This is a pretty damn cool idea. The concept of self-replication is probably something that isn’t explored, or at least mentioned, enough in space exploration.
The last time I heard of the concept was in the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode where they decide to lay a mine field of cloaked, self-replicating mines in front of the wormhole to prevent the Dominion reinforcements from arriving from the Gamma Quadrant.
Yes, this is from science fiction—and this is my point. If we CAN do it now, we SHOULD. Think of how much effort and resources something like this can save? And not just for SETI, but for the other uses mentioned in the article: clean-up and recycling of space debris, tagging and tracking of near-earth asteroids, lightspeed communications over large distances…all of this without the need for manpower or money.
And, speaking of money, how awesome is this quote:
“If [extraterrestrials] are like us, they too have a dysfunctional government and all the other problems plaguing us,” said Mathews. “They won’t want to spend a lot to communicate with us.”
HA! Neil DeGrasse Tyson would be proud of this guy, and so am I. Everything I read these days gives me the impression that we can be so much farther ahead in space science than we actually are already, but we’re being inhibited by politics and money.
Maybe once a functional space elevator is built, we’ll start looking at things a little differently. But that might still be 50 years off. Aaargh.
Anyway, great article, with lots of interesting points about the current state and needs of space exploration and SETI.