Section 0.0 - Preface

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What is this book about?

 Human-defined systems have characteristics of interest, such as size, monetary value, or output rate. A change in these parameters in a desired direction is considered an improvement. Self-improvement is when the change is produced by internal action of the system. Self-improvement has occurred throughout history in many ways, such the as evolution of life, or the development of civilization.

 In this book we consider self-improvement generally, and a particular type of self-improving production system called a Seed Factory. It is intentionally designed for self-improvement by a recursive process. Part of the factory's capacity is used to make more or better equipment for the factory itself. The rest makes useful end products, like any other factory. The added equipment increases the ability to further expand. Since output is proportional to how much equipment you have, total capacity can grow exponentially. The fraction used for self-improvement can vary over time, according to whatever goals the factory operators choose.

 There are many potential uses for such self-improving systems. We will present several examples in the later sections of this book. We also incorporate self-improvement processes and seed factories into a companion book on Space Systems

Differences from conventional factories

 Conventional factories typically produce a fixed range of products, at a fixed rate, for an extended time. Factory improvements are usually paid for from sales of current products, and are usually provided from outside sources. Seed factories can make improvements this way, but they also have another option: the range of products they can make, and the rate at which they can produce them, can vary continuously over time, and much of the improvement can come from internal sources.

 The "seed" is a starter set of equipment. It can be used to improve the factory in any or all of the following ways:

  • Replication - making copies of its own parts so as to eventually copy an entire machine, or the entire factory.
  • Diversification - making parts for new types of equipment, expanding the range of possible outputs.
  • Scaling - making parts for larger (or smaller) size equipment than the starter set.
  • Upgrades - adding accessories or extensions to, or better versions of existing parts and equipment.

 Technology is not yet at a point where complex systems can function entirely without people. So the kind of self-improving systems and growing factories we will talk about will inherently include people. This includes designers, equipment operators, and other skills. People can improve too, gaining new skills and added experience. That kind of self-improvement can also be planned for and incorporated into the growth process.

Seed factory features

 Seed factories, and the improved factories they grow to become, can incorporate several useful features:

  • They can be designed as integrated systems. This would bring together multiple production steps from raw materials and energy to finished items. Each section of the factory can produce resources needed by other sections, making it more self-sustaining as the factory grows. Integrated processes can also take waste outputs from one step, and use them as inputs for another.
  • The factory layout can be localized (all in one place), distributed (sections in multiple places) with coordinated operation, or some mix of the two. This allows more options in where to locate the parts of the system and how it grows. It also gives the people involved more choice in where they work.
  • The factory may start at one level of technology, such as manual tools and equipment, but upgrade over time to take advantage of modern information technology, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. This allows starting at low cost and skill levels, while the final integrated version with modern technologies would be highly efficient.

 As such factories expand, they can produce a growing variety of products for end users. As they diversify. they can also make an increasing percentage of parts for their own growth. The small size and relative simplicity of the starter set makes it low cost, while the much larger capacity it evolves to can produce a high income. Combined with the low operating cost from integrated processes and automation, this type of system could be very desirable on an economic basis.

 Although it is a new way to organize production, Seed Factories build on past experience in fields like Industrial Technology and Engineering. This book is part of a project to develop the first working Seed Factory prototypes, so that these new ideas can be tested in actual use.