If you had visions of one day people being able to upload their minds into a computer or robot to continue living as some kind of post-human cyborg, then a humble common roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) is helping mankind tread down that sci-fi path.
In the OpenWorm project scientists and programmers from across the globe have come together to build the first digital lifeform—a virtual version of Caenorhabditis elegans.
They recently had a breakthrough in their research when they digitally cloned the mind of a roundworm, creating a software model of the neurons of the worm’s nervous system, and uploaded it to a Lego robot.
The machine's sensors, without any prior programming, made the robot behave in a similar fashion to C. elegans, approaching and backing away from obstacles or stimulated by food.
While the developers say it will be some time before the Lego bot will be avoiding predators or searching for a mate, scientists say the project shows that artificial intelligence, or AI as it is known, is coming out of the realm of science fiction.
"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 Stephen Larson told CNN. "It's certainly exceeded my expectations."
With the worm's nose neurons replaced by a sonar sensor and the motor neurons running down both sides of the worm replicated on the left and right motors of the Lego bot, the robot could emulate the worm's biological wiring.
"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 said.