"Almost" means within decades in exponential technologies for true Von Neuman machines...
Not even close. The best you could say is that 3D printing technologies have the potential to EVENTUALLY develop into Von Neuman machines at some point in the future, but there are certain fundamental limitations to that technology that are nowhere near to being transcended.
there are even patents that exist now for some self-replicating technology...
That's kind of amazing, considering there's no such thing as "self-replicating technology" right now.
using fabrication technologies at the forefront of advancements right now...
The only technologies that would allow for that are all theoretical at best.
Regardless, the original point in my first post still stands....there are ways that could be effective to spread civilization through space without exotic technologies, they are both easier and more likely, and nothing that couldn't exist given a little time.
1) Self-replicating technology IS an exotic technology by any normal standards, especially considering the technical challenges of making it really feasible (unless those machines operate with a LOT of direct participation from their builders, which even the most far-out concepts still assume as a matter of course).
2) They probably wouldn't be easier to manufacture considering what they're being asked to do in the field, even with the support of their manufacturers.
3) To say they are more likely is, again, a really longshot assumption, considering the principle use of self-replicating machines is to exploit tightly packed resources in difficult environments, and interplanetary/interstellar space is anything but.
We were discussing how an alien species might circumvent the vast distances of space without exotic ftl drives in the context of the long period of stellar time available for those aliens to develop such technology.
Yes, it is a fact that elements of technology that need to exist for self-replication are already patented. There are also organizations involved in planning and use of the technology. It's not quite as far off as you seem to think..The AI required would be sophisticated, but simple compared to what we would consider for The Singularity.
The technologies being studied include 3D printing type technologies, and are hardly purely theoretical. Here are just some examples I've come across:
I've been misspelling "Von Neumann" machine. My bad.