Why is there no von Neumann probe on Ceres? Error catastrophe can explain the Fermi-Hart Paradox
It has been argued that self-replicating robotic probes could spread to all stars of our galaxy within a timespan that is tiny on cosmological scales, even if they travel well below the speed of light. The apparent absence of such von Neumann probes in our own solar system then needs an explanation that holds for all possible extraterrestrial civilisations. Here I propose such a solution, which is based on a runaway error propagation that can occur in any self-replicating system with finite accuracy of its components. Under universally applicable assumptions (finite resources and finite lifespans) it follows that an optimal probe design always leads to an error catastrophe and breakdown of the probes. Thus, there might be many advanced civilizations in our galaxy, each surrounded by their own small sphere of self-replicating probes. But unless our own solar system has the extraordinary luck to be close enough to one of these civilizations, none of these probes will ever reach us.