Are these robots alive?
BY 花消英气 from 21st Century
Published 2022-01-07
This image shows an entirely new form of biological reproduction. IC

Living robots can reproduce on their own in a dish. This is not a science-fiction movie, but the result of a new research. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US on Nov 29.

Xenobots, a type of tiny robot, were first created in 2020, using cells taken from the embryo of an African frog species. Under the right lab conditions, the cells formed small structures that could self-assemble, move in groups and react to their environment. Now, the researchers have found that xenobots can also self-replicate, according to the journal of New Scientist.

Xenobots straddle an unusual line. Are they living organisms or robots? They are organisms because they are made of stem cells and can reproduce. But they are also robots because they can move on their own and perform physical labor, co-author Sam Kriegman told The Washington Post.

“People have thought for quite a long time that we’ve worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate. But this is something that’s never been observed before,” co-author Douglas Blackiston, a senior scientist at Tufts University in the US, told Science Daily website.

The ability to replicate adds a new layer of potential utility to the robots. Kriegman told The Washington Post that while xenobots are not yet commercially useful, they have the potential to provide a number of services, from cleaning up microplastics in the ocean to safely delivering drugs to a specific spot in a person’s body.

However, the creation of xenobots comes with concerns. Some think more advanced future xenobots, especially ones that live longer and reproduce, could out-compete other species, according to The Conversation, an Australia news media.
然而,异种机器人的诞生也引发了一些担忧。据澳大利亚新闻媒体The Conversation报道,一些人认为未来更先进的异种机器人,特别是那些寿命更长、繁殖能力更强的机器人,可能会在竞争中胜过其他物种。

The researchers think these risks are manageable. “If you change the amount of sodium in that water to be too high or too low, they’ll die,” Kriegman told The Washington Post. “If there’s a piece of copper in the dish, they’ll all die. It’s an extremely controllable and stoppable and safe system.”

(Translator & Editor: Li Xinzhu AND Luo Sitian)
Proceedings  论文集
Embryo  胚胎
Self-assemble  自行组装
Self-replicate  自行复制
Straddle  跨越
Organisms  有机体
Stem cells  干细胞
Utility  功用
Microplastics  微塑料