Rule Five Friday

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (1) (853x1280)Are we on the brink of creating artificial life?  Excerpt:

With 100 billion neurons and 37 trillion cells, the human body is simply too complex to be artificially designed by modern computers.

But in the quest to create artificial life, what if we started a lot smaller? That’s what team of scientists has done, creating a replica of the simplest form of life we know.

The worm Caenorhabditis elegans has just 300 neurons and around 1,000 cells – and now a robot has been created that mimics the actions of this simple organism.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (2) (861x1280)The OpenWorm project, a global effort including researchers from the US and UK, is attempting to create the world’s first digital animal.

Earlier this year they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a worm you can download onto your computer.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this.  First, the implications of digitizing a worm brain are far, far different than the implications of digitizing a human brain.  Ditto for the moral and ethical implications.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (3) (1280x845)Fortunately, the complexity of a human brain is also far more involved than a worm brain, making the differences in the project probably more of kind than of degree.

But what if we could do it?

That’s where the two ways of looking at this come in, here where humans are concerned.  You could use the process to make a copy of your own brain – a back-up, as it were, to be activated on physical death.  On the other hand, what if you could eschew physicality altogether, and go completely digital?  A disembodied sprite, wandering the Intarwebs.  Would you be an odd sort of living virus?  2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (4) (862x1280)Would you be able to interact with the living?  With other cyber-beings?  Would you still have rights, obligations, responsibilities?

I’m inclined to answer “no,” to those last three, because the copy of you would not be you – it would only be a programmed simulacrum of you.  It’s hard to see how a purely digital “person” could in fact be a person in any legal, moral or ethical sense.

But back to the worm; the linked article concludes:

The robot is very basic for now, and does not possess the ability to perform more complex functions such as eating.

It’s an important step, though, to creating artificial life that can think for itself.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (5) (861x1280)While this worm is a very basic form of life, it may be a precursor to making much more complex animals.

This will be a huge undertaking, though – even a mouse has 22 million neurons in its brain.

‘The mere act of trying to put a working model together causes us to realise what we know and what we don’t know,’ John Long, a roboticist and neuroscientist at Vassar College in New York State, told New Scientist.

In other words, creating a simulation of any mammal brain, much less a human brain, is a long, long ways off.  Still the stuff of science fiction (of which, as all True Believers may know, yr. obdt. is a fan and an author.)

But while it may be a long ways off, it may not be too soon to start thinking about the implications.  Besides, it’s entertaining.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (6) (1280x844)