I'm interested in self replicating artificial life (with many agents), so after reviewing the literature with the excellent Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines I started looking for software implementations. I understand that the field is still in the early stages and mainly academic, but the status of artificial life software looks rather poor in 2019.

On wikipedia there is this list of software simulators. Going trough the list only ApeSDK, Avida, DigiHive, DOSE, Polyword have been updated in 2019. I did not find a public repo for Biogenesis. ApeSDK, DigiHive and DOSE are single author programs.

All in all I don't see a single very active project with a large community around (I would be happy to have missed something). And this is more surprising considering the big momentum of AI and the proliferation of many ready to use AI tools and libraries.

Why is the status artificial life software so under-developed, when this field looks promising both from a commercial (see manufacturing, mining or space exploration applications) and academic (ecology, biology, human brain and more) perspective? Did the field underdelivered on expectations in past years and got less funding? Did the field hit a theoretical or computational roadblock?

  • $\begingroup$ Why (or how) does artificial like look promising from a commercial point of view? $\endgroup$ – nbro Nov 27 '19 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ It is one of the few ways in which one can sustain a consistent space mining supply chain. Doing the same with individually built instruments would be too expensive and time consuming, while with artificial life you could drop a single probe on a planet to start a mining facility. $\endgroup$ – Rexcirus Nov 27 '19 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ You say "It is one of the few ways in which one can sustain a consistent space mining supply chain.", according to whom? Also, what do you mean by "consistent space mining supply chain"? $\endgroup$ – nbro Nov 27 '19 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Here you can find many references: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-replicating_machine Plenty of studies have been funded by NASA. By supply chain I mean mining, manufacturing, transportation, refueling and other activities needed to support industrial processes. $\endgroup$ – Rexcirus Nov 27 '19 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ By consistent I mean "of relevant size", so not just few probes going around, but a full industrial scale process, in order to serve space tourism and colonization. $\endgroup$ – Rexcirus Nov 27 '19 at 23:01

Self-replicating machines and nanorobotics are basically the realization of a nanofactory. Creating such a system is more complicated then controlling a single robot. The reason is, that a nanofactory contains of many different challenges at the same time, it's a combination of pick&place problems, navigation tasks, grasping challenge, football playing robot, vision algorithm and so on.

Current robotics experts are struggling in solving one of these problems. A task like “pick&place a object with a 3dof robot” is for many programmers and robotics researchers beyond their capabilities. As a result the more demanding problem of controlling a robot swarm who is doing a variety of tasks will fail for sure.

What the mentioned AI life software like Avida can provide is a multi-agent simulation. The environment looks similar to a real time strategy game and with a bit of programming it's possible to create an AI software which controls all of them at the same time. In the easiest case, a random generator determines the next action for each robot but this won't allow the swarm to solve more complicated tasks and collect a higher score within the simulation.


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