In NEWDAWN, Science, SciTech, Technology by Dominique LuchartLeave a Comment

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Science Fiction has never felt so real.  Living in a pandemic, by yourself watching the news of the Pandemic or Net Flicks of the movie the Pandemic its hard to tell reality from fiction.  If you can think it, it can become real.  If you are on the last reruns of Star Trek with little choices left, try an incredible new book that has become the rave among its readers.  The prequel of the NEWDAWN Saga – NewDawn Roamers.

Window view of space and planets from a space station 3D rendering elements of this image furnished by NASA

The First Living Robots – The First of its Kind is no Joke for the Future of Humanity…

We know it is just a matter of time before implants will lead us to a new generation of humans. Already today, we have implants helping the blind see shapes in black and white so they can move around more freely, and even brain implants helping with hand and arm motion. Imagine what it will be like when we are all stronger, healthier, and even faster to keep up with the Artificial Intelligence system that will oversee our entire world infrastructure? I promise this is not that far away!

Already, scientists have lifted cells from frog embryos and assembled them to create a new life form. These called “xenobots” can move around and heal themselves if damaged. Think about one millimeter wide bots that can be programmed to reach a target, perhaps even deliver a medicine payload to the intended cells within your body to help one heal? Well, this is some of the work developed by scientists like Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotic expert working at the University of Vermont (UVM) who co-led the research on these “novel living machines.”

The Steps Toward a New Life Form

They do not belong to traditional robotics per se, nor do they meet with any known species of animals on the planet. They are, in effect, a new species, a new class of artefact, a living programmable organism.

Designed on a supercomputer at UVM, they were assembled and tested by biologists at Tuft University, Massachussets. Already many applications can be used with the “xenobots,” unlike other machines or robots, states Michael Levin at Tuft Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. They can indeed provide help in searching vile compound or radioactive contamination. They can travel in arteries and gather plaque on some patients. They can also collect microplastic in the oceans, something our planet dramatically needs.

We already know that scientists have manipulated and edited genetics around the world for food and even to replicate existing animals. However, this is a new step in research, and these organisms represent designed biological machines created from the ground up. The team at UVM’s Vermont Advanced Computer Core and Deep Green Supercomputer cluster, worked over months of computing to create thousand of candidates design for this new life-form based on an evolutionay algorithm. With assigned tasks given by scientists, like locomotion in one direction, the computer would reassemble a few hundred simulated cells into a myriad of forms and simulated shapes and accomplished this over and over again. The programming, refined to include rules on biophysics, incorporated what a single skin and cardiac cells can achieve. The simulated organisms that were successful were refined, while the designs that failed were discarded. The elimination process took a hundred of independent runs of the algorithm. Only then did the most promising designs were chosen and tested.

Working diligently to bring the new life-form to life, the team at Tufts went to the next step.  They then gathered stem cells from African frogs, and separated them into single-cell, living them to incubate. With tiny forceps and even smaller electrodes, the cells were cut and joined under a microscope with a close similarity to the selected designs.  

The cells began to work together in a body form never seen before. Each provided with a specific purpose; the skin cells formed a passive architecture while the once-random heart muscle contraction granted a forward motion, based on the computer’s designs and aided by spontaneous, self-organizing patterns giving the robots the ability to move of their own.

The organisms were able to move coherently. They explored their watery environment for weeks, provided by embryonic energy stores. Groups of xenobots moved in a circle, pushing pellets in a central location, both spontaneously and collectively. A few organisms, built with a hole in the center to reduce drag, were repurposed by scientists in simulation to carry an object.

A Supercomputer Leads the Way

This is a step using computer design organisms for intelligent drug delivery, said Bongard. In further tests, the team even cut the xenobots almost in half, and it stitched itself together and kept going. This is not something that you see with typical robots. While with more work this may lead to breaking in some way the morphogenic code, it shed more light in the way organisms are structured and store information.

Enhanced Health and Abilities Through Genetic Manipulation, Nanotechnology and Living Robots

While we are not there yet, we certainly are on our way, and there is no doubt in my mind that by the end of the 21st century, we will see new life forms like these xenobots intervene in a standard health maintenance program. In NEWDAWN ROAMERS, Tesh, our heroine, loses the use of her left arm and is injected nanobots with the help of a HydroSheath to recover the full usage of her limb and by 2098, it is only one of the ways to enhance our physiology.

Genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, living robots are the wave of the future in maintaining our bodies healthy, and giving us a longer lifespan. While there is some concerns that we are opening the door to unforeseeable consequences with biology manipulation, if we are to thrive as a species, and if humanity is to survive in the future, our evolution will require that we integrate more complex systems. For this to happen, “we need to understand how complex properties, somehow emerge from simple rules,” said Levin. To avoid unintended consequences, “we need to get a better handle on systems where the outcome is very complex,” adds Levin.

I expose some of these concepts in NEWDAWN ROAMERS, my SciFi novel set in the near future – 2098, where not only do I deal with a planetary artificial intelligence system like DAINN, but also highlights some of the genetic engineerings that shapes an entirely new generation of humans.

NEWDAWN ROAMERS, more than a book, an entirely new universe!

The results of this research were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.  


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