20 January 2011

Robotic Life

From continuous countless changes, a few that are happened to be suitable to the environment survive and move on to next generations. Others die out. Over the course of long time, the few that survived look as if someone suitably designed them...created them for the environment. This natural selection process designed many survival robots such as bacteria, plants and animals including humans! Their design is in their genes (DNA).

The fundamental goals of these life robots are to survive and reproduce, because only those can exist. Every part of our body, every thoughts in our mind, and every goals of our life are formed from the same fundamental goals.

We need food to survive. And we need legs to search for it, hands to catch and hold it, eyes and nose to recognize it, and mouth to eat it. We need nervous system and brain to control and activate all these parts of our body.

Before the water level in our body goes critically low, our brain has to warn us with thirst. Before the nutrients level in our blood goes critically low, the brain has to warn us with hunger. Before our body cells getting damaged from extra heat, it has to reduce the heat by sweating. Before our body cells getting damaged from extra cold, it has to increase the heat by shivering. Our brain has to create sexual thoughts for reproduction and prepare our body accordingly.

When our legs function, we call it walking. When our brain functions, we call it mind. Our brain consumes as much as energy as our legs (25%). So, it has to function at a normal speed. But, during critical situations such as escaping from danger, it has to increase its speed to process more information at a shorter time. Our brain has to analyze and weigh the risks and rewards of everything. But, once it is decided to fight with an enemy, our brain has to turn-off the weighing part to focus all its energy preparing for the fight. We call this mental state as anger. That is why we say: "when anger comes, wisdom goes" and "Anger is a brief madness". Our brain has to analyze and criticize the positives and negatives of everything. But, it has to turn-off the criticizing part on our romantic partner. We call this mental state as romantic love. That is why we say: "Love is blind". That is why we see this world as beautiful and perfect when we are in love. In general, our brain has to constantly analyze and research many things. That is why, our mind wanders around easily. But we have to focus our attention when comes to our children to understand what is good and bad for them, and spend our energy accordingly. We call this mental state as parental love.

Our brain has to remember new events from our experiences. It has to learn new information and new skills. Apart from these functions, it has to know its own mental or emotional states to control their default responses and apply new information and skills. It has to know, what it knows and does not know. It has to know, its strengths and weaknesses. We call this awareness. This is how, we execute the commands written in our brain by our genes. This is our robotic life! When this robot functions, we call it life and when it can no longer function, we call it death.

Achilles: But, now days, we can bring life back even after breathing and heart stopped...?

Tortoise: A bacterium is a single cell species. If any part of its cell is damaged or any of its chemical reaction is tampered, that will be its death. We are multi-cells species, made up of trillions of cells. If one or few cells are damaged, our body can replace them. But if an important organ itself is damaged, that will damage cells in other parts of our body and slowly entire body will be disabled. If lungs or heart stopped, our body cells slowly start dying. Using external stimulation or artificial heart and breathing, we may bring life back. Considering today’s medical technology, perhaps our death may be pronounced when most part of our brain cells are died, as we discovered some alternatives for other parts of our body. In the future, we may discover some alternatives for our brain too.

Hypothetically... say, you lost your hands and legs, and now you are attached with artificial limbs. Is this still you? (It is possible to decode the brain signal and use it to control the artificial limbs. Though there are many technical difficulties, we have achieved this to an extent for artificial hands, legs, ears, eyes, etc.)

Achilles: Yes, still me.

Tortoise: The brain cells need continuous supply of good blood to function normally. Say, all your body organs such as heart, lungs, etc. are removed and good blood supply is artificially given to your brain. Is this still you?

Achilles: OK, still me.

Tortoise: We know the fundamental functions of the brain cells (neurons). We can replace a single cell or multiple cells with an electronic chip (we have already done this in rats and monkey brain cells; and some deep brain stimulation in humans). If each and every cell in your brain is replaced with proper electronic chips, you will just function as you do now. Is this still you?

Achilles: Hmm... I think so!

Tortoise: Now you just need an electric power source such as a battery.

Achilles: But, the robots we create do not seem to function like living things...?

Tortoise: In nature, life is designed at nanotechnology level (atoms and molecules level). We have just entered into nanotechnology. Yet, other technologies can also offer many good solutions. Every method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Animals use legs that are designed with bones and thousands of muscles controlled by complex nervous system to move. We use wheels in our motor vehicles. Like birds, we created airplanes and also rockets using totally different technique. Like brain, we created computers. Today's computer programs play chess, find solutions for mathematical problems, offer expertise like experts in many fields such as cardiology and geology, and buy stocks in the stock markets.

Today's successful computer programs use thousands of inter-connected information. But, we need programs that can handle millions of inter-connected information to achieve human level commonsense. Instead of creating them directly, we may create programs that can learn and build the inter-connected information from the world experiences as children do. When we create a human like autonomous robot, it will also have self-awareness and some kind of emotions.

Achilles: How?

Tortoise: It depends on how we create it - its architecture and learning algorithms, and why we create it - its purpose (its goals). At a basic level, it has to know something about its energy source (say, battery). What is the maximum storage capacity? How much energy is needed for different kinds of work? What are the ways to get the energy? It has to know different parts of its body and how to use them. It has to know about the world and learn about its cause and effects. It has to know, what it knows and what it does not know. It has to know, its strengths and weaknesses. It has to know some knowledge about its own mental or emotional states - awareness.

It has to plan to pursue any goals. Real world goals are millions of times complex than the chess game. It has to choose a way or select a choice from many different things based on their risks and rewards, and positives and negatives while considering its own strengths and weaknesses. It is has to learn from its successes and failures. Learning and knowing its successes and failures would lead to mental states like happiness and frustration. New experiences bring surprises and confusions. In each and every stage, its mental states also expand to many complex levels.

Achilles: If we can create such robots, what stops us from making them far better than us!?

Tortoise: We can increase their brain size and speed by manifolds. Temporary or working memory size and self awareness capacity can be increased by manifolds to achieve far better performance and intelligence. Tomorrow, such robots may walk around us. They may find cure for cancer and HIV. They may find good solutions for poverty, economic issues and global warming. They may even create better robots than themselves. Who knows, instead of producing our next generations through our genes, we may directly take our brain to next generations!