Peter Andrews He is an Irish journalist and scientific writer, based in London. He has experience in life sciences and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Genetics.
Xenobots, small swarms of biological robots designed by a computer, are upon us. What does the birth of these strange creatures not very alive for robotics and for us mean?
Real robots are not two-legged steel boxes with a metallic voice.
Humanity has been imagining advanced robot technology for a long time: pop culture is full of Terminators, Cylons and Droids. But in fact, these humanoid designs show a clear lack of imagination. Why have we always assumed that robots would be designed to have the same basic form as us: lightly torn primates trotting on two feet, perhaps even with a weapon? The latest models make that particular notion look a bit like the 1950s.
One of those models are the fearsome xenobots unleashed by American scientists this week. These are biological robots less than a millimeter wide, which can move, release a payload and repair themselves. Cultivated from stem cells (cells that can become any type of cell in the body) that were cut into specific shapes designed by a supercomputer, they can swim inside the human body for weeks, working together to accomplish a task.
They can walk and swim, which means they only need a triathlon. In addition to all this, they have one more superpower: the healing factor of Wolverine. Well, it may not be ripped off from Marvel comics, but they can repair themselves without any help. And when the little poor xenobots reach the end of their short but glorious lives (are they alive?) Within your body, you can rest easy with the idea that, since they are completely organic, they will biodegrade naturally. What could be more comforting than artificial creatures that die inside your veins made of harmless African frog DNA?
Supercomputer creates sensitivity
Jokes aside, this is an amazing leap in the game of playing God. But who exactly is Dr. Frankenstein for these xenobot monsters? Disturbingly, their specific forms, which come in a variety of ways that resemble Tetris blocks a bit, were not designed by intelligent scientists, but by a supercomputer.
He did it through a kind of xenobot Battle Royale, in which tons of randomly assembled designs clashed within a simulation to eliminate the weakest and mutate the strongest. Some of the winning shapes are C-shaped, some triangular and there is even a donut-shaped one with a hole in the middle. But these are just the ones that reached the final iteration. One wonders if they could be made to form any form, like letters of the alphabet: the xenobot soup could be a great success, if only they were a little bigger. (Also, meat produced from frog embryos may not be the tastiest. Anyway, it’s a silly idea.)
Heal or kill?
Therefore, xenobots, in a nutshell, are a swarm of genetically engineered invisible semi-sensitive robots designed by artificial intelligence to live in the human body for days or weeks at a time, where they can survive without food and heal themselves. same if they are damaged. What can go wrong?
Well, probably nothing for now. But the arms race to develop xenobots for new applications is already underway, and the military will certainly be eager to deploy them with biological weapons. The supercomputer that designed the xenobots was not available for comment.
Looking at the xenobots, I knew they were reminding me of something I couldn’t identify. Finally, I realized: the little ones have a surprising resemblance, both in color and texture, with the titular villain in the 1958 Hollywood blockbuster. The drop. The only difference, of course, is that, luckily, the xenobots are less than a millimeter wide and therefore do not pose a threat to small American cities. But what if one of the team members went crazy and tried to create a massive xenobot, one that could open the car doors and absorb teenagers? We hope that the supply of stem cells from frog embryos with African claws is running out in their laboratories. Apparently, the xenobots got their name Xenopus laevis, the Latin name of the frog. Can it be a coincidence, then, that the prefix “xeno- “ it’s Greek for “strange”, “Exterior” or “alien”? Either way, it adapts perfectly to these new ways of life.
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