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Can we grow cars instead of building them?

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Well that sounds like an exciting idea — imagine a car tree that grows on its own, and we need not do anything other than pick the ready-made cars off it. Perhaps we can breed faster models, or cross-breed to make new ones — in all seems like a lot less effort than having hundreds of engineers and designers spend hours planning out every detail. Ok, but what exactly do we mean when we think of growing cars, and how is it different from how they are currently built at manufacturing plants? (I love that “plant” is already the word we use for factories!!! I think there is some deep insight there)

To dig a bit more into the distinction here, imagine this scenario: some aliens come to Earth that are so different from us that they cannot even identify humans as clearly distinct from the matter of our environment. Imagine that they don’t see us as distinct living organisms, let alone as individuals with unique personalities and interests, or anything like “consciousness.” They merely see lots of biochemical processes that lead to more biochemical processes, all intertwined, interacting, and producing some plastics. Some of these plastics combine with bits of metal into cars, as catalyzed by some more biochemical processes (which we call humans, but they don’t). From this perspective, a manufacturing plant will look to them precisely like a tree that grows cars, all on its own! Furthermore, if they tried to control what sort of cars it produces, they wouldn’t think to talk to workers and change design plans — instead they might try to cross-pollinate: bring two different manufacturing plants close together and see if they learn to produce some hybrid model of the cars.

Ok, I can see a few holes you can poke in this line of reasoning — please do so in the comments! Even so, I think the overall point holds: we can construct a reasonable “outside perspective” from which manufacturing plants will fit all the criteria above for “growing cars.” Do you buy this? What other distinctions do you see between “building” and “growing” cars that I missed in the above table? Finally, if we still want to invent a way to “grow cars” (from our perspective) what would be the main way we would know that we succeeded (our KPI)? I’ll continue this discussion next week, with some brainstorming (read: BS) of how we might actually achieve this in the future ;P

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