Title: Early visions of machines that can reproduce and evolve, and their relevance today
Abstract: This will be a somewhat unusual IPAB seminar, more focused on historical developments rather than current technical issues. I will survey the early history of thought about the idea of machines, AI and robots that can reproduce and evolve. Although these might seem like very modern concepts, I show that people were thinking about them as far back as the mid-1600s and that the discussion gathered pace in the 1800s following the British Industrial Revolution and the publication of Darwin's On The Origin of Species. The 1860s and 1870s saw multiple authors explicitly discuss the possibility of self-reproducing machines that could evolve to become more sophisticated and intelligent over time. In this talk I will concentrate on the development of the idea of self-reproducing and evolving machines from the 1800s up to the 1960s (from which point the subsequent history is better known). Along the way, I’ll highlight contributions ranging from literary and pulp sci-fi authors to scientists and engineers. I will end by discussing the relevance of these early ideas to contemporary research in, and concerns about, the development of artificial life. The talk is based upon my book "Rise of the Self-Replicators: Early Visions of Machines, AI and Robots That Can Reproduce and Evolve", published by Springer last year.