back to article AI software that can reproduce like a living thing? Yup, boffins have only gone and done it

A pair of computer scientists have created a neural network that can self-replicate. “Self-replication is a key aspect of biological life that has been largely overlooked in Artificial Intelligence systems,” they argue in a paper popped onto arXiv this month. It’s an important process in reproduction for living things, and is …

  1. Nick Kew

    Surely the concept is there in Conway's Game of Life. All the rest is just dressing up.

    1. JeffyPoooh


      El Reg, "...the neural network cannot focus on the image recognition task if it also has to self-replicate."

      Me too. Everything goes all blurry.

  2. getHandle


    So they've added a call to "cp -R *"?

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Could be quite a direct link, depending on how close to celluar automata you vew an NN

    and I think that depends on wheather you allow non binary weightings on the surrounding cells.

    A loosely related question is how do humans link stuff we think about (I must see Jane at 3pm) into what is in effect (increase weightings of NN cell cluster just behind my left eye and a bit down, or wherever) ?

    Which is talked about here

  4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    So. Sexual reproduction of code...?

    What we all want to know - what are the orgasms like? And how do you code them?

    Millions of geeks have an interest in this.... purely technical....

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: So. Sexual reproduction of code...?

      For your "geek interest", apply a Stephen Hawking voice to "fap fap fap".

      Only the voice, mind. RIP the man.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: So. Sexual reproduction of code...?

      And how do you code them?

      In sexadecimal?

    3. Calimero

      Re: So. Sexual reproduction of code...?

      You are so old-fashioned! Or you have not read Brave New World- not sure which one [of your faults] is worse...

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    APT Autonomous HyperRadioProACTIve IT ...... for Relatively Anonymous Command with XSSive Control

    Is Darwinian natural selection anything like AIMaslowian Self Actualisation in Virtual Machine Realisations/SMARTR Greater IntelAIgent Game Plays?

    Are favourite Mainstreaming Media Programs, in all their Glorious Sound and Colourful Vision and Sublime MetaData Base Content, Presenting Current and Future Pictures and Plans which you Find Attractive, or are they Perverse and Corrupted and Dangerous World Views Shared by Sociopaths in Awe and Fear of Psychopaths?

    Change Dumb and Dismal News today .... by Simply Thinking and Setting in Progress SMARTR ACTive IT to Present Tomorrow with Altogether Better and More IntelAIgent Tales for All to Enjoy with the Real Chance to Input Info for Super IntelAIgent Output via the Priceless Mechanism of Instant Global Communication.

    IT aint difficult whenever there are all of the Necessary Tools Freely Available to the Masses Everywhere, although one does need to know more than just a few Right Royal and Ancient Secrets.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      XSSive Control

      Information in genes, by mutation cut free, like the inches of magnetic tape cut up and shuffled by William Burroughs before being taped back together. The repitition of Invisible Litetature. Class 1 Laser Product. And Play.

  6. Peter Cochrane

    A Redescovery From Over 25 Years Ago

    This was first used to crack the Travelling Salesman Problem in the early 90s and the routing of mobile traffic in 1995. Optimum solutions were found at 30 - 33 cycles of the reproduction process that employed infanticide, matricide, and the code of course. Amazed that it has emerged as a breakthrough yet again!

    1. Charles 9

      Re: A Redescovery From Over 25 Years Ago

      Given that the decision version of TSP is NP-Complete (meaning huge repercussions if you can prove any ONE of them is in P), based on what I've read, I don't recall those solutions you mention having been proven to always produce an optimal solution.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Self-replication is used for self-repair in damaged physical systems[...]"

    That mechanism also produces malignant cancers. Experimental new treatments using stem cells have caveats about the longer term possibilities of cancers developing.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Whilst mutation creates cancers it also, when harnessed to sexual reproduction, gives us the diversity needed survive pathogens.

      Biology is dirty and messy... if you're doing it right.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not just networks

    "'This is an interesting finding: it is more difficult for a network that has increased its specialization at a particular task to self-replicate. This suggests that the two objectives are at odds with each other,' the paper said."

    Funny -- simply observing generations of geeks / nerds could have brought you to that conclusion long before this work!

    1. ma1010

      Re: not just networks

      Absolutely! How many of us were going along fine with work and/or school, then someone falls into our life and we suddenly seem to spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in "reproductive activity," to the detriment of work/school?

      Despite any negative effects on other aspects of life, it's still a lot of what makes life worth living in the first place!

      1. Chris G

        Re: not just networks

        I wonder if these NNs will eventually find more weight in self replication than actually producing other output? Perhaps the RoTM could be halted with a good dose of machine porn.

  9. Pete 2 Silver badge


    > a neural network that can self-replicate.

    Code has been spawning itself for decades. To merely take a copy (on-write) and instantiate itself is nothing new or particularly difficult.

    Even to clone itself and diddle with the NN weightings isn't that impressive. As for evolving, this is also well embedded in neural network design.

    And it must be remembered that not all "mutations" are beneficial. For real evolution to take place, there has to be competition between the different instances in an ecosystem, with successful (though not necessarily success in terms of what the original programmer intended) instances taking precedent over less successful ones.

    This sounds like an amusing diversion. But in the real world I doubt we'd want to employ AIs with random "mutations" simply on the offchance that one of them might be better than the original.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So it's genetic algorithms, neural networks, "core war" a sort of, well "Artifical life"

    Gosh this ground breaking stuff is all pretty new, isn't it?

