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Living Machines Are Almost A Reality

By James Donahue

The science fiction writers have been calling them cyborgs. The concept of thinking machines that operate like us has been flying from the minds of such writers and the creators of Hollywood films for years. We have seen them appear as robotic servants taking the place of humans on factory assembly lines, fighting on the front lines of battle, and turning against us in civil rebellion.

We always thought of working robots as an interesting concept, and creative minds have been working hard in recent years to actually create robots that fill some of these rolls. Indeed, we already have robot machines building our cars and doing other monotonous tasks in factories and some inventors are working hard at creating robots that look and act so much like real people they may someday be working and living among us without our being aware of it.

But these are still thought of as machines. Then there is that nagging thought of building machines with artificial intelligence, or AI. You perhaps remember the movie with that title.

Now bioengineers at Harvard University have revealed they are on the verge of creating something that may be actually approaching AI. They have successfully created what they are calling "cyborg tissue." These involve neurons, heart cells, muscle and blood vessels interwoven by nanowires and transistors. They thus are half living cells driven by electronic wires and energy sources. A computer is used to interface directly with the cells.

The Harvard team says they took normal collagen then wove nanowires and transistors into the "matrix" to create nano-electric "scaffolds." Thus they have created the remnants of real cyborgs driven by a built-in computerized sensor network.

The work at Harvard is still in its early stages, with the team working with the tissue of rats. But they say they have also successfully grown a cyborg human blood vessel. The next step will be to find a way to communicate with the cells "the same way a biological system does."

So far the reported objective is for medical research. The project is to find a way to use nanobots to explore the human body looking for inflammation, tumors and other health problems and eventually create new organs to replace damaged hearts, livers, kidneys and other body parts.

But when the day comes that we can do all of this, what is to stop some bioengineering team from going all the way. The creation of a full-fledged living cyborg would also be within our grasp. This, of course, would open the door to all kinds of legal and social issues. If they are classified as living, thinking machines, do they get the same legal rights as humans? Will they be allowed to vote and own property? Must they be paid wages for the work performed or will they be treated like slaves and forced to labor around the clock for the benefit of mankind?

If such cyborg machines are thinking, reasoning beings, would they not be inclined to someday go into rebellion and turn against us? With superior physical bodies that do not wear our or feel physical pain, perhaps a rebellion or civil war against an angry army of such machines would be a losing cause for humanity. Can they learn to become self-replicating?

Even more interesting is the concept of human spirit or soul transfer from a diseased and pain-riddled body into a living machine that looks and functions perhaps even with more efficiency than a normal human body. If such amazing technology can ever be achieved, is may surely be possible for humanity to not only survive the destruction we have brought upon planet Earth, but make it possible to navigate the stars, seeking new and exciting planets to colonize.

Are we not on the threshold of a new and exciting era of human evolution? Because he has been trapped in a body riddled with a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it is no surprise that the famed Oxford physicist Stephen Hawking has long advocated human exploration into space. Hawking has warned of a looming warming of the Earth that he believes could eventually make this planet too hot to support life.

But Hawking knows very well that even healthy human bodies were never designed for the long flights into deep space that would bring about colonization of other planets, or the discoveries of earth-like planets in other solar systems in our galaxy. If, however, we could move our consciousness into superior cyborg bodies that do not require oxygen and food, but take natural energy from space, such explorations would be not only possible, but perhaps mandatory for continuation of our species.