Scientists Use a Mechanical Worm Brain to Control a Lego Robot
Worms are becoming unlikely candidates to facilitate a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. Researchers from the Open Worm project, an international project that brings scientific researchers and programmers together to try to recreate the parasitic roundworm in a machine, had its first breakthrough when its "worm brain" software remotely controlled a Lego robot.
The mechanical "brain," which took four years to build, models 302 of the worm's neurons in its software. Without any prior programming, it induced the Lego robot to behave like a roundworm, accurately imitating the animal in its responses to both obstacles and food.
The Lego robot aims to imitate the worm's biology, with its nose neurons simulated with a sonar sensor and its motor neurons replaced with actual motors. The robot and software are not quite advanced enough that the researchers felt comfortable stating that it completely simulates a worm, however, with project coordinator Stephen Larson claiming they were "20 to 30% of the way towards where we need to get." But the breakthrough makes it infinitely more likely that they will be able to achieve their primary directive: reproducing a mechanical version of the anatomy and mentality of a worm.
The software, in particular, is closer to simulating a biological brain than the researchers themselves even anticipated when they began the project: "We know we have the correct number of neurons, we have them connected together in roughly the same way that the animal has, and they're organized in the same way in that there are some neurons that give out information and other neurons that receive information."
The research is still awaiting peer review, and by their own admission they have a long way to go. But in the near future, if they are able to successfully reproduce a mechanical version of a specific worm's brain, it will mark the first step towards uploading human minds into virtually immortal robots.