Tiny living Pac-Man robots have learned how to reproduce

Whenever we’re confronted with aspects of science fiction becoming scientific reality, philosophical questions arise.

This week, many were asking this one: What is a robot, really?

Films and TV shows have offered us myriad archetypes of what robots could be like — as varied as the terrifyingly clever Cylons of “Battlestar Galactica,” the intrepid R2-D2 in the Star Wars saga and the lovable and helpful “Wall-E.”

Living robots called xenobots turn those expectations on its head.

“Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people,” said Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont.

What does the future hold for humans and our relationship to artificial intelligence? It may include something more organic than we expected — along with some art and poetry, for good measure.

Discoveries

It’s a livin’ thing. The scientists who created xenobots say they can now reproduce, but it’s entirely unlike any reproduction process by plants or animals.

The xenobots, first unveiled in 2020, were formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog. The little blobs are each less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. They can move, work together in groups and self-heal — and now, make more xenobots.

Using artificial intelligence, rather than genetic manipulation, the xenobots took on a Pac-Man shape to collect and bundle stem cells that formed new tiny xenobots.

The xenobots are very early technology and don’t yet have any practical applications. However, they could one day be used to help the environment and aid with regenerative medicine.

Dino-mite!

This dinosaur was born to defend itself.

A fossil belonging to a new species of armored dinosaur was discovered in Chile, and it had a weaponized tail not seen before in any other dinosaur.

If you’re picturing the paired spikes of Stegosaurus and the club-like tail of Ankylosaurus, it wasn’t like that at all.

Instead, Stegouros elengassen evolved a large tail weapon including seven pairs of flattened, bony deposits that fused together in a frond-like structure.

Wild kingdom

The breath of an Arctic fox freezing in the air, curious meerkats and a tender moment between lions.

These are just some of the spectacular images featured on the shortlist for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice competition.

The 25 images are currently on display at the Natural History Museum in London, and fans can vote for their favorite until February. More than 50,000 entries were received from 95 countries for this year’s competition.

Mission critical

For the first time, rain, rather than snow, fell on the summit of Greenland in August — and new research suggests this could be the norm in a matter of decades.

The Arctic is expected to experience more rain than snow between 2060 and 2070 as temperatures rise in the region due to global warming.

While this may seem far off, this transition in precipitation patterns is going to happen earlier than expected — and it’s due to another side effect of the climate crisis.

Other worlds

Time flies — especially when a year only lasts eight hours. That’s the case on this newly discovered exoplanet, found orbiting a small star about 31 light-years from our sun.

The intriguing exoplanet, which is about the size of Mars but seems to have the same composition as Mercury, is considered to be an ultra-short period planet. These worlds all complete orbits around their star in less than 24 hours.

The discovery of this exoplanet, called GJ 367 b, could shed light on these mysterious, rapidly orbiting worlds.

Curiosities

A little more to pique your interest:

— These enigmatic ancient footprints, once thought to belong to a bear, have been linked to an unknown human ancestor.

— Early Sunday morning, NASA will launch a laser demonstration that could change the way we see space.

— A newly analyzed fossil of a marine reptile revealed it had gnarly teeth perfectly designed for crushing prey, cluing in researchers it was a distinct species unknown to science.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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