THE LIVING ROBOTIC FROG
This wildly weird story was spotted and shared by C.R.G., but it requires a little trip around Harvey's Barn before we get to it. In fact, that little trip around "Harvey's Barn" - or rather, the expression "a trip around Harvey's Barn" - requires its own little trip around Harvey's Barn for those who may be new to this site. That "trip around Harvey's Barn" was an expression my mother used to indicate my father's, and my, propensity to indulge in long preambles before coming to the main point. For me, it's a necessary thing: the journey, or the context, is as often as important as the point of an argument itself. Hence, those long trips around Harvey's Barn only to arrive back at the same point are important, for we now have a context - the whole barn so to speak - in which to appreciate the particular view of the barn from where we started and where we ended up.
So much for our first little excursion around Harvey's Barn. Our second trip, one much more germane to the topic at hand, is this: Catherine Austin Fitts has remarked on a few occasions of her quarterly Solari wrap-ups with me that she strongly suspects that one reason that Mr. Globaloney is pushing the "harvesting" of aborted human fetal tissue - usually for organs and stem cells - is that she thinks that they have discovered its an important component of making artificial intelligences really work. That insightful speculation was constantly in the back of my mind as I read this story that C.R.G. shared:
Note that in spite of the rather provocative (and scary) picture of a robotic frog that accompanies the article, the reality is not quite as Frankensteinish (or is it?):
Scientists have invented the first ever living robots. The robotic devices are made from the embryonic skin and heart cells of frogs. They’re known as Xenobots, getting their name from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, whose stem cells are used to make the robots. This species of frogs is found in the streams and ponds of sub-Saharan Africa, where they search for food. The frogs are renowned for their claws that they use to tear the food they find.
Xenobots, developed by scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont, are the first-ever robots to be created entirely from living material. The machines are tiny creatures, less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide, and can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups. They, however, can’t evolve or recreate. What’s unique about these creatures is that they can heal by themselves when wounded.
Xenobots are devised on a supercomputer running software that imitates natural selection. Algorithms are then instructed to optimize each Xenobot for a different basic function such as moving back and forth or manipulating objects like carrying a payload. The algorithm forwards the digital blueprints it believes are best suited to the task at hand. The best plans are molded with small forceps and searing irons then released into Petri dishes, where the fragments of amphibian flesh live for a week before decaying. (Emphasis added)
And there you have it. Nothing to see here, no actual digital-living robotic "designer frog" as depicted in the picture; move along.
Doubtless there are some that will hail all this as being potentially "just wonderful", especially that part about the ability to heal themselves. Ahhh.... science! (And when I say "just wonderful", I'm thinking of the character Opec in the P.D.Q. Bach opera The Abduction of Figaro, and his aria of praise in the second act to the Pasha Shaboom [another character in said opera].)
But as always, there's some high octane speculation to be indulged in when an article like this comes along. Note firstly the general connection between the robotic-frog "organism" and super-computer algorithms. As one might expect, I suspect there may be more going on here than meets the eye, or is being disclosed, particularly when we're told that they were designed by software that "imitates natural selection." The bow to the Great God "Evolution" seems to be rather obvious. But I have to wonder which version of "natural selection" on the endlessly patched quiltwork of evolutionary theory we're talking about here? Darwin's gradualism? The "hopeful monster" version? Gould's "punctuated equilibrium"? All of these thoughts remind me of the opening lines of C.S. Lewis' poem on the subject titled Evolutionary Hymn:
Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
There is, however, a more disturbing thought that occurred to me than just this bow to computer-modeling of an "evolutionary algorithm" that is being used to blueprint "designer frogs." And that more disturbing thought is really the heart of my high octane speculation for today. The article, as noted, has a somewhat shocking picture of a robotic "designer frog" at its very beginning. The article itself quickly dispels any such notions by pointing out that the "robotic frog" in this instance is very small and doesn't even look like a frog. It merely uses frog stem cells engineered with a specific algorithm to accomplish a specific task.
But here's the rub: most readers here probably have seen those pictures or videos - and there are plenty - of humanoid robots climbing stairs, or doing other tasks. My constant complaint about robots in human roles - police, garbage collecting, waiters or waitresses (wait-entities?), is the lack of human responses. A robo-cop is far more likely to arrest you and give you a speeding ticket for being three tenths of a mile over the speed limit than a human policeman would be. It's the inability to reason with nuance and context, in other words, that disturbs me about robots.
So I have to wonder, as I ponder those pictures and videos of humanoid robots performing certain tasks, if they are not already using stem cells to give them that nuance. Human stem cells. And from whom? (And I'll give you one guess, and chances are, your guess is likely to be correct.) Is there a dark side to what we've been seeing in those pictures and videos? One being deliberately kept secret?
It wouldn't surprise me.
And I'll bet it wouldn't surprise you either.
See you on the flip side...
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