Blame it on the Bloody Robots (when science and fiction collide): Lush-Us Lessons

Welcome to the first revamped installment of Lush-Us Lessons, my favorite weekend foray down the rabbit hole to discover unusual pockets of knowledge. These particular posts are meant to inspire, to reawaken your curiosity, and rekindle that love of learning in it’s purest form. All too often in life we force ourselves to pursue knowledge as though it is a laundry list: long division- check, early American history- check, cell division and human development- check, the correct way to hold a knife while cutting a wiggly bell pepper- check. We make the fatal error of taking the entertainment out of education, which stops the flow of curiosity.

I tend to be the kind of girl who hears one thing and start to Google question after question until I’m sitting awake at 2am reading about the history of tarot cards or the newest technological designs to cultivate a settlement on Mars. I am also the kind of girl who likes to take notes and let these thoughts simmer until they evolve into a story. When you take the time to learn about the things that interest you, you are rediscovering passions within yourself and giving your brain new fodder to contemplate in the middle of the night. If nothing else, these articles will give you something interesting to talk about at your next barbeque, or perhaps it will spark the idea that leads to your greatest creation.

So, without further delay, let’s talk about these bloody robots that may or may not take over humankind someday (dun-dun-dun). To give you a bit of background, my fiance is an electrical engineer who loves to teach. This means that after a decade together, I have become his slightly unwilling Student Numero Uno. Now, the concepts started crawling above my head a good six years ago, but I’ve managed to glean enough information to at least have a marginal understanding of techy gizmo news. Which is why I was so enthralled when I read about the robot fish that ran on fake blood. Yes friend, you heard me right: bloody robots are officially a thing.

On Wednesday a new article appeared in Nature magazine about a groundbreaking discovery made by a joint team of engineers at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. On the surface it isn’t something that would immediately strike your fancy, but once you dive into the content you realize what a big deal this could be. It started as an energy problem. Robotics engineers are constantly trying to perfect their design and move away from the old clunky compartmentalized creations to something more futuristic (think Star Wars or I, Robot). But how do you move from rigidity to fluidity? How do you create complexly integrated internal systems from the ground up when that has really never been done before? These scientists decided to look to organic life for inspiration to solve their problem.

Meet the lionfish of the future:

The robot creation
A real lionfish for comparison (beautiful and dangerous)

A robotic fish is nothing new; we have some swimming across the ocean studying coral reefs, and you can even buy your own little friend from the store. But they won’t work like this new one. You may be wondering why we don’t have robotic butlers who will fold our laundry for us (something I have been begging my partner to build for years), or why Battle Bots of 2019 still look like they did when the show aired for the first time in August of 2000. Why don’t I have an R2D2 kegorator scooting and bee-booping around my home bar? The answer is simple: the things we have made still aren’t efficient enough for this kind of integration. The amount of power it takes to create autonomous and ‘smart’ bots is extreme and our technology is just too clunky to support this shift. Until now, that is.

The engineers that crafted this little beauty mimicked the human vascular system to address the issue of energy. The fake blood that runs through our little friend’s internal tubes is filled with an enegy-dense battery fluid that assists with propulsion and electrical needs throughout the body of the robot itself- think of it like an energy drink of sorts. It delivers keys ‘nutrients’ to the bot as it flows through the circulatory system.

While the design itself is still not perfected (the battery life is estimated to be about 40 hours, and the fish moves glacially slow)- it has unequivocally proven that these types of advancements are possible. It shoves open the door for new possibilities as different scientists take the knowledge learned here and begin to collaborate, propelling us into an age where daily bots are a much more feasible reality instead of imaginings relegated to the role of science fiction.

When robots can function more like humans, perhaps subsisting on the kinds of oil changes you would give your car- then we can start playing with an unending stream of possibilities. Fully autonomous robots coupled with new advancements in AI have the potential to lead to great things- or send us screeching head-first into a Terminator storyline that no one wishes to go down.

While new advancements create an exciting possibility for progress (imagine the boom of creative endeavors if human time was freed from the daily tasks and drudgery we currently occupy ourselves with), there is always a risk. Look to any sci-fi movie or apocalyptic novel and you will see that humans have a key thread running through the heart of these stories- we fear that we are playing with advancements that we might not fully understand. We are apprehensive about what our creations could lead to: an AI that determines humans are a negative force in the world and must be destroyed or controlled, hackers breaking into secure systems to attack an unsuspecting populace, an EMP that forces us to descend into chaos. These are the deep philosophical questions tied to every body of science.

What are your thoughts? Are you cheering for the next technological breakthrough? Afraid that we are walking towards a future we don’t understand? Or are you simply inspired to write out your next novel diving into the beauty and terror these ideas inspire in the human soul?

For those who are interested in some additional reading (although Dr. Google has some pretty awesome options if you feel like diving in on your own).

Nature Article – this is the original scientific journal publishing; be warned, if you don’t have a paid subscription (perhaps through your school) then they will try to charge you if you want to reach past the second page.

Wired article

CNN article

ZME article

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Oh technology, my strongest ally and my fiercest foe. Why do you constantly deem it necessary to torment me? My dearest laptop, after all of the time I have invested with you; all of those hours we logged together clickity clacking away on that keyboard, scanning page after page of research, bonding with faraway strangers at the speed of light, creating worlds and galaxies with nothing more than twenty-six letters constructed into infinite possible words. I’ve been good to you, haven’t I? I’ll admit, I’ve been a tad clingy in the past, especially during the frazzling Nano months; but we had a good time, didn’t we? And I’m sorry I spilled my coffee on you once- but your lid was closed, I cleaned you properly- will you ever forgive me for that accident?

You see, I hate to admit it, but I’ve come to depend on you. A lot. And yet lately it just doesn’t seem like you care as much as you did once upon a time. You are distant, you keep locking me out of my word documents- documents we created together, I can now only look at them through Microsoft Windows, but I cannot touch. I cannot even copy them to a new word processor. I can simply stare at that spelling error mocking me without the tools to correct it. It’s because you’ve disconnnected- from me and the worldwide web. You don’t like your old friend, the router. And so you just arbitrarily decided that you were done with it. But now I can’t even back up my work to the cloud, and my word processor locked me out because it can’t verify my ongoing subscription if it can’t connect to the internet. It’s a sad day when your best technical ally becomes your enemy, hiding your written secrets even from yourself.

I don’t want to move on, I don’t want a new laptop- and truthfully, I can’t afford one. I just don’t know why we can’t work together anymore. I always tried to do right by you. I’m not perfect; I didn’t always put you where you belonged, I let the baby type on you (with supervision), and yes, I have spilled my treats on you. But I’ve always tried my best, I’ve always ensured you got your updates and were protected from outside viruses. I thought we were close. 

And yet, here I am, having to pull my old laptop out of storage- you know, the one that is slow and clunky, the one that just got worn out and tired- the one with the exposed wires for a charging cable. It was supposed to be resting, enjoying its technical retirement- but it’s having to join the workforce again- my workforce. Because you left me. Because modern computers now need an internet connection for even the most mundane of tasks. Because the world has evolved and my dependence on your abilities is so much stronger than it used to be.

Please, I hope we can work this out. I dream of a day when I log in and see those little bars that mean you’ve decided to reconnect to the outside world. I won’t give up on you, my friend, even if it feels like you gave up on me. Because at the end of the day- we need each other. We are peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and butter- sure you could get by with one of us, but it is the combination that knocks it out of the park. Until then, I will miss you my friend. And I hope the old laptop is okay with coming out of retirement. I am so glad I held on to it.