Would artificially created robots that can reproduce and heal themselves be able to evolve? I imagine a planet where an advanced civilization made robot "creatures" and then died out, so would they be able to evolve?
Yes, in fact you can't stop it from evolving given they can reproduce.
If something can reproduce and pass on the instructions to reproduce ,evolution will occur, literally all that is needed is for evolution is reproduction and heredity of the instructions for reproduction. All you can change is how fast it happens and what form it takes. The less the robots programming can change the slower it will evolve. If it has to wait for errors to occur it will change slowly, if it can change its programing on the fly it will evolve quickly although in the latter case the evolution will be different than normal natural selection. So if you want slow evolution give them high fidelity copying of instruction.
In terms of hardware there are features when making copies that better allow for evolution then others:
Absolute perfectly similar copies will suppress evolution.(AKA no mutation)
High error copies are unlikely to successfully create next generation.(AKA high mutation)
Next generation with having a few errors randomly distributed biased away from critical sections are most likely to evolve.( AKA low partial controlled mutation)
I am skipping mental evolution here. Mental evolution is much more complicated. It depends heavily on what definitions are used and there are many more options of what definitions to use. Mental evolution depends on at least: hardware, environment, and the transmit received from the society.
Yes, and quite fast actually
In the field of AI there is a set of algorithms called genetic algorithms:
In computer science and operations research, a genetic algorithm (GA) is a metaheuristic inspired by the process of natural selection that belongs to the larger class of evolutionary algorithms (EA). Genetic algorithms are commonly used to generate high-quality solutions to optimization and search problems by relying on biologically inspired operators such as mutation, crossover and selection. (...)
Problems which appear to be particularly appropriate for solution by genetic algorithms include timetabling and scheduling problems, and many scheduling software packages are based on GAs. GAs have also been applied to engineering. Genetic algorithms are often applied as an approach to solve global optimization problems.
These algorithms can find solutions for a lot of problems in ways that amaze us humans. They can also ensure continuous adaptation to a dynamic environment.
If the problem the robots are trying to sove is survival, they will be constantly checking what it is in them that helps them thrive - each trait gets treated as a gene in the blueprints for the next batch of robots. I.e.: they find out statistically that tall robots thrive better in environment A, but worse in environment B. Environment A gets taller robots sent there, whereas environment B gets shorter ones.
They can fine tune their own ratio of mutation and recombination to achieve ever greater success in whatever enviroment they happen to conquer. Since robots are built rather than born, this is like industrial eugenics for them.
They could evolve, but it would be artificial.
Evolution happens because you only have a single copy of each DNA molecule in the sperm and the egg. Faults can creep in, and there's no simple way of error checking.
Computers have RAID arrays. where they store key information in redundant drives. As such, they don't change over future generations. They could store the personality modules and plans for each robot in an extremely low error arrangement.
They could artificially make themselves evolve. Perhaps they've found that the original designs for their bodies are extremely restrictive outside the intended environment, and so they've done evolutionary changes to their design to try to adapt to new environments and niches.
Yes, with qualifications.
In order to evolve, your robots must exhibit the following characteristics:
Intelligence. They don't have to be brilliant, mind you; they just need to be capable of adapting to changing situations. As such, dumb assembly-line robots will not evolve.
The ability to modify themselves. Being able to think of useful adaptations is useless if they can't affect changes upon themselves.
A reason to evolve. Evolution doesn't happen for literally no reason, after all. This will present a bit a problem; the robots can repair themselves, so the only reason for them to change would be a catastrophe which irretrievably breaks them out of their routine.
This answer assumes the robots are capable of modifying their bodies in a way or another, even if it takes several generations.
Basically, to achieve something close to "evolution" at least in a natural sense, your robot needs to be in many ways like a very instinct-based animal (aka it can basically survive on its own from birth, relying very little on actual learning and much more on basic instincts or "programming") in several ways at first:
Essentially, programming is to your robot what DNA is to the animal I've described: it dictates everything from how it repairs damage it sustains to how it behaves to how it fabricates the next generations.
