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#WLAMF no. 16: Lego brains

The brain is a fiendishly complicated thing. Not so much because all its constituent parts are complicated (though they can be), but because it's a network of billions of components wired together with trillions of connections. Well, at least your brain is.

There are other brains that are a lot simpler. When I was taking classes in neurobiology, back in my misspent college days, we used to talk a lot about the species of worm called C. elegans.

Back then, researchers were just beginning to map its brain. The brains of C. elegans are isomorphic, meaning they're all the same. (That's not true of more sophisticated animals; our brains grow organically, with neurons wiring up to other neurons in a dynamic process that means even identical twins don't have the same brains.) They're small (about 300 neurons, and around 7,000 connections.) They're easy to understand, at least for folks who find neurobiology "easy."

And now they've been replicated in a Lego scooter that, well...behaves a lot like C. elegans without being explicitly programmed to. The robot has no pre-programmed behaviors; it acts like a roundworm because, in a sense, it has the brain of a roundworm.

And I think that's really cool.




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