One of the many projects that I didn’t get to when the world locked down was dealing with the bins of legos that take up space in the closet.
Legos were a staple in my house not all that long ago, and to this day walking across the carpet in bare feet brings back sharp memories of their prevalence in my home.
But I hate to get rid of them. They look so neglected. Kind of like the last beer in my refrigerator.
So I am thinking of constructing a robotic cat made of legos.
This is not because I want another cat. One is plenty.
This is because after observing our own cat’s behavior closely during this pandemic, I think that programming a cat could be achievable even by someone like me who has trouble setting a digital clock.
I don’t have a strong relationship with our cat. Occasionally I wake up abruptly at night because it is sleeping on my head, but in general we rarely have physical contact. Our cat embodies the very essence of social distancing, which has been helpful during the pandemic because it refuses to wear a mask for political reasons.
If you think kitty Covid fear is silly, consider that a tiger was recently found to carry the Coronavirus. I think it tested positive after going to a bar in Miami beach over the fourth of July. Florida is a real zoo right now.
Regardless, building my own robotic lego cat could be rewarding.
For example, with a few photo optic sensors I could program it to chase senselessly after a laser pointer. Although I am not sure tormenting baked plastic would be as fun as tormenting a real cat.
But here the laser could serve as a digital mouse, with the added benefit that it can skitter across the ceiling, confusing the cat in a way that a real mouse could not.
Digitizing an animal is not new. For over a decade scientists with too much time on their hands have been systematically modeling a worm. As part of the OpenWorm project, neurobiology geeks have been developing a god-like computational model that will create the first all digital animal.
This is no Tamagotchi pet. This is an actual representation of a roundworm coded in software. Because someday, mark my words, everyone will want a worm running in the background on their computer.
The ultimate goal is to simulate a human brain through the digital reconstruction of neurons with computer algorithms modeling their interaction. And if they can program worms, who is to say they can’t also program lawyers?
OpenWorm has already simulated the interplay between the 302 neurons and 95 muscle cells that make up Caenorhabditis Elegans, latin for slimy primitive life form. As a point of reference, according to CNN’s Anderson Cooper this is the same number of neurons it takes to be president.
A number of years ago scientists loaded this software into a lego robot on wheels. The robot was able to react to stimuli in much the same way as a worm. However, when they impaled the robot on a baling hook lowered into water they discovered it could not catch fish.
Clearly there is more work to be done. But I envision a digital food chain someday in which we can sustain ourselves simply by harvesting our aquarium screensavers.
Coding a cat is not trivial, but I think it is achievable. If I can program Google to turn on a light, surely I can code a cat to sleep on my shirts. But there are other things I need to think about.
For example, real cats eat, sleep, and claw the furniture. My legos are neutered, so at least I don’t need to program reproduction. The last thing I need are more legos in the house.
And other than eating, I don’t really need to program responses based on specific stimuli. All I need is a random number generator associated with the few things a cat does such that its behavior appears unpredictable.
So for instance, when I say, “Kitty, turn on the light” it may yawn, go eat food, curl up on a chair, or take a swipe at me.
Just like a real cat.
I probably should code a dog. They are better companions and I have more than enough legos. But then I would have to program it to follow me, lick my face, and knock things off the table with its tail. And I have no idea how to instruct legos to eat shoes or smell bad.
I also don’t really feel like scooping up lego poop every morning.
Who am I kidding. I couldn’t even program a pet rock.
Maybe if I put the legos in a tree the fire department will rescue them.