If your robots' programming is fail-proof and never changes (which apparently, as some seem to think, is necessarily impossible and a thing that should never be Done in any setting under any circumstances), there can be no evolution, every new robot will be exactly like the older ones and every robot will do the same thing in the same way under the same circumstances.
However, if there can be bugs in the coding, particularly when writing the coding on the newer generations, we start to have a glimpse at a potential "natural selection". Maybe the error does nothing, maybe it makes them better at not sustaining critical damage and thus being unable to create more copies, maybe it only makes it a bit jittery in certain circumstances, changing nothing otherwise (this is natural evolution, where changes undergone by a generation aren't necessarily good or bad, but they stack into changes that helps the thing perform better, be it by being better at surviving or at finding a mate,although in your case sexual selection doesn't seem to be at play).
If however your robots can willingly change their own coding to adapt to a certain problem, then machine-like evolution (as in newer generations are by default better than the older ones) can certainly be achieved, because they're constantly attempting to improve themselves (this is fairly similar to the RNA editing we see in cephalopods, except that, depending on Howe exactly this code rewriting works, the changes might be more long lasting).
So summing up, if your robot can have its programming changed, be it willingly or through bugs, without needing someone to actively tampering with them, evolution to some degree (be it in the natural or in the mechanical sense) is possible.
The final outcome most certainly will change drastically depending on how this evolution occurs though. Mechanically evolved robots probably will be better in every way compared to older generations within the natural constraints of their technology. You can and should expect them to be improved versions of their predecessors, since that's the goal of mechanical evolution.
However, if the evolution happens through bugs and errors in programming piling up, you should expect them to be simply more adapted to the environment they find themselves in than previous generations. Natural evolution doesn't work in the sense of improvement, but simply on the concept of what changes make the creature better at making more copies of itself and surviving long enough to achieve that goal (evolution doesn't necessarily make a moth capable of karate chopping its predators to survive, but it might simply result in it looking like a piece of bird poop to deceive said predators, because that's what allowed it to survive better).
What does "reproduce" even mean?
Robots constructing robots (internally or externally)
External construction basically means the robots are made in a factory.
Of course you can also build parts to upgrade the factory, or to make another factory, from within a factory. The factory itself may or may not be intelligent.
In this case they'd be able to make as many or as few improvements from one "generation" to the next as you wish. Any new discoveries could be incorporated into any new robots built, but you could also limit their ability to come up with new discoveries/improvements based on their programming. Such a limit would suggest that they're not truly intelligent; although, on the other hand, even humans can be very much stuck in their ways across many generations, and they have the benefit of actual evolution, whereas robots may just be stuck making exact copies of the same robot indefinitely.
This would follow the colloquial definition of "evolve", rather than the biological one.
Internal construction means one robot making a copy of themselves (or something similar) from within their own body.
How would a robot actually "grow" to reach the size of their "parent" (since the "child" would necessarily have to be smaller to fit within the "parent")? Perhaps they could gather the resources required and have the mechanisms to build any missing parts after birth. Or perhaps they're simply physically compressed from their natural state or the "parent" significantly expands during pregnancy (much like humans).
Although, overall, this seems quite inefficient. It would generally be much better to just have a factory somewhere rather than having a whole lot of robots carry around the parts to construct a copy of themselves at all times. On the other hand, you could have these parts be removable (in which case it probably needn't be part of them at all, and we're largely back to a factory), or you could have only a small subset of "female" robots capable of giving birth, who will then essentially serve as the factories mentioned above (although having an actual factory is probably still much more efficient).
For internal construction "evolution" may be slightly slower than for external construction (you probably wouldn't be able to double the size of a robot within 1 generation, nor create a part or structure that your mechanisms can't physically build). But they'd still be able to change almost everything about themselves within 1 or 2 generations, as long as their parts allows for some programming in terms of how to construct their "offspring" (otherwise you could, again, be left with them making exact copies of themselves indefinitely).
