A Spacecraft that can Think for Itself

  • Paul Gilster


If you can imagine machines that evolve, you will be right at home in Bruce Sterling’s short story “Taklamakan.” The tale tells of two NAFTA agents in a world of trade wars who are sent to examine what appears to be a site for subterranean nuclear experiments in the remote desert of northwestern China. Pushing into the complex, they wind up inside enormous “generation ships” that were never launched, starships now abandoned after experiments on their occupants—or perhaps a bizarre kind of ethnic cleansing—have run their course. The horrific glimpse of life inside these vessels, where some of the occupants really believe they are on their way to the stars and some know better, is matched by the goings-on in the slime at the bottom of the pits that surround the ships. There, new generations of machinery are reproducing in “...tidepools of mechanical self-assemblage,” modifying themselves through a kind of genetic evolution, and putting to work ideas they have acquired by studying the equipment the NAFTA agents have accidentally dropped into the primordial stew.


Tape Recorder Deep Space Generation Ship Voyager Spacecraft Remote Agent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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    “one of its ropy tentacles”—“Taklamakan,” which won Sterling a Hugo Award in 1999 was originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (October/November 1998).Google Scholar
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    “gray goo.”—Joy’s warnings appear in the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine in the article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” The Drexler reference is to his book The Engines of Creation (New York: Doubleday, 1986). The section called “Dangers and Hopes” is particularly insightful.Google Scholar
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    “you are moving toward genuine autonomy.”—The work of Stoica, Keymeulen, and Zebulum is deftly explained in Anil Ananthaswamy’s article “Space Babies,” which ran in New Scientist 169, issue 2276 (February 3, 2001), p. 26.Google Scholar
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    “This has the potential to largely enhance the capabilities of future space systems.” —Adrian Stoica, “Evolvable Hardware: From On-Chip Circuit Synthesis to Evolvable Space Systems,” in Proceedings of the 3oth IEEE International Symposium on Multiple-Valued Logic, May 23–25, 2000.Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

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  • Paul Gilster

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