Living Robots Are Now Capable of Mass Self-Reproduction
Are We Okay with Robots Replicating Themselves? Really?
We have stepped into a new future, a "Twilight Zone" future where robots called xenobots can now procreate. The possibilities of this new biological capability are both awe-inspiring, and scary.
After reading CNN reporter Katie Hunt's article about biological robots reproducing themselves today, I was both awestruck and dismayed--awestruck by the seemingly endless possibilities for use of this new technology, yet dismayed by the absolute nightmare ethicists now will be forced to regulate.
Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, defines a robot:
Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it's not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is to act on its own on behalf of people.
The research article, published in this week's edition of the journal PNAS, is titled "Kinematic self-replication in reconfigurable organisms."
Setting aside the obvious questions about the legality of this new approach, and not expressing an opinion for or against the further development of this new phenomenal advancement in medicine, let's explore what this could mean for our society.
First, these new "living machines" have no practical applications at this time. They are contained in a lab, are biodegradable, and are regulated by ethics experts. That could change in the future, however, because scientists were able to create these stem cells without the manipulation of genes.
Next, one possible use for this "artificial intelligence lifeform" may be to replicate certain parts of the human body that are failing us.
As I read that section of the report, I thought of seemingly endless possibilities to utilize this new scientific "being" in a medical environment. Theoretically, cancer could be eliminated from the body by replacing damaged parts of the body with these healthy xenobots.
People might actually be cured of all kinds of diseases by programming the "bots" to attack and eliminate damaging cells throughout their bodies. That may sound like Century 22 technology being available today, but, apparently, we are already on the threshold of identifying all kinds of uses for these "Pac-Man" shaped healers.
It might also be possible to program these lifeforms to perform completely different tasks, such as gathering plastics from the ocean, or maybe they could collect and contain carbon emissions.
Could this living technology be developed to help us travel to distant planets not yet attainable? Maybe it could, but we have to move slowly because this new technological advancement is still in its infancy. The xenobots are very early technology -- similar to a 1940s computer -- and don't yet have any practical applications.
Ethicists have yet to weigh in on this discovery. It's a sure bet they will be watching these developments closely as they progress into a more recognizable form, and for when they are able to perform more complex tasks other than reproduction.
Hard ethical questions will inevitably be brought up, there is no doubt about that: Are scientists trying to "play God" by using these "bots" for the good of all mankind? What happens to the cells that were removed? How long will these improvements, these "remedies" last? Is it a part-time fix for an incurable problem?
Then there's the question of whether or not xenobots are living beings that have equal rights with humans. After all, through the miracle of invitro-fertilization, babies are born every day. Shouldn't xenobots be granted the same level of recognition in our society?
I am glad I'm not the one who has to decide these questions. What about you? What are your feelings? I look forward to your comments.
Thanks for reading this!