Biological reproduction, i.e. cyborgs
If the "robots" are actually cyborgs, i.e. they have some robotic parts and some biological parts, they may be able to biologically reproduce.
Their biological parts would probably roughly evolve like any animal, i.e. fairly slowly due to mutations. Their robotic parts would need to be constructed at some point during the pregnancy, and this can be improved as much or as little as you want (following from the above). I expect the most reasonable option would be to probably have this mostly take place in a lab or factory (much like external construction, except that it would use the actual DNA and whatnot).
Of course with gene editing, you could make a whole lot of changes to their biological parts from one generation to the next.
Why reproduce? Just upgrade!
While there are some common themes in fiction of robots becoming outdated and being replaced by better robots, this isn't the only way to end up with better robots.
You could also have robots with removable parts, who simply construct some new part (in a factory, probably) and replace whichever of their existing parts they want to replace.
You could go one step further and create an entirely new body and just move the "brain" onto the new body.
As for upgrading the "brain": they may have memory or processing power modules, and it can be realistic to have them be able to increase, upgrade or replace these without affecting their personality (as long as you don't remove any memories, that is). They may also have some sort of personality module, which may be more limited in terms of what you can actually improve there, while maintaining their personality. You could also back up the whole thing to mitigate any potential damage, so they can simply restore themselves. Depending on how all of this works, e.g. if it's a neural network, these parts may all be one and the same, or they may be entirely distinct (like a conventional computer with RAM, a CPU, etc.), which could make it easier or more difficult to make adjustments within the same robot.
If you want to go this route, you can also, if you want, have robots refrain from making improvements in new robots built that they can't apply to themselves. They may realise doing so could eventually lead to their own downfall, as there would be less and less of a need to cater to their old parts, and they would be less and less capable of keeping up with the new robots.
If they can upgrade themselves, this would likely mean that they would largely stop reproducing at some point (as long as they aren't expanding across their planet or the universe).
It's Life Jim But Not As You Know It.
Forget robots. Robots are just machines. They can be pulled apart and put back together. It's the programming that evolves.
The whole point of AI is that it can learn and adapt. It can then apply changes that work to every robot. Need to run faster? Every bot gets faster legs.
Look at Skynet in the Terminator movies. One learning AI building better and better terminators. In the books Skynet starts with running people over with self drive cars. It then builds the early terminators and then infiltrators with rubber skin then ones with real skin and finally shape shifting ones made of liquid metal. It's evolving but not as you know it.
Adaptive Repair/Construction behaviour
If your robots are capable of adapting the design of new robots to make use of local materials (this spark plug will do the same job as this other component with minor modifications) then they will tend to become quite diverse as they repair themselves or find themselves lacking raw materials when reproducing themselves.
This is a natural extension of a Field-Repair ability that would be highly useful for robots intended to operate away from ideal repair-facilities for extended periods.
Some of these ad-hoc modifications to the design may actually be more efficient than the base design, or be more robust in the given scenarios the robots find themselves in, and if the robots are capable of recognising this, they may formally adopt the change and accept whatever trade-off that brings them. After all, if having half a microwave oven hanging out of your power core is more power-efficient than using your base-design, then you'll probably benefit more from having the oven on day one than clunking along for a few hundred days before maintenance requirements cause you to implement the change anyway.
Short answer yes, and very, very quickly, depending on how advanced they are.
If you have an artificial creature that can reproduce itself, especially if it has human level intelligence, it can create new selves to whatever liking it desires.
The concept of self reproducing machines is known as Von Neumann machines, and such machines could easily "evolve" - yet it would bear little resemblance to natural selection. It would not be a random process at all, unless the intelligence of such creatures was very unadvanced.
If you desire something resembling more traditional ideas of evolution, the machines could be extremely advanced to the point that modifying themselves is difficult, or they are lower intelligence - or lacking in the specific knowledge needed to intervene in how new selves are made.
