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Actually, this is pretty interesting. If flawed.

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Boffins claim to have produced the first computer that is capable of producing other robots from first principles. Two computer scientists from Brandeis University in Massachusettes connected an intelligent design computer to a fully automated build machine and then gave it the task of making a robot that can move along the floor as fast as possible.

The computer went through thousands of iterations before it produced any movement. Then it knocked up a few prototypes - which the scientists had to put motors into themselves. And, er, that's it.

To be fair to them, both scientists have made a point of stressing "there are many, many further steps before this technology could become dangerous", and while what has happened is no where near the implied suggestions that robots can start reproducing themselves, it makes for interesting thinking. It is also a nice change from the fantastical claims of Professor Kevin Warwick.

Let's dissect it while we're here. The computer designed something to give movement. Fair enough. But how much focused information was fed into it by the scientists? Probably quite a lot. Especially when you consider that the scientists had to put the motors in themselves - how did the computer know how big the motor was and what it would do, how much power it would give? Know what I mean?

The other thing is that there is no mention of a feedback loop i.e. the computer produced this (tiny) robot to move but then had no way to test it. Without this - utterly essential - loop, there is no knowledge build-up and hence the process is blind and next to useless.

If they could produce this feedback - which would include the need for sight, careful handling and a far higher level of intelligence - then that's a step and a good story. But what we actually have at the end of a day is a software connection between two advanced pieces of man-made machinery.

So what we have is mostly guff, but then it does make the possibility of machines designing and build improvements on themselves (at a faster speed than humans) just that little bit more tangible. ®

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