Chappie vs. Terminator

This past weekend box office hit (even with 29 rotten tomatoes) was the adorable robot, Chappie.  As observed by Gary Marcus of the New Yorker, Chappie takes his inspiration from real life artificial intelligence from iCub to Rodney Brook’s Baxter.  The big question being asked by everyone from Elon Musk to car insurance companies, are robots able to make moral decisions (even though many humans are unfortunately not).  These are big tasks ahead to live up to Isaac Asimov’s basic rules, starting with “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow another human being to come to harm.”

Chappie illustrates man’s robotic paranoia in the same vain as the Cyberdyne nightmare.  Today’s science is being inspired by yesterday’s science fiction as Researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, have created a self-propelled liquid metal made from a compound of gallium, indium and tin (think Terminator 2’s T-1000’s mimetic polyalloy). When drops of this liquid metal are immersed in a solution of sodium hydroxide and kept in contact with a flake of aluminum as fuel, the mixture moves about on its own for nearly an hour, traveling in circles, straight lines and even squeezing through complex shapes.


“The soft machine looks rather intelligent and can deform itself according to the space it voyages in, just like Terminator does from the science-fiction film,” explained Tsinghua University scientist Jing Liu.  “These unusual behaviors perfectly resemble the living organisms in nature.”

Liu’s team postulated that the gallium drop experiment proves it could have immediate applications as a self-powered pump to move liquid through a cooling device in the absence of an external power source. Their ongoing research is part of a long-term project to eventually create intelligent robots that are non-rigid and can be altered and manipulated into a variety of shapes.

Converting chemical energy into mechanical energy is one step closer to creating a shape-shifting liquid robot of the future, but for now Elon Musk and Gary Marcus can be rest assured it’s just a harmless scientific experiment (or is it?).

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