Scientists Use Stem Cells to Create the World’s First Living Robots

“These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth."

By Manuel García Aguilar | 15 January 2020
The Mind Unleashed

The way we interact with robots is changing every day. We are facing an enormous shift in the way we live our lives influenced by these new “creatures” and the benefits we can get from their applications in a variety of scientific fields. And now, tiny living robots that can “heal” themselves are among us.

Exoskeletons, disinfectant bots, robotic nurses, and even companion bots are all inventions that have been accomplished in the last few years that have led to more effective and precise treatment and assistance both in and out of hospitals.

Life may be the key to create more life. This very well may be the reason why researchers in the U.S. have created the first living machines by turning cells from African clawed frogs into minuscule robots that can move around on their own.

Scientists are aiming to use “living systems” in these tiny robots because most technologies made from materials such as steel, concrete, chemicals, and plastics degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects. The method presented by Sam Kriegman, Douglas Blackiston, Michael Levin, and Josh Bongard allows for robots to be designed as completely biological machines.

“These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth,” said Michael Levin, director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “They are living, programmable organisms.”

Computers automatically design new machines in simulation and the best designs are built by combining together different biological tissues. As you may conclude, different combinations may be done using this method and the usage of this work could migrate to additional fields as well.

“These are very small, but ultimately the plan is to make them to scale,” said Levin. These Xenobots might be built with blood vessels, nervous systems, and sensory cells to form rudimentary eyes. They could also live on dry land.

But despite all of the benefits these beings may have, ethical issues may arise.

“What’s important to me is that this is public, so we can have a discussion as a society and policymakers can decide what is the best course of action,” Sam Kriegman a PhD student on the team at the University of Vermont said.

“If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules,” Levin said. “This study is a direct contribution to getting a handle on what people are afraid of, which is unintended consequences.”

“There are interesting ethical questions about the moral status of these xenobots. At what point would they become beings with interests that ought to be protected? I think they’d acquire moral significance only if they included neural tissue that enabled some kind of mental life, such as the ability to experience pain… But some are more liberal about moral status. They think that all living creatures have interests that should be given some moral consideration. For these people, difficult questions could arise about whether these xenobots should be classified as living creatures or machines.”

Some of the future applications for these “living robots” may be to safely deliver drugs inside the human body, help with environmental remediation, or even broaden our understanding of the diverse forms and functions life may adopt.

Researchers create the world’s first living, programmable robots

Living robots created as scientists turn frog cells into ‘entirely new life-forms’

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