For this week’s episode, I sat down with Dr. Alex Ellery, a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University – which happens to be my alma mater (Go Ravens!) Dr. Ellery has written extensively about a subject that is near and dear to the heart of SETI researchers – Von Neumann Probes! For those unfamiliar, the concept is named in honor of famed scientist and engineer John Von Neumann (1903-1957).

In a series of lectures and his posthumously-published book, Theory of Self Reproducing Automata, he described machines that could harvest raw materials and produce exact copies of themselves. Over time, this notion has merged with ideas like nanotechnology and additive manufacturing (3-D printing) to become an idea for space exploration. And as SETI reminds us, if we can think of it, someone else has likely created it already.

Since the 1970s, Von Neumann probes have become a focal point in the ongoing debate about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (aka. the Fermi Paradox). The argument goes like this: if an advanced civilization were out there, we’d see evidence of self-replicating probes by now. This argument has led to all kinds of speculation and theories, and you can bet that Ellery and I got into them with gusto! Follow the links below to have a listen!

Where to Listen:

2 thoughts on “Episode Twenty-Three of Stories from Space is now Live!

  1. I lean more toward the Carl Sagan side of the argument. Would advanced alien civilizations use universal constructing robots? I think they’d probably try it, and if the technology works as expected, I think they would use it extensively; but it’s also plausible that the technology might not work out, for one reason or another. We don’t know yet.

    1. Me too. I find that any “would have/should have” arguments regarding extraterrestrial intelligence to be very presumptive. We are talking about life that something we know nothing about, that evolved under entirely different circumstances. Sure, we can assume things, but we can say nothing definitively.

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