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"Robot Sex" Helps Scientists To Study Evolution

The study of evolutionary patterns has received a helping hand from technology, in the form of a small colony of rampant robots.

Using robotic subjects, it was possible to accelerate the trends that drive evolution allowing thousands of years of generational progressions to be condensed into just a matter of days.

A recent study, conducted by Dr. Stefan Elfwing of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, used rat-sized robots that had been programmed with dual urges both to procreate and to forage for "food" in the form of batteries. Each robot was fitted with a camera in order to recognise potential mates, and the coupling that subsequently ensued was conducted in a very discreet manner using infrared light to copy each other's genetic codes.

All of this infra-red intercourse sapped the robot's energy, however, so they also needed to recharge their batteries at regular intervals using electrodes in their teeth.After around 70 experiments, it transpired that the constant pursuit of both food and fornication was sapping the robot's energy, prompting the evolution of a more workable and enduring system.

Elfwing discovered that 75% of the robots elected to become "trackers", a type of robotic Don Juan whose primary motivation was to seek new mating partners, whilst the remainder of the colony became "foragers" for whom only the search for batteries was of paramount importance. These foragers tended to mate almost by accident, if their infrared ports happened to align with those of another robot during their search for sustenance.

Elfwing noted that this type of reproductive behavior is also very consistent with that already observed in wild animals, which validated the results of the robotic experiment.

The robots were not assigned with specific genders, however, but this is a concept that he intends to develop in future experiments:

“In this experiment, our robots were hermaphrodites, all robots mate and can produce offspring," Elfwing said in the Okinawa institute's article."In the next stage, we want to see if the robots will take on male and female roles, by taking different risks and costs in reproduction. The behavior exhibited by the two strategies, "forager" and "tracker," may be a precursor to the adoption of distinct genders.”

The findings, which were published in the journal PLOS ONE on April 9th, suggest that the use of robots may help to provide huge advances in the field of evolutionary sciences, allowing scientists to observe trends that would otherwise need to play out over many millennia.

This experiment illustrates yet another useful application for the use of robots, minimising the tasks, risks and costs of using live subjects and, in many cases, greatly improving efficiency. Whether utilising robots in this type of experiment will ultimately lose the spontaneity and unpredictability of live subjects, or omit the results of those decisions based on environmental and emotional factors, including maternal instincts or compassion, remains to be seen. Using robots in this ways may, however, find favor amongst those of us who believe that the human race was specifically designed by a more intelligent life form. Or even by "intelligent machines"...oh the irony.

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