Mind Melding―Researchers Upload Worm's Brain into a Movable Robot, Marking Milestone in Artificial Intelligence

By Matthew Charnock | Jan 23, 2015 09:57 PM EST

It could be a scene straight from any science fiction screenplay―a robot running on its own mind. As our biotechnology begins to advance further and further, we are witnessing how that bridge between man and machine isn't just being built―it is being crossed too. And an ambitious new project, code-named "Open Worm Project," has recently decided to push the boundaries of what technology is able to do by producing a free-thinking small robot, fueled by the "neurological pathways" of  just such a creature.

This small, relatively simple-minded machine may seem, to the unknowing eye, the product of a University extra-credit assignment. But they'd be quite mistaken. The new-age robot is the result an international collaboration between scientist and programmers alike, that have managed to build an example of artificial intelligence that responds to environmental stimuli. The robot operates primarily from a neurological network that mirrors that of the creature which the project adopted its name from, a roundworm.

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"We've been working on it for four years and while we have a lot more to achieve it's been the most surprising project I've been involved in," project coordinator of OWP (Open Worm Project), Stephen Larson says. "It's certainly exceeded my expectations."

Because it relies on this synthetic "brain" the robot doesn't need live-updates to act accordingly to different external cues, rather it builds-up an instinctual memory bank. If, for example, the robot collides into a wall within its habitat, it will respond to that initial stimulus by back-tracking, noting the experience as negative, and apt to forgo that incidence in the future.

And, with the project's on-going development, researchers and programmers hope to fine-tune the robots as they advance; there's even been talk mirroring larger neural networks.

"We definitely have further to go, but I think what captures people's imagination is how much information we have managed to put together" Larson says. "We know we have the correct number of neurons, we have them connected together in roughly the same way that the animal has, and they're organized in the same way in that there are some neurons that give out information and other neurons that receive information. Something with wheels that [are] rigid is an interesting application but it still falls short of reproducing the anatomy of the worm."

Being constructed by quite a few LEGO bits-and-pieces, the Open Worm Project is on the way to building an imaginative reality. 

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