Last month I gave a talk to the New Media Consortium annual conference where I speculated about the future of technology (video, notes, slides here). I invited the audience to think about possible developments over the next five years, then the next decades.
It’s useful to see the present day provide news stories that bear out some of these futures, even as some of those selfsame accounts also carry devastating emotional force. Specifically, points about robotics and the blending of digital technology with biology.
ITEM: a Harvard scientist build a “medusoid“, an autonomous robot/organism. It’s
a simple artificial creature composed of heart muscle cells overlaid on a sheet of silicone molded into a shallow cup rimmed with flaps. A bath of salt-sugar solution sustained the cells, and tiny jolts of electricity made the cells contract, changing the shape of the silicone cup so that the “jellyfish” expelled liquid, propelling it through its bath.
“Roughly speaking, we made this thing with a pinch of rat cardiac cells, a pinch of breast implant, and a pinch of gold. That pretty much sums it up, except for the genetic engineering…”
It’s a little thing (for now). Check out this explanatory video:
The creator thinks this could help develop artificial tissue and organs; how much more effective will they become? When will biomechanical replacements become more interesting and/or clever than the stuff humans normally carry?
I can easily brainstorm other uses for this creature-bot’s descendants. Imagine larger versions as naval vessels, both exploratory and military. Think of smaller ones for medical interventions, benign or otherwise. What happens when these get loose in the world?
As I said to NMC, we need to keep an eye on the digital/biological biomechanical future.
“The suspect said we will eventually find the IEDs,” [Dallas Police Chief David] Brown said, a reference to explosives. “He wanted to kill officers. And he expressed killing white people, killing white officers, he expressed anger for Black Lives Matter.”
“We saw no other option than to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension to detonate where the suspect was,” Brown said, adding that, “other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”
Brown said reports that the suspect shot himself were incorrect. “The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb,” he said.
(Great example of police officialese.) Will we see this practice expand and develop, with American police forces deploying robots? Could cities demilitarize human police only to see ever more lethal cop-bots? Would racist police use robots against black people as a dehumanizing tactic?
It’s 2016. Artificial organisms and police robots are here to some extent. We need to start thinking about their future.