by Robert Wheeler
Everyone knows that robots aren't living beings right?
Well, we did... That is,
until scientists and developers recently announced how they have
bridged some of that gap between living and non-living beings.
This new development is a combination of artificial intelligence
In fact, only this week,
a research of roboticists and scientists published what is being
referred to as a,
"recipe for making a
new lifeform" called
The xenobots are made
stem cells and the term xeno
comes from the frog cells (xenopus
laevis) which are used to make them.
One of the researchers involved described the new creation as,
traditional robot nor a known species of animal" but instead it
is a "new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."
What is a xenobot?
The xenobots are less than 1mm long and are contain 500-1000 living
They have a number of
shapes, mostly simplistic with some having squat "legs."
They are able to
propel themselves in linear or circular directions, move small
objects, and join together to act collectively.
They are able to live
up to ten days using their own cellular energy.
Scientists claim that
these new "reconfigurable biomachines" can improve human and animal
health, but there are many concerns from legal and ethical
In order to make xenobots, the researchers had to use a
supercomputer to test thousands of random designs of simple living
things that are able to perform certain tasks.
The computer itself was
programmed with an AI "evolutionary algorithm" so that it could
predict which living organisms would likely show the ability to
perform useful tasks such as moving toward a target.
After selecting the most promising designs, the scientists then
attempted to replicate the digital models with frog skin
or heart cells which they joined together by using
The heart cells are
able to contract and relax which gives the organisms motion.
There is no doubt that
the creation of xenobots is groundbreaking.
But it should be made clear that despite being called "programmable
living robots," they are actually completely organic
and they are made of living tissue.
The term "robot" is used
because xenobots can be configured into different shapes and
forms and then "programmed" to target certain objects which they
will unwittingly seek.
They are also able to
repair themselves after they are damaged.
A xenobot in simulation and reality
What are the
uses and risks?
Arguments about the value of xenobots versus their risk are
already being made.
Some have suggested
that they could be used to clean polluted oceans by doing things
like collecting microplastics.
Others have suggested
they could be used to enter confined or dangerous areas to
retrieve or analyze toxins and radioactive material.
Still others have
asked whether or not they can be used to carry drugs into human
bodies, repair a patient's tissue, or target cancer.
Because they are
biodegradable they would have an edge on current technologies
that are made of plastic or metal.
want to use these xenobots to help further understand living and
robotic systems as well as improve the use of AI.
On the other hand, many are considered that these new life forms
could be used to hijack life functions for malevolent purposes
in the same way they are used to target cancers.
Others warn this new
creation is unnatural and amounts to playing God.
But many are more
concerned with the potential for malicious use or even devastating
unintended consequences like what we have seen with nuclear physics,
biology, chemistry, and AI.
One such possibility
would be the use of xenobots for
biological warfare purposes.
Another concern is that future versions of xenobots, which are
expected to be able to reproduce at some point, could "malfunction,"
go rogue, and out-compete other natural species.
It should also be mentioned that, in order for xenobots to complete
complex tasks, they would need a sensory and nervous system, which
might result in sentience.
A sentient programmed
organism raises ethical questions, to say the least.
creators have rightly acknowledged the need for discussion
around the ethics of their creation.
The 2018 scandal over using
(which allows the introduction of genes into an organism) may
provide an instructive lesson
experiment's goal was to reduce the susceptibility of twin baby
girls to HIV-AIDS, associated risks caused ethical dismay.
The scientist in
is in prison.
became widely available, some experts called for a
moratorium on heritable
Others argued (Heritable
Genome Editing and the Downsides of a Global Moratorium)
the benefits outweighed the risks.
While each new
technology should be considered impartially and based on its
merits, giving life to xenobots raises certain significant
have biological kill-switches in case they go rogue?
Who should decide who can access and control them?
What if "homemade" xenobots become possible?
Should there be a
moratorium until regulatory frameworks are established?
regulation is required?
Lessons learned in
the past from advances in other areas of science could help
manage future risks, while reaping the possible benefits.
The truth of the matter
is that scientists have taken a giant leap forward in the agenda for
the future set out long ago, where
humanity begins to merge with machines
and where humans are led into the sheep pin thinking they are the