Meet the cannibalistic ‘cyberslug’ that just might make robots self-aware

When computational biologist Rhanor Gillette studies predatory behavior in animals, he doesn’t begin with lions, tigers, and bears. He focuses instead on a sea slug called Pleurobranchaea californica. Or, at least, a virtual version of one.

In a recent study published in the journal eNeuro, Gillette and his team from the University of Illinois showed that a computer-simulated sea slug, which they’ve named “Cyberslug,” can respond to stimuli much as its living counterparts do in the real world. This A.I. invertebrate reacts to food and other members of its species, according to the researchers, even displaying basic forms of self-awareness.

“We’ve designed Cyberslug to reproduce the relationships that we found in the brain of the real sea slug predator,” Gillette told Digital Trends.

In the simulation, the researchers track the Cyberslug’s “appetitive state,” or how full it is, to see how it responds to stimuli. When it meets a fellow slug it can either eat, mate, or flee, depending on its current disposition. In a low appetitive state, Cyberslug is satiated and steers away from potential food. But, when it’s appetitive state is high, “due to hunger, a good memory about it, and the tastiness of a stimulus … avoidance is simply switched to approach and attack,” Gillette said. “That is, the bot adds up sensation, motivation, and memory to make a cost-benefit decision of is this prey worth attacking?”

Gillette places this approach/avoidance decision-making at the heart of all behavior that deals with consuming or conserving resources. “So, like us, the bot and the animal make economic decisions not on the basis of simple information by itself, but on how the information makes it ‘feel.’”

In their virtual sea slug, Gillette and his team think they’ve reproduced a “primitive state of consciousness, where a simple animal’s experience is locked to immediate events, and its behavior is guided from moment to moment by reward learning and motivation.”

Cyberslug’s apparent self-awareness is still very primitive — it won’t be having an existential crisis any time soon. But Gillette and his colleagues hope that by further developing the model, they can find useful applications in fields like robotics and video games, granting machines and non-player characters more sophisticated behaviors and decision-making.

Moving forward, Gillette said his team will continue to empower Cyberslug to develop more complex levels of awareness, and to study its emergent traits. “We are now working to enhance the simple Cyberslug model for enhanced sociality and cognition with the aim of producing entities that may scheme for the future, and cooperate or deceive like the social mammals,” he said.

Let’s just hope Cyberslug remains in the simulation until it’s taught to play nice.

Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.

Cities looking to get smart take a lesson from an iconic shopping mall

From Disney World to the Mall of America, public venues are becoming microcosms for smart city projects. We dove into both, to show what government officials can learn – and what you can expect from your city.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.

Forget painting-style transfers, this A.I. creates realistic portraits of fake people

Do these images look computer-generated? Nvidia researchers recently published a paper on a new variation on style transfer artificial intelligence that's able to generate entirely new portraits.
Emerging Tech

New adhesive tech could let you remove Band-Aids with a blast of UV light

Pulling off Band-Aids sucks. But that could be about to change, thanks to a new type of adhesive that can be easily detached using a specific frequency of UV light. Here's how it works.