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Self-replicating machines are a category of autonomous robot that can make copies or reproduce themselves autonomously with help of raw materials from the existing environment. The self-replicating machine is based on the concept of self-replication as found in the nature. Further development of the self-replicating machine concept is considered a critical part of many future plans, like the mining of asteroid belts and moons for minerals and ores.
The concept of self-replicating machines has been examined and popularized by Homer Jacobsen, Freeman Dyson and John von Neumann, who worked on the self-replicating machine "universal constructor" that operated in a cellular automata environment. In fact, John von Neumann was the first to study the idea, and replicators also have been called "von Neumann machines." The concept relies on traditional automation as well as large-scale technology. Some envision them as robots or nanobots that can self-replicate and scavenge the required materials to copy themselves.
Self-replicating machines have a wide range of applications, especially in the field of space exploration. One of the much-discussed applications of self-replicating machines comes in exploration of vast distances in space at a minimal cost. Self-replicating machines can be used as a potential approach for commercializing space, like developing orbital solar arrays. It can also be used in terraforming planets as well as for environmental cleanup.
There are, however, risks that need to be addressed for self-replicating machines. Some of the biggest concerns associated with the concept include: