Ecological machines

Published on 2024-01-27

Ecological machines are systems we make, inspired by the natural world.

Ecological machines have a particular nature. They have many little components called "cells" that follow simple rules. These components interact with one another to create emergent properties.

Ecological machines are brought into existence by the will of a creator, who specifies what its cells' rules are. In other words, the creator specifies the initial conditions of the universe in which the machine operates, and then allows it to progress towards its natural outcome.

Ecological machines may be created to accomplish a particular task, however, any task being performed must be an emergent property of the nature of its cells.

Ecological machines have finite resources. Resources are recycled within the machine and cells must adapt to the dynamic constraints of the universe to be productive.

Ecological machines act on a space. This space, as all things are, is limited. Travelling sufficiently far in a particular direction in this space will return you to where you started.

Cells interact with each other by acting on the space they share.

In a complex ecological machine, everything is connected. Acting on any one cell may have ramifications for the whole system.

A sufficiently complex ecological machine may be indistinguishable from an agent with free will. Such a system has its own unique needs along a number of axes that need to be considered in any interaction. Interacting with such a system may not be inherently extractive, as having your needs met by the machine in turn requires meeting the machine's needs.

While one may use an ecological machine to reproduce hierarchical structures, ecological machines are nonhierarchical in nature. They are designed to implement a horizontal network of relationships that may serve any number of functions, as opposed to receiving commands to accomplish a particular task.

More technically, an ecological machine might be thought of as a fusion of cellular automata and a Turing machine, where the nature of a particular cell is described by a limited sequence of instructions executed by a Turing machine, repeated once every generation.

I believe that a well-implemented ecological machine would lend itself better to creating more equitable systems than traditional models of computing.

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