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Scientists create a robot that a worm’s brain controls

This is no ordinary worm.


AJ Dellinger


There are currently several ongoing initiatives that aim to map the synapse connections in the human brain, operating under the assumption that cataloging those signals could allow one to emulate the brain. One group of scientists have their first indication that the concept may work.

The OpenWorm project mapped out the brain of a considerably simpler creature, a common roundworm, and uploaded the simulated brain into a robot made of Legos. Yes, it sounds like the work of a failed mad scientist in an especially bad B-horror film, but it’s a real breakthrough.

The robot was given parts to correspond to the worm’s body parts and neural networks. The nose neurons of the worm are replaced by a sonar sensor and motors on either side of the robot replace the motor neurons.

With no programming—just the software program running the worm brain simulation—the robot reacts to its environment, stopping and backing up when it nears the wall. Without the context of the project it’s probably a very boring robot to watch, just running into walls and backing up occasionally.

But the OpenWorm project is much more than that. The ultimate goal of the scientists involved is to create a virtual worm inside a computer. The pending success of that also leads to the possibility of one day uploading a human brain to a computer, improving artificial intelligence and allowing our minds to live forever digitally.

H/T Smithsonian | Photo via  net_efekt/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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