Scientists Have Created Programmable Robots Made of LIVING TISSUE. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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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 and biology. 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 xenobots. The xenobots are made from 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 “neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal” but instead it is a “new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

File this under “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

What is a xenobot?

The xenobots are less than 1mm long and are contain 500-1000 living cells. 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 standpoints.

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 microsurgery tools. 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.

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.

Other researchers 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.

Could xenobots go rogue?

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.

As Phys.org stated,

The xenobot’s creators have rightly acknowledged the need for discussion around the ethics of their creation.

The 2018 scandal over using CRISPR (which allows the introduction of genes into an organism) may provide an instructive lesson here. While the experiment’s goal was to reduce the susceptibility of twin baby girls to HIV-AIDS, associated risks caused ethical dismay. The scientist in question is in prison.

When CRISPR became widely available, some experts called for a moratorium on heritable genome editing. Others argued 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 questions:

  1. Should xenobots have biological kill-switches in case they go rogue?
  2. Who should decide who can access and control them?
  3. What if “homemade” xenobots become possible? Should there be a moratorium until regulatory frameworks are established? How much 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 shepherd.

What do you think?

While xenobots may have some very positive functions, their creation must be examined thoroughly before moving forward. In this moment, science cannot afford to get it wrong.

What are your thoughts on scientists creating programmable living organisms? Do you have ethical concerns? How do you think they might be used? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

About Robert

Robert Wheeler has been quietly researching world events for two decades. After witnessing the global network of NGOs and several ‘Revolutions’ they engineered in a number of different countries, Wheeler began analyzing current events through these lenses.

 

Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler has been quietly researching world events for two decades. After witnessing the global network of NGOs and several 'Revolutions' they engineered in a number of different countries, Wheeler began analyzing current events through these lenses.

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19 Responses

  1. I remember the horrific possibilities of the DARPA EATR robot that refuels itself with organics. I’ve got nothing but Department of Pop Culture references for that, like the Resident Evil franchise. Evil propagates paranoid megalomania, and this kind of technology is more proof of it.

  2. It’s like we just can’t wait to destroy ourselves lol
    AI, bringing back dinosaurs, micro drones, untested vaccines and now this.

    Probably wanna insert nano whatever’s next time I cut myself to help heal

    I just wanna fish, sit in my recliner and watch the grandkids play. Is that so hard as not to mess up?

    1. They ain’t gonna let you fish, they gonna feed you to the fish. The insane people in charge of the world will not leave us alone.

  3. WE WERE IN THE CITY PARK,with the OL’E red haired dog,shes a big thing,and a baby to,peacefull ol’e dog,THEN this stranger comes walking by,THE OL”E DOG WENT CRAZY,she attacked him,and began ripping pieces off his arms,face,leg,HE WASN’T A MAN AT ALL,a robot with ONE INCH THICK MEAT COVERING HIS BODY,he looked like a natural human,TILL the dog got hold of him,he ran away and left pieces laying on the ground of his face,armes and legs,YOU COULD CLEARLY SEE HIS METAL BODY under the meat…THE MILITARY IS LIEING TO EVERYONE,they have their human robots,and their out there NOW,walking around,BUT who in america cares,there are NO men,just those pretending to be men,like the robot was….

  4. Talking about crispr-cas9, as you did in your article, you do know that’s how they made the corona virus vaccines, and that they technically are closer to genetic therapy than they are to traditional vaccines. I’d argue that the use of crispr-cas9 is now mainstream.

    Speaking about the two babies that the chinese researcher made hiv immune, did you know that there was a side effect, both babies are demonstrating intelligence way above what is normal. An unintended side effect of genetic engineering – super intelligence.

    The problem with genetic engineering, like you are talking about is that it isn’t precise, say you want the gene to make you smarter, you can cut that section out, but that section also has another few hundred genes you don’t know what they do, now most are junk, but when you add genes in and out you will be accidentally getting some other genes, it’s too complex to predict results.

    Look, all I’m saying is that I’m pro cylon, I’ll serve you well robot masters, no don’t kill me.

    1. What do you mean by “way above normal”? Only 2% of the population have an IQ of 135 or higher. I know a young man who has an IQ of 160, the same as Einstein. Another man I know has an IQ of 180. For both men, their intelligence is way above normal, but it is within normal range for humans. Unless those girls have intelligence well above the men that I mention, that could be intelligence they had apart from any gene manipulation.

      But you are right about what crispr-cas9 does to the DNA. That’s why I avoid GMOs as much as possible. Who knows what is being made by that messed up DNA? Does it include slow acting poisons?

      1. I think it was in the 120-140 range, I read it a while ago. There are lots of issues with it, yes it could be natural, and a sample size of 2 is very small to make any observations, also their age is too young to be certain.

        Back to crispr-cas9, do you know that we can currently increase a persons muscles mass by 30% and increase their ability to oxygenate blood by 50%, making them super athletes, and because it edit’s their genes, there is no drug test that would show that up.

        Homo sapiens days are done, all hail my new cylon masters. Honestly pick your distopian sci-fi, here we come gattaca.

  5. Humans at their core are way to evil and incompetent to be responsible with this much power.
    The programable “lifeforms” will exhibit all of the characteristics of the programer and is just another weird mad scientist weapon that will be abused.
    Stop the world I wanna get off!

  6. “The xenobot’s creators have rightly acknowledged the need for discussion around the ethics of their creation.”
    … so you go ahead little people. talk all you want.
    while we get on with doing what ever the hell we want to!

    cannot see how this is a smart idea.
    olivia

  7. I don’t see what’s so special about what these people have done. It’s been long known that if you take living muscle tissue and give it an electric shock, that it jerks. All they’ve done is attach some living muscle tissue to a mechanical framework, then give it an electric shock. They have a computer controller to time when and how to give the electric shock. It sounds sort of gross, also to me, but such contraptions will never become sentient nor become self replicating (no more than modern computers are sentient and self replicating).

      1. “they’re getting fairly good at posing as sentient ….”

        That’s just programming. It works, because people in general are so simple and predictable.

        In the late 1980s, a program came out called “Eliza” that emulated about 80% of what psychiatrists say to people on the couch. It was written in BASIC. I was surprised at how few lines of code it took. Basically it had a section that looked for certain key words, then chose the pre-chosen responses for the keywords. In the 3+ decades since, thousands of lines of code have been written, but the basic operation is the same—look for keywords then choose the response appropriate for those keywords.

  8. “They are also able to repair themselves after they are damaged”

    by what mechanism? do they have a circulatory system bringing the individual cells oxygen and sucrose by which to function and base proteins with which to conduct repairs? they’ll need that to “live” more than a few hours.

  9. The development of such technology can’t be stopped. If the current batch of scientists decide that it is too much for whatever reason, others will do it instead.
    A killing switch is really required, but there will be ‘actors’ developing those without it. Because this is a perfect weapon.

    And to claim that xenobots will be alive, they are totally wrong. Those are and will never be alive. It doesn’t work like that.

    Another thing which needs to be developed is a defense against xenobots in case that.

    1. I agree. That romantic image of a scientist getting rid of his entire life´s work (much worst, a TEAM of scientists) saying “this is way too dangerous” is a silly misconception. They WILL do whatever they feel like doing, no matter what “ethics” and “laws” say.
      Why? because the most dangerous enemy the West world has got is already developing God knows what. And they don´t care about “ethics” nor “laws” or some other (in their minds and culture) useless stuff like that.

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