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Artificial Life

Summer 1998, Vol. 4, No. 3, Pages 237-257
(doi: 10.1162/106454698568576)
© 1998 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Fifty Years of Research on Self-Replication: An Overview
Article PDF (196.75 KB)

The study of artificial self-replicating structures or machines has been taking place now for almost half a century. My goal in this article is to present an overview of research carried out in the domain of self-replication over the past 50 years, starting from von Neumann's work in the late 1940s and continuing to the most recent research efforts. I shall concentrate on computational models, that is, ones that have been studied from a computer science point of view, be it theoretical or experimental. The systems are divided into four major classes, according to the model on which they are based: cellular automata, computer programs, strings (or strands), or an altogether different approach. With the advent of new materials, such as synthetic molecules and nanomachines, it is quite possible that we shall see this somewhat theoretical domain of study producing practical, real-world applications.