Clusters of brain cells, so-called brain organoids, have been bred in the biologist’s lab at the University of California, San Diego. According to the New York Times, the scientists altered human skin cells into stem cells, then “coaxed them to develop as brain cells do in an embryo”. “The organoids grew into balls about the size of a pinhead, each containing hundreds of thousands of cells in a variety of types, each type producing the same chemicals and electrical signals as those cells do in our own brains.” (NYT, 29 August 2019) The progression was stimulated by various means. A few days ago, the scientists reported that they have recorded simple brain waves in these organoids. “In mature human brains, such waves are produced by widespread networks of neurons firing in synchrony. Particular wave patterns are linked to particular forms of brain activity, like retrieving memories and dreaming.” (NYT, 29 August 2019) Someday it may be possible to use brain organoids to develop inverted or reversed cyborgs. Another method could be to take an adult brain from a deceased creature. There is no doubt that many interesting philosophical questions arise in this context, such as the boundaries between humans and machines and the rights of such cyborgs.
Soft robots with soft surfaces and soft fingers are in vogue. They can touch people, animals, and plants as well as fragile things in such a way that nothing is hurt or destroyed. However, they are vulnerable themselves. One cut, one punch, and they are damaged. According to the Guardian, a European commission-funded project is trying to solve this problem. It aims to create “self-healing” robots “that can feel pain, or sense damage, before swiftly patching themselves up without human intervention”. “The researchers have already successfully developed polymers that can heal themselves by creating new bonds after about 40 minutes. The next step will be to embed sensor fibres in the polymer which can detect where the damage is located. The end goal is to make the healing automated, avoiding the current need for heat to activate the system, through the touch of a human hand.” (Guardian, 8 August 2019) Surely the goal will not be that the robots really suffer. This would have tremendous implications – they would have to be given rights. Rather, it is an imaginary pain – a precondition for the self-repairing process or other reactions.