Can AI create self-replicating lifeforms?
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Can AI create self-replicating lifeforms?

By Arely Peckham

Can artificial intelligence make us immortal? AI allows computers to play GM level chess, drive cars, create interactive NPCs in video games, and seems to read your mind when your phone suggests products for you. Despite these advances, it still sounds like science fiction to have a robot that can replicate itself ad infinitum.  First imagine this process . . . but with organic matter. 

Scientists have discovered an African frog skin cell that has the ability to replicate itself.  From this initial observation, scientists and AI designed xenobots, microscopic fabricated lifeforms that can replicate using cells found in their environment. Xenobots are blobs of frog skin stem cells and cardiac (heart) cells that knit themselves together. After the cells are moved from their normal location on embryonic frogs, they reorganize into balls and repurpose themselves within a few days to swim.  Each xenobot has a protrusion (called a “cilia”) that allows it to move around freely. Cell cilia on frogs are used for a different purpose than those on xenobots, which demonstrates how well and quickly xenobots adapt.  

When xenobots move, they collect loose cells, which form into spheres. These spheres are then used to create more xenobots. This process is a new form of reproduction, known as kinematic self-replication. Previously, this had only been seen in molecules, not in cells or organisms. 

Xenobots are groundbreaking—they have numerous possible medical and scientific uses. This includes clearing microplastics from water, cleaning radioactive waste, repairing injuries, delivering medicines to specific locations in humans, defeating aging, and so on. The effect that xenobots would have on life would be astronomical, and an incredible advancement for humans.

In a sense, Xenobots are the world’s first living, self-healing AI. They are essentially programmable organisms. Are they truly alive? Are they artificial intelligence? Is it wise to mess with immortality? These are all important questions, but perhaps ones that we are too afraid to ask.