Robots are now able to reproduce without the assistance of humans, in a move that some say brings humans closer to obsoletion.
The robots do not reproduce in the ‘romantic’ way (yet) – they instead construct their offspring in upgraded configurations.
Instead, a ‘mother’ robot builds her own ‘children’ by constructing them in different configurations. But it’s not exactly motherly intuition prompting the mother to reproduce – she’s been programmed (by humans) to do so.
The mother, a simple-looking metal structure that moves swiftly and bends up and down as needed, works like a hand, constructing her children in different configurations. Those children consist of one to five plastic cubes with a motor inside.
In each of five experiments conducted by researchers in Cambridge and Zurich, the mother built and tested 10 generations of children. But unlike human mothers, she was able to change the children she didn’t approve of.
She used the information gathered from each generation to guide the production of the next one. This means the robots only got better and better.
— RT (@RT_com) August 8, 2015
The desirable traits were passed down through generations, in what can be described a robotic form of natural selection.
“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said Dr. Fumiya Iida of Cambridge University, who led the research with colleagues at ETH University in Zurich, as quoted by Mail Online.
“That’s essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species,” he added.
To determine which characteristics were worthy of the mother robot’s love, she tested her children on their skills, measuring the distance each one could travel from its starting position in a given amount of time.
The most successful robots in each generation were left unchanged in the next generation, in order to preserve their abilities. But the ones that disappointed their mother were introduced to mutation and crossover, in an effort to make them more like their favored siblings.
The evolution process proved successful for the mother robot, with children in the last generation moving at an average speed that was more than twice as fast as the quickest kids in the first generation. This was because the mother was able to invent new shapes and patterns for her kids, including some designs that could not have been built by humans.
If you’re keen to read more about robotic reproduction, you can check out the research in the journal Plos One. But perhaps you may want to sit back and enjoy the world around you instead – before it’s run by brainiac robots that are capable of a lot more than we mortal humans are.