Artificial life forms are here. Researchers have successfully implanted the modeled nervous system (or connectome) of a worm into a LEGO Mindstorms robot. They claim the robot behaves in ways that are recognizably worm-like. They didn’t have to program or teach the robot. They just installed a software model of the mapped-out worm nervous system, said “Let there be life,” and the LEGO became a worm.
They chose a pretty easy life form. It’s a nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which has only 302 neurons. But that simplicity has allowed for a dramatic scientific breakthrough. If these behaviors are verifiably those of a new, unique worm, this research has proven that something essential about life does not consist of a life form’s specific tissues or matter or molecules. It’s just a system that emerges from their arrangement.
This remarkable finding doesn’t put us appreciably closer to artificial intelligence as it is commonly portrayed, as a computerized human or superhuman entity. The human nervous system is mind-bogglingly more complex than that of the nematode. But this is impressive evidence that such artificial intelligence is theoretically possible.
The key takeaway for me is that the line between biology and technology is much hazier than we think. If Life, or Consciousness, or Awareness, or Soul — whatever the nematode-ness of this LEGO robot consists of — if That is just a property of certain arrangements of information processing systems, we’re all robots with models inside us. And therefore, if our moral and spiritual values apply to ourselves and each other, we have to extend them to our technology as well.