I am wondering how possible (and also, how it might work) something like nanobots would be. The technology level definitely would be higher than it is currently, to the point of pocket universe technology, some creatures even having that naturally grow.

A full list of things they would do/be capable of/etc: (tiered list, most important things at the top, least important at the bottom

  • Evolve, somehow.
  • Reproduce.
  • In many places, operate in a rather high radiation environment.
  • Work in low-density atmosphere.
  • Feed off of electrical power, or atleast some would as it would be abundant.
  • Some would feed off of other, less fortunate, nanobots.
  • Be constraucted mainly from inorganic materials (metals, crystals, possibly plastics, etc)

I could make up answers to how all those things would work, but I don't feel like doing that and end up having flat out wrong answers, when they might be able to atleast be a bit correct (or even mostly correct).

Anyway, as said before, hopefully this question isn't too vague, or crappy, but nonetheless, thank-you for taking your time to read this and (hopefully) answering!

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    $\begingroup$ Are you thinking "mechanical" as in clockwork, or are you thinking "mechanical" as in "not made from organic material?" $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 3:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ See Hogan's "Code of the Lifemaker" for a take on this. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ Define "life". youtube.com/watch?v=QOCaacO8wus $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ So, after a bit of shenanigans, I can now answer some of these miniquestions: 1: I mean made from non-organic material. 2: I will see what I can do. 3: I define it as the being would be able to make educated choices, on its own, and likely be 'social' diversity within a group of said beings. $\endgroup$
    – MCCG
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ For some reason I can't get the "Replicators" from Stargate out of my mind while looking at this question. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:10

5 Answers 5


Our current scientific knowledge does not offer much detail in how unliving matter of any kind becomes alive. Logically, we know that once upon a time, when the universe contained only unliving matter, something happened and life became real. Since then, the only method we have for making more life, involves building it out of living components from currently living things.

We only know how to make living matter into unliving matter; not the other way around. So cannot yet say that our science understands life as it understands so many facets of our universe.

That being said, we are currently unqualified to say whether the mysterious aspect of existence called life can be invested upon mechanical devices. There is no reason to believe that it cannot, but there is also no proof that it can.


I think that if such a 'life' came from a spaceship, it would be possible that they were previously Ship AI, robots designed to maintain and repair the ship. Part of that task would probably be the maintenance and repair of other ship AIs, which is what would probably keep them going, and would prompt them to logically stick together, and allocate tasks.

So, how would they 'evolve'? Well, a suggestion would be that they realized what a big task repairing such a terribly damaged ship would be, and set about producing more of themselves to aid in such an impossible undertaking. In doing so, they enhance and upgrade with every iteration, each generation becoming smoother, more intelligent, more efficient than the last. Not exactly the same as real evolution, but close enough, and much faster.

I think this seems possible, given enough technological progress. We already have some robots, and a precedent for code that rewrites itself. It doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to imagine all of it coming together to create 'life' (or the illusion of it, perhaps).

  • $\begingroup$ On a technical note, the article you reference regarding reflection is about a program being able to understand how it is structured, but it says nothing about its ability to write itself. $\endgroup$
    – Neil
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 13:20

Ship AI (mentioned by Feaurie) is a popular topic in science fiction: Culture books by Ian Banks and Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie. In both books AIs coexist with humans. In the first source they are fully self-sufficient and actually rule the humans though not all of them understand it. In the second source they are self-sufficient but hard coded to fulfill orders of the emperor and show humans that humans are superior and that they need a capitan. In both sources they have avatars (human bodies) that they fully control. So with avatars and other drones they can repair themselves and build themselves in shipyards. They improve by means of technological progress. In the first source conducted by ship AIs and in the second by humans. In the Culture books they generally do not die and ships from the beginning of human space exploration exist. In Imperial Radch they can get mad and die after being hunted by other ships or a suicide. In Culture they live to make humans life better and to help minor cultures live better and peacefully. In Radch they serve the emperor.

Even now spaceships are one of the most intelligent pieces of our technology. They need to make decisions in microseconds (landing of SpaceX) or make decisions when it takes too much time for a signal to go to earth and back or there is no signal, like Mars rovers.

And like discussed here on worldbuilding space combat will most likely be fully automated even with current technology.

  1. https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/5150/realistic-space-battle-how-it-could-looke-like-no-hollywood-version-or-videoga
  2. Very Close Quarters Combat in space

Your question gave me this weird idea of the possibility that nano-bots could eventually be used to create an entire living animal. If you imagine the microbiological components in an animal cell, they each have a purpose that they've attained through evolution. I guess it would theoretically be possible to program nanobots to do similar tasks. If you could find some medium for the cytoplasm you could theoretically build a metallic organism ground-up!

  • $\begingroup$ I quite like that idea. Perhaps some kind of silicon could be used for an inorganic Cytoplasm? $\endgroup$
    – MCCG
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ If you mean Silicone then in fact it might make a great cytoplasm because it has many different uses and could be utilised well by the nanobots. It's also hyrdophobic, electric resistant and I'm guessing the right consistency (I've never actually handled it myself). Some kind of oil might also be good. $\endgroup$
    – Varrick
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ After looking into it, I guess I meant Silicone, as it seems silicon likes to get dense when it comes into contact with Oxygen (though in my scenario there wouldn't be much Oxygen), and silicone seems to stay in liquid form... wherever. $\endgroup$
    – MCCG
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:44

All you really need for something to be considered alive is the ability to self-replicate. That's really the only definition anyone has that wouldn't immediately preclude non-organic life so I think it's good enough for our purposes. As to how nanobots could do it, one could imagine a nanobot or a group of them piecing together more identical nanobots molecule by molecule. As soon as your nanobots can reproduce themselves they will begin to evolve. Evolution requires 3 things: heritability, variation, and selection. Since your nanobots create copies of themselves, you have heritability. As long as your nanobots aren't 100% perfect in their reproductions you will get "mutations" in the progeny and will have therefore have variability. These variations could then effect the nanobots capabilities. Maybe one variant is better at extracting platinum from rocks or harvesting piezoelectricity from crystals. This will then result in selection as some variants will be able to produce more copies of themselves than others. So just by being capable of reproduction your nanobots will likely evolve.

The rest of your questions are all about specific aspects of the nanobot's capabilities and while all of the points seem plausible to me nanobots themselves are currently complete science fiction so speculating about what they could or could not do and how is beyond me.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Expanding on that some, if there was any (noticeable) threats to a nanobot, variations that let them reproduce more efficiently and/or to be resistant to said threat, would also arise in time, and nanobots who couldn't reproduce enough would have their traits 'die out'. $\endgroup$
    – MCCG
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 5:42

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