because at that scale it is much more likely to find things that are all made up of one kind of material.
It may also make sense to have different types of robots doing different tasks in a manner similar to ants or termites. There would be scavenger robots that would go out and track down trash that has the necessary compounds in it. Then these scavenger robots would go back to a "robot queen" that would take the raw material and turn it into usable material that it will then use to 3D print more workers. The eventual goal would be that, if the environment changes, necessitating another queen, or an existing queen gets damaged, any robot could transform into a new queen.
At this iteration, it may be possible to commercialize this trash reconnaissance technology and sell it to towns or fairgrounds so that they do not need to employ humans to do the boring work. Although there are some larger scale plastic sorting technologies out there, already, the technologies developed from this step may be able to be incorporated into trash collecting and sorting at a larger scale or even incorporated into the self-recharging vacuum clearer idea of the first step.
Material processing and Growth
In addition to detecting materials, we also need to make use of them. There are some non-plastic materials that will go into new organism genesis as well. However if we can keep as much of the non-plastic parts made up of organic molecules that are created from living organisms like the byproducts of fungi, algae, or bacteria, that would probably be ideal as it will simplify the process. To remain primarily electronic and digitally compatible with human made electronics it will probably be necessary to use some copper. Getting copper into the system and manipulating it to be useful will be a challenge, but hopefully not an insurmountable one.
Data Processing and storage
We will also face the task of transitioning our silicon based programming into something more self-reproducible. At the most basic level, the "processor" needs to accept input and give the appropriate output so that the robot can move correctly. As neurons do this, it may make sense to start, from an early stage, in using living brain cells. This would also allow close cooperation with the Conscious Communication group.
If we can grow neurons in a dish that is placed on the mobile platform designed by the Power group and then connect them up directly with sensor stimuli we can give the neurons positive stimuli when the robot goes towards the power outlets. We could probably start with cells that are not neuronal (as it is more difficult to grow neurons in a dish) and see whether any cell can function as a data processer.
More advanced programming and data processing, after hardware validation using a Raspberry Pi, can be done on external servers to begin, having the robots only require very basic ADC/DAC and motor/sensor routing. This contributes to the notion that the robots should work as a group, not having individual identity. The servers, like the robots, should be based on decentralized distributed technologies so that when self-reproducible storage and processing are developed, the external processing can start to be done in the robots directly.
There is tremendous commercial potential in this group – being able to have self-expanding data storage that anyone with the robotic setup can harness for their own purposes will be a game changer (and open up 'cloud' storage to more than just AWS/G-Cloud/Azure/Ex. [maybe code name it 'Project Rain'?])
This group is where Mission 2 and 3 come into play. A robot is of little use if it cannot receive human input or communicate output. The eventual goal, however audacious it is, is direct mind to mind and mind to machine telepathy (via quantum entanglement or other methods). At the same time, we need to be practical and base our designs on the reality of the state of technology right now.
Most approaches to the scientific study of consciousness start with something that is perceived as unconscious or something that may be conscious but there is uncertainty as to whether it is. Then there is an attempt to divine data from the study that 'proves' or 'disproves' that the subject in question is conscious. While some studies may show statistically that an action is not purely random chance nor purely deterministic, it does nothing to prove that is conscious. The only way to do this with some level of certainty is for the researcher to share conscious with the subject (or for the subjects and researches to be one and the same).
We have had certain forms of 'telepathy' as long as we have had communication – communication of any form is translating the thoughts of someone else into your own. What we should be aiming for is the cooperative and intentional act of conceiving of the qualia that make up a thought together in real-time.
To tackle this, a diverse range of methods should be attempted, at least until significant headway is made towards one initiative or another. One such initiative could be to split maser beams into two entangled photon particles that then enter the brains of two isolated people whose only method of coordinating the actions they take is by the entanglement of these photons. There is some merit in the basic concept of trying to coordinate the thoughts of two or more people through non-instantaneous communication using EEGs and TMS or other methods of electrical neuromodulation. Surprisingly, this is still a fairly nascent field, given how long the two technologies have been known, but one with much potential.
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