Your question is only about whether it is possible or not, but it will not make sense without planning out how.
Can they evolve or not, would have an easy answer. Yes they can and will evolve.
But what you might find harder to explain would be, how exactly would they do it?
And for that, all you have to assume is that their whole genetic "code" is stored inside some drives. Which you can describe as however you want to as it would make sense to show them as some advanced technology.
Next, you would need to dive deeper into how they reproduce. Maybe in order to reproduce, they take a new drive and then they both connect their own drives together and the third drive in order to copy the data from those two drives to the third. But in doing so they have to expose off the drives to the outside.
And then again maybe, their planet has a lot of radiations on it and also cosmic rays. To induce random error all around the code. This does not affect the adult robots that much, because they have protection on themselves. But the adult robots don't have to be perfect against the radiation. They can still be somewhat affected by it, Just like mutations in adult humans. Radiations would also explain how the species that made them died off.
And for the hardware, it would make sense if the instructions to construct their hardware were present inside their drives.
Then, all you would need in order to complete the process of evolution would be some local reproduction factories? That would make the new offspring using the instructions from the drive.
This brings the robot evolution as close to human evolution as possible. Easier to implement and easier to digest.
But the timescale depends on the robot architecture.
It doesn't matter how error-checking & redundant your programming & hardware is, there's always (some ridiculously implausible) simultaneous set of random errors (quantum tunneling/cosmic rays/etc) that can bypass all the error checking & redundancy & automatic shutdowns & manage to create a viable mutant.
So yes, anything (and I mean anything) that reproduces can evolve, but I wouldn't be surprised if even with today's technology it wouldn't be possible to make such a digital architecture that it'd take longer than the lifetime of the universe before you could expect such a "miracle fault" to occur & produce a viable mutated offspring.
However, this is disadvantageous in a competitive environment. Excessive error checking is time- & energy-demanding & does not lend itself to an efficient organism, artificial or otherwise. Of course, the benefits of being able to evolve on relatively fast timescales are apparent; otherwise you will not be able to adapt as a population to a changing environment. In organic organisms, the amount of error checking it itself an evolved trait--too little, and the organism cannot compete as efficiently; too much, and deleterious mutations wrack the organism.
So again, yes, but the timescale is up to the designer (until enough mutating generations pass & the evolution rate itself becomes an evolved trait).
Sure. Especially if they're self-replicating. Others have covered macroscopic versions, so I'll cover the microscopic.
If you have self-replicating nanobots, then so long as they don't have an existing biosphere to compete with, they'll happily spread over the entire planet providing a starting point for a whole new biosphere to evolve from.
They'll make errors when replicating, and while the designers will have included error-correction codes, you can only design in so much error correction into your microscopic robot. Eventually you'll get a few where the software gets garbled enough that something gets past the code (or disables it), and if those have differences in how likely they are to replicate, then you've got evolution in action.
Now, note I said before "so long as they don't have an existing biosphere to compete with". If your nanobots get out on a planet that already has a biosphere, they're unlikely to go very far. They're basically artificial microorganisms and the biosphere consists in large part of microorganisms that have been competing with each other for billions of years. The nanobots won't have any optimisations for that, and even if they did have some designed in, the existing biosphere will have far more variety in its own methods of competition. The nanobots will either get eaten, get out-competed for resources, or at best become just another species in the ecosystem.
If you want a nanobot-descended ecosystem, it has to get its start on a lifeless planet. Even then, the old grey-goo trope of turning the whole planet into nanobots won't happen, and definitely not quickly. Thermodynamics limits how fast they can operate. They can only withstand so much heat and still work, and that'll limit how far down they can go, assuming they can even find what materials they need.
So, overall, self-replicating nanobots undergoing subsequent evolution could be how life on a given planet got started. Could leave explorers from a more Earth-like origin scratching their heads after putting some samples under a microscope.