We've Put a Worm's Mind in a Lego Robot's Body

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/weve-put-worms-mind-lego-robot-body-180953399/?no-ist

This is a really interesting article about using the data from the Open Worm project (which has documented all the neural connections within an earthworm as the "software" to run a LEGO robot.

    • Susan Granata
      Susan Granata

      Although I appreciate the curiosity and science behind this project, I have to admit that the ethical questions behind the project are even more interesting. Just last night I had a long conversation with my son regarding connecting our brains to the internet, and my biggest concern was hackers and viruses. If we can connect our brains to the internet, then what stops a potential hacker from infiltrating our brains, and taking control of our actions, thoughts, and more. The article seems to imply that danger, as it refers to the computer simulation reality as depicted in The Matrix movies as a possible future for us all (if it is not already our present...)

      Reading further along this topic, "Whole Brain Emulation" is the theory that the electrical connections that make up our brain activity could be emulated, or copied, into a robot or computer, and thus the brain (or person) would theoretically live forever. "We could simulate the brain’s physical, chemical, and electrical structure in such detail that we could run the brain on a computer, producing similar “outputs” (instructions to virtual limbs, mouth, and other organs) as a real brain would." (Muehlhauser & Armstrong, 2014) Thankfully, and much to my son's regret, we are still a few steps behind in practice, as we have not yet been able to fully map the brain's circuitry and do not have quite enough computer processing power to fully operate a robotic version of the brain. 

      The legal ramifications are so complicated, that I do not think as a society we are ready to tackle these topics from a legal standpoint. 

      Works Cited:

      Muehlhauser, L., & Armstrong, S. (2014, April 13). Can we really upload Johnny Depp's brain? Retrieved January 24, 2018, from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/04/transcendence_science_can_we_really_upload_johnny_depp_s_brain.html

      • Gerald Ardito
        Gerald Ardito

        Susan,

        I really appreciate the depth of  your response as well as how much you extended the discussion.

        I was fascinated by this project for a different reason. The robot's behavior literally arose by the various connections within the worm's brain embodied in the robot. For me, it was less about uploading an organism into a computer. Rather, it was a really interesting experience of the degree to which behaviors arise, as opposed to being programmed.

        Thoughts?

        • Susan Granata
          Susan Granata

          I must be jaded. To me, it seems like a fancy but less useful Roomba. At least the Roomba will clean the floor. I understand the goal is to map a brain fully and understand more completely the process of neurons firing. However, the robot sensors were simply reacting to stimuli, similar to any "self-aware" robot on the market today. I built a robot 4 years ago that will back up when it encounters an obstacle, and that will change direction when a loud noise is picked up by the sonar sensor, and I didn't claim to have mapped a cat's brain. However, the robot mimicked the behavior of my cat! It even chased a ball, without me programming it. I must be missing a key piece of information.

          • Gerald Ardito
            Gerald Ardito

            First of all, I would love to hear more about the catbot you built. Do you have pictures?

            I am not sure that you are missing some piece of information. I can only try to clarify what I found interesting and maybe important about this work. As I understood the project, these folks were not looking for a way to program a robot. Instead, they were using the robot as a body that responded to the neural connections in the worm, as captured by the neural model. Interestingly, the worm body (through the robot) started to respond to its environment in interesting ways (at least to me). I took it as a project that tries to understand the way we learn to interact with our environment as organisms with a nervous system.

            Does that make any sense?

            • Susan Granata
              Susan Granata

              It does make sense, indeed. I am spoiled in that my son has driven me to learn and explore robotics from an early age, so we built this robot for his science fair competition. I'm sure we have pictures somewhere, I'll try to dig them up. His project was to challenge participants to complete a puzzle that had a dark black line in time for the robot to trace the line to the end. Very few people were able to achieve the goal, surprisingly enough! (The puzzle was only 6 pieces!) But he enhanced his robot to show people what else it could do, which included reacting to noises and changing direction, and also the ball fetch game. So it was similar to this lego worm. Though I guess the magic in the Lego Worm project is that the lego robot is NOT setup normally to follow its own direction and path without a preset program from a human, whereas the robot my son and I built is set up both ways, to be autonomous and be programmed.

              (He should have won the competition, but they weren't accepting submissions from 2nd graders. Terrible system. Plus the judges didn't understand the science behind the robot, although my son did. I could go on for days about that debacle!)

               

               

              • Gerald Ardito
                Gerald Ardito

                Susan,

                I would love to see the pictures.

                And I am sorry your son had this experience. This type of situation should never happen.

              Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2018

              Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2018

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