A team of scientists from the University of Vermont, Tufts and Harvard took stem cells from a frog and turned them into robots. The tiny robots made copies of themselves.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Apparently, robots can reproduce. Last year, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont, Tufts and Harvard took stem cells from a frog and turned them into robots, specifically tiny creatures called xenobots. And then the scientists sat back and watched something totally new happen in the lab. The tiny robots made copies of themselves.
MICHAEL LEVIN: If they find themselves in an environment with other cells sort of sprinkled on the bottom of the petri dish, they will go around and, like tiny little bulldozers, basically corral these other cells into piles. And those piles will also become slightly smaller xenobots, the next generation of xenobots.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That’s Michael Levin of Tufts University. He’s one of the scientists on the project. He helped build these tiny creatures from frogs. They have no brains or nervous systems, and yet they can move around and interact with each other. This seems like the opposite of what a robot created by humans is supposed to do, but it makes sense to Levin.
LEVIN: You know, the definition of a robot has nothing to do with being metallic. What you’re made of is not what distinguishes a biological creature from a robot. It all has to do with the degree of self autonomy and how well can we predict and control what it’s going to do?
INSKEEP: OK. Autonomous living cells reproducing of their own free will – what could possibly go wrong here? But Levin says nothing to worry about.