Emergence and Xenobots

About a month ago, the University of Vermont published a research on Xenobots, "living robots" capable of moving in a direction and self-repairing if damaged.

These organisms are composed of two distinct 'pieces': myocardial cells —the heart's muscle tissue— that contract periodically involuntarily, and skin cells with a purely structural function. Both were obtained from frog embryos.

A team of computer scientists at this university used a supercomputer to find configurations capable of moving longer distances in a period of 10 seconds. Each of the configurations was a three-dimensional mosaic of these cells, the result of which is no longer a frog.

Figure about the Xenobots assembly

For now, it's an early test far from large-scale manufacturing, and the most effective configurations were manually replicated by a surgeon with tweezers and miniature electrodes. However, the authors imagine that as bioprinting advances, they could have many applications.

In the future, creatures of this type could be used to clean plastic from the oceans, eliminate radioactive contamination, or deliver medications to specific parts of the body. But above all, it's a first step towards understanding their collective behavior.

Although they have been trained with the goal of moving forward, this has allowed their individual behavior to be modeled. However, when many of these creatures interact with each other, emergent behaviors arise that are not easily predictable, such as spinning in circles.

This phenomenon, known as emergence, has aroused concern within the scientific community. Emergent behaviors, so difficult to predict, are a very recurrent theme in science fiction.

MicroBenders autoreplicated (Futurama 6x17)

There is a popular global catastrophe scenario known as gray goo. In this hypothesis, the development of certain self-replicating technology spirals out of control until it exhausts all the planet's resources.

In this case, there's no need to worry, as the way xenobots have been designed deprives them of many functions necessary to stay alive for more than a week. Or at least that seems to be the case.

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