According to Wikipedia:

AI is intelligence exhibited by machines.

I have been wondering if with the recent biological advancements, is there already a non-electrical-based "machine" that is programmed by humans in order to be able to behave like a:

flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal

I was specifically thinking of viruses and bacteria. Have these been programmed by humans in order to behave as a flexible rational agent (i.e. an AI entity)?

Are there are other organisms that have already been used for this purpose?


3 Answers 3


Not yet. Synthetic virology / Synthetic life are still in their infancy. We can now synthesize simple bacteria (see Craig Venter's fascinating TED talk and also an article about his recent work) but definitely nothing that may