38

As the title suggests, can a replicator replicate a (presumably slightly smaller)replicator?

If it could, could it replicate a better replicator? One that works at the quantum level, like the transporters?

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    I seem to remember that they can only replicate things that exist already. You can only get out what you put in. Looking for a source, stand by... – Mr Lister Jan 4 '13 at 17:33
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    Interesting. Many sources say "This process requires the destructive conversion of bulk matter into energy and its subsequent reformation into a pre-scanned matter pattern" (emphasis mine). But I can't find if any of them are official Star Trek sites. Anyway, I think the answer is no: you can scan a replicator and then the replicator can replicate it, but only the same one, not better or smaller. – Mr Lister Jan 4 '13 at 17:42
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    If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility, it must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea... and turn it on! – Ashterothi Jan 4 '13 at 17:49
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    Ah, but that's not Star Trek. – Mr Lister Jan 4 '13 at 17:54
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    Its like that old song: How many replicators would a replicator replicate if a replicator could replicate replicators? – Paul Richter Aug 1 '14 at 18:58
66

Yes.

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Call to Arms", Sisko mines the entrance to the Bajoran wormhole using self-replicating cloaking mines. Each mine contains a replicator capable of producing another mine, that also contains a replicator.

Replicating minefield

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    Right... I wonder what the power source is, and where the mines get the raw materials for replicating new mines... – Dima Jan 4 '13 at 18:08
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    If a mine exploded, then plenty of raw materials are nearby; the exploded mine plus the debris of the ship that was just destroyed. – Kyle Jones Jan 4 '13 at 18:10
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    I'm not sure this is a mainstream technology though. This may be more of a cutting edge/brilliant innovation for this one problem not an indication of a well-accepted/known technology. – Doug T. Jan 5 '13 at 4:09
  • @DougT.: Are you suggesting the replicators integrated into those mines are somehow more sophisticated than the normal replicators used to prepare food and other stuff? If so, what could be different about them? "They can replicate replicators, whereas other replicators cannot." sounds rather like an arbitrary restriction, like "magic". As long as certain technical factors - replicated materials, resolution/precision of the object - are met, surely, the replicator doesn't care what it is replicating (unless specifically restricted, e.g. to prevent the replication of weapons). – O. R. Mapper Aug 2 '14 at 15:18
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    @KyleJones That's speculative. 1. the mines where there to stop the Dominion Fleet or prevent it from trying to cross; thus the entire minefield would have to be deployed from the start, not dependent on destroyed craft to replicate the rest of it - Second, getting raw materials from a nearby explosion is more far-fetched that warp drives and replicators - Third, the energy to deploy that many mines would be huge, usually provided through warp cores, which the mines don't have. Explosions are inefficient sources of energy and if you can see the explosion, the energy wasn't captured. – mechalynx Aug 3 '14 at 3:08
5

I remember reading in one of the books related to the earlier motion pictures that it was (of course) Mr Spock who first came up with the concept that eventually became the replicator. He figured out how to use the Enterprise's transporters to beam up many more supplies than the ship could actually fit in it's holds, but each transport was aborted in such a way that it could be resumed later. This was the precursor to what eventually became the replicator.1 Supposedly this really taxed the Enterprise's engines, to produce the energy needed to sustain all those transports. Using this process, a replicator could only replicate itself if another replicator were waiting.

From here, we can take a mental leap to infer that later replicators evolved a bit. Presumably, someone figured out that they could extract and digitally store just the pattern data from a transportation, without needing to sustain the actual transport process, and also devised a way to use the stored patterns to "finish" a transport process from stored bulk matter on demand, such that anything that had been "transported" once could be reproduced. So a replicator is just a follow-on to transporter technology.

If this is an accurate description of Star Trek replicators, then a replicator can replicate itself as long as it has a digital pattern and a source of the right bulk material to work from.

1Unfortunately, I have no chance of finding a reference for that now.

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    "Spock's World" by Diane Duane – Jim Green Nov 22 '13 at 19:41
  • @JimGreen You rock, this has been nagging at me ever since I first wrote the post :) – Joel Coehoorn Nov 22 '13 at 19:46
  • Interesting: just came back to this today because someone voted for it, and saw the "Spock's World" comment. Reading the Spock's World wikipedia page answered something that had been bothering me about the 2009 Star Trek movie: "Why would Spock's mother, a human, be among the Vulcan elders he needs to rescue. The answer is the wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spock's_World – Joel Coehoorn Aug 1 '14 at 18:56
  • And now documented my findings: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/64618/… – Joel Coehoorn Aug 1 '14 at 19:23

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