In context: As the human race has grown and changed over time, we've increasingly become the masters of our own evolution. Through technology, we've managed to heal the sick, better protect the young, and extend our lifespans. With the advancement of AI and robotics, we're even beginning to approach a future where human-like artificial beings may roam the streets.
However, a future where fully intelligent (and perhaps self-aware) robots exist is probably still at least a decade away, if not longer. In the meantime, though, researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) have managed to create something just as impressive: living, biological robots, also known as "xenobots."
These bots are neither traditional robots nor ordinary life forms – instead, they're an unusual hybrid. They were created through the use of a supercomputer and "repurposed" living cells scraped from frog embryos. Once assembled, these cells become a "living, programmable organism," which could be given a wide range of tasks in the future.
For example, these minuscule organisms could scrape plaque from someone's arteries, gather microplastic from the world's oceans, or search for "nasty compounds" and radioactive contamination. Obviously, it'll be quite some time before the xenobots are allowed to perform any of those tasks, but if that day comes, it'll be a significant milestone for humanity.
Currently, the xenobots are capable of working together, pushing or carrying objects, walking, and even swimming. They're small, coming in at roughly 0.7 millimeters, and they can survive in "standard freshwater" warmed (or cooled) to temperatures between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the grand scheme of things, the xenobots don't live very long – their "pre-loaded" food source is only enough to keep them going for about a week and change. Researchers say that lifespan could be increased to "weeks or months" if a given xenobot is grown in the right environment.
We fully expect plenty of ethical discussions to arise from this research, but that's a topic for another day. For now, what the UVM research team has managed to accomplish is nothing short of astonishing, and we'd love to hear what you think in the comments below.