Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Worm emulation

In Beside an Open Window, I portray a future in which human brains are scanned and uploaded to a virtual world once the 'original' human has died.  Whilst such technology might be a long way off, it's  not inconceivable that this could be done one day.  Of course, it might be the case when this happens that human brain scans get uploaded to robots (as explored by Janet Asimov) rather than virtual worlds; I chose the latter because I presumed it would be cheaper.

The OpenWorm project has for a while now been working towards a the complete emulation of Caenorhabditis elegans, a microscopic roundworm consisting of about a thousand cells - 300 of which are neurons.  I won't attempt to pick apart the science here - there are plenty of articles about the project to be found - but feast your eyes on the video below, which shows a Lego robot being controlled by the current emulated model of the worm's brain.

Take a moment to consider what this video represents.  A living creature has had its brain - all of its neurons and their interconnections - recreated in software and connected to a few sensory inputs and motor outputs.  The robot has not been 'programmed' in any way: the responses you are seeing are those of an actual 'mind' which has been separated from the hardware of its brain.  It is one of the most awesome and somehow terrifying things I have seen this year.


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