Spot the Problems in This Story
by Granville Sewell
Imagine that an astronaut returns to Earth after a trip to deep space, and reports that he has discovered a planet whose inhabitants are so intelligent that — a long time ago — they succeeded in designing a very primitive car which carried its own completely automated automobile factory around in its trunk.
Every once in a while, the trunk opens and out pops a new little automobile, which slowly grows into a full-sized car, complete with its own fully automated auto factory in the trunk. The cars on this planet continue to reproduce, and make nearly perfect copies of themselves, generation after generation. The inhabitants don’t have to do anything but watch.
How many generations could this continue without any help from the intelligent inhabitants? Surely without mechanics to fix the problems that arise, errors would accumulate and put an end to this process after a few generations, you say. The duplication errors were actually beneficial in the long run, he replies.
Errors occasionally result in tiny improvements, and the slightly improved cars are more likely to survive and reproduce. So in the eons since the first primitive car was designed, the car fleet on this planet has actually made great advances, gradually evolving internal combustion engines to replace the early steam engines, and automatic transmissions to replace manual ones, and hydraulic brake systems to replace mechanical ones. Now they are even self-driving…
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