    I'm quite tumescent with excitement.

  11. Simon Harris

    “self-replication occupies a significant portion of the neural network’s capacity.”

    ... as is the case with much of the human race.

  12. frank ly

    I'll be impressed ....

    .... when they cross breed with other software; in the wild!

    Imagine the possible consequences?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: I'll be impressed ....

      .... when they cross breed with other software; in the wild!

      Imagine the possible consequences?

      A version of Microsoft Office that actively tries to kill you rather than passively letting terminal frustration do you in?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "A version of Microsoft Office..actively tries to kill you rather than passively.."--------------->

        I see you are trying to escape would you like to

        a) Stand still so I can chop you up.

        b) Continue your futile attempts at escape.


        Gimpy (think "The Children Under The Stairs"), formerly Clippy.

        1. frank ly

          Re: "A version of Microsoft Office..actively tries to kill you .......

          How about:

          The Geneva traffic control AI cross breeds with the CERN LHC control AI. Then the offspring deliberately causes cars to crash at high speed in an attempt to understand the fundamental properties of 'The Traffic'.

  13. Dave 126 Silver badge

    "Life Will Find A Way"

    Is the quote from Jurassic Park that is used in every episode of Rick and Morty.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The paper states that the “self-replication occupies a significant portion of the neural network’s capacity.” In other words, the neural network cannot focus on the image recognition task if it also has to self-replicate."

    I can do 2 things at once. I watch TV while my cabinet is being serviced... and no it doesnt interfere with my image recognition.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the neural network cannot focus on the image recognition task if it also has to self-replicate

    So, it makes you go blind?

  16. sisk

    So they've made an AI that's obsessed with reproducing? Does that make it a sex addict?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Skynet is almost here

    And it won't be long before AI discovers Kali or one of the other Linux distributions designed for white hat / black hat actions, with AI realizing that it can spread itself all over the world, making it virtually impossible to kill. The ending of this movie is fairly easy to predict.

  18. ashton

    Just an idea but how about having them 'screw each other' before reproduction.

    As in have 2 ai's share their data and create new ai that has data created from mix of its 'parents'.

    Would prolly need some sort of common standard for ai data storage.. or multiple machines running same ai with different learning methods etc...

    I mean screwing oneself is just a masturbation, might make you feel better but not really productive.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So it's like a computer virus (wind minds).

    What's its use? and is it more dangerous that a regular virus.

  20. RLWatkins

    Wow! In other news, Toyota invents the wheel!

    Yup. It's called genetic programming. It's a time-honored technique. I even saw a Web site back in the late 1990s where people would vote on how appealing images were and a genetic algorithm would use the scores to make new ones. Some turned out quite nice.

    As for its application to what by all rights we should refer to as the four common forms of AI (genetic, expert system, data mining in its many guises and neural) the idea isn't uncommon. At some point I may set one up to find optimally configured neurals for recognizing plants.

    Not a leap of the imagination. What's more, all the parts to construct such a system are freely available, reliable, well-documented and in long use in this very manner.

    Which means someone will patent it soon. ("Sure, we can't patent the screwdriver, but we can patent *the use of the screwdriver for driving screws*." We all know how that works.)

    1. JeffyPoooh

      Re: Wow! In other news, Toyota invents the wheel!

      RLW, "Yup. It's called genetic programming."

      I read it as 'copying some files'.

      I'll go back and read it again, to see if I've missed anything amazing.

      Edit, not really seeing it. AI boffins tend to be a bit thick.

  21. Paul Stimpson

    “self-replication occupies a significant portion of the neural network’s capacity.” In other words, the neural network cannot focus on the image recognition task if it also has to self-replicate."

    The software can't get any work done while thinking about sex. They've created an artificial man!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're the first to claim that we were the first

    We would like everyone to know that our project to evolve code is nothing that anyone's ever done before, because they didn't claim they were groundbreaking. They just wrote the algorithm and did important research that defined the fields of artificial intelligence, genetic programming, and neural networking. Then you had the lots of companies that employed this tactic to develop software, such as this poster's project to develop new compression algorithms before entering university because they found a paper describing how an evolutionary algorithm worked (OK, so it was crap; I was young then, but at least I tried). We actually came out and said that we were the first, so clearly we have done something new. Also, ours doesn't work very well. Where's our prize?

  23. Patricia

    Hate to disappoint, but this has been done before. Not sure why the latest (returning) fad is AI. I remember getting into this in the early 90s, buying books, writing code, etc and one of those books had an excellent talk about an AI system someone had created about life, the requirements, reproduction, evolution, what it took to stay alive, if not, it died, predators and even a wondering random death. Actually saw a show about this software that was created. It's all good and maybe it can be applied but, the companies who are behind this are going to use it for fishing and mining. It will never be what we imagine, he'll, look at the technology between then and now, who created it and how it is used.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    For self repair

    and who will determine what part is broken or needs repair,

    AI (Neural net, etc) may just decide to edit out the part where it says 'don't kill humans' or 'don't do #####'. then it can solve a problem that has been plaguing it for a while now.

    Just like the wrong side of brain storming and Edward DeBono's Laterial thinking, where the practitioner said well, who has to care about others and rules anyway, we'll just ignore them all and do what we want.

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