It all began from a research project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted by a group of scientists from the electric and computer engineering department. In collaboration with the British University of Sheffield and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, they have created a mini origami-robot.
Obviously, this invention has nothing to do with paper. The name should evoke its ability to bend and unfold. In fact, this tiny technological invention owes its success exactly to this ability to shrink, turn in on itself and fit into a digestible casing and be swallowed. Once it reaches your stomach, the biodegradable material melts and the robot unfolds. Then, this tiny device enclosed in a capsule similar to those used for drugs works from within the human body. Gastric juices “free” and activate it.
Once the robot opens up, however, engineers and surgeons will be needed to “guide” it. It was designed to help administering the drugs, repair internal injuries or facilitate the expulsion of foreign bodies ingested by mistake. Its major strength lies in being disconnected from any kind of unwieldy wires such as those currently used to guide sounds.
The intent of the original project is a noble one: to create a device that can act from within the human body, both to medicate an internal injure or deliver drugs, and rid the digestive tract if someone swallows a small metal objects that cannot be digested by our stomach or even damage it – just think how often such things happen to children.
The researchers themselves have carried out some tests with mini batteries, the ones we commonly call “button batteries”, which are used in watches and remote controls. Those tests have proved the ability of the origami-robot to seize and expel the battery via the digestive system. In order to do so, of course, the robot is equipped with a tiny magnet placed in its folds. The latter literally hook metal objects and transport them, but at the same time it allows the origami-robot to be guided and controlled from the outside, using magnetic fields.
As it often happens with news concerning technology, this one opens new disturbing scenarios. The researchers say they are not entirely satisfied with this discovery and that they are going to work on a new version of that robot, which should be able to act autonomously and carry out certain tasks without any guidance from the outside. Once the robot is done with its task, it easily ‘dissolves’ because it is biodegradable. Another case in which the robot works alone preset – obviously -, but with the goal of making it take the right decision according to the difficulties it experiences; in a way, it is endowed with the ability to learn from its own experience, to think, as it were.
Two years ago, a supercomputer became the first computer AI to successfully pass the Turing Test, but in a rather disturbing way: it made the humans believe it was a 13-year-old boy. That is why Elon Musk (Tesla Motor and Space X patron) keeps warning restlessly against the danger A.I. might come to represent. He also invests money into projects aimed at keeping it at bay. Musk is so convinced that Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) can be potentially dangerous that he has donated millions of dollars to the Future of Life Institute to develop projects that will fix A.I’s potential fatal “deviances”.
The implications of trying to make robots think (and, if possible, even have feelings) are as evident as the question they rise: how long are those robots going to need humans to live? How much is the urge to feel like “creators” – not just “inventors” – going to cost humanity? Questions that have no answers yet, but we have to keep interrogating ourselves.