The Worminator lives, with the brain of one of nature’s simplest creatures and a body carefully crafted out of Lego Mindstorm V3 parts history shall record the world’s first Cyborg as being a Lego worm. While not as impressive as James Cameron’s interpretation of a Cyborg sent back in time it is none the less an important milestone.
Created as a part of the OpenWorm project Worminator programmer Lucy Black describes the process of creating the neural simulation software in her I-Programmer article published November 16. Using off the shelf (toy shop shelf) hardware and fairly standard networking protocols the team have in fact been able to observe very similar behaviours to that of the original facsimile, a roundworm (Caenohadbitis elegans).
The roundworm is one of nature’s simpler creatures, with only 302 neurons in its neural network it is a perfect place to start. The human brain by comparison has over a 100 billion Neurons squeezed into the grey matter between our ears, before we start dwindling that number back in any case.
The OpenWorm project doesn’t have the same lofty goals as Skynet, not just yet as far as we can tell. For the moment they are happy to work towards creating a completely simulated version of the roundworm. They have already sequenced the worm’s genome and now have a working simulation of the mind of the worm. Now they need to construct a software engine to execute or simulate the genome and mind together, once that’s in place they are most of the way there to having a live running simulation of an organic creature.
The other interesting factor to consider is that this simulation started with a blank slate, this is not a brain to computer transfer of the knowledge the worm had built up in its lifetime but instead a brand new worm brain. Which does raise another interesting question, whether the worm will object to having its brain periodically reset and in the process ending that existence?
If they succeed in creating a fully working virtual roundworm this simulation may imbue the worm with one property no living creature seems to currently posses, immortality; as long as the power stays on. It does also pose interesting prospects for video games and other virtual worlds with never before seen levels of realism for the AI characters and environments within these worlds.
Can one simple cybernetic worm really change the world? Will advancements in artificial intelligence and artificial life forms threaten humanities existence? The answer to both of these questions is probably not for quite a long while yet, until then we should probably be more concerned about the behaviour of our fellow upright organic life forms.