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One of the First Fictional Depictions of Autonomous Machine Self-Replication (November 1955)


In November 1955 science fiction writer Philip K. Dick published a short story entitled “Autofac” in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, pp. 70-95. The story described a nationwide system of automated factories that produced food, consumer goods, and “miniature replicas” of more factories. Possibly influenced by John von Neumann's theory of self-reproducing automata (1948), this was one of the first descriptions of autonomous machine self-replication to appear in science fiction. Dick’s story ended with the almost destroyed factory shooting out a torrent of metal seeds that germinated into miniature factories. In December 2013, when I wrote this entry, these metal seeds might be viewed as self-replicating nanorobots.