What if we could create living beings that are programmable, self-healing, and organic? Would we do it? What would we program them to do? Perform medical procedures and deliver medications? Examine and sterilize food sources? We may just find the answer to that sooner than we think. A team of scientists at the University of Vermont have already created these creatures using stem cells from frogs. What I would like to explore today is whether or not this technology, despite its potential positive applications, is ethical. To put it more plainly, is it ethical to create living beings and deny them free will?
Rise Of The Xenobots
Earlier this year, scientists created the first programmable life forms that will forever change the course of technology and, incidentally, human history. These manmade creatures are made from the heart and skin cells of the African clawed frog and can heal themselves when cut or hurt. According to research, they can be programmed to perform various tasks like delivering miniature payloads of medicine to various parts of the human body.
“These are novel living machines, they’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”– Joshua Bongard, the University of Vermont
Developments like these, xenobots and artificial intelligence, are exactly why we need to focus on investigating consciousness. It is critical that we be able to determine if these xenobot creatures are truly living and capable of self awareness. I understand that these creatures are incredibly small and do not have a method by which they could communicate with us, but that simply does not mean that they lack consciousness. From a moral perspective, is it right to create a creature that is conscious, capable of free will, and then to remove their ability to act on their own by programming them to perform a specific task until their death? I think that it is not a morally acceptable practice, but perhaps if we can determine there is a lack of consciousness or self awareness that may change my perspective. However, the creatures seem to be able to communicate with one another in order to accomplish their programmed tasks which makes it more likely that there is some level of consciousness present. Apparently, this came as a surprise to the researchers that programmed them. Take a look at the video below and judge for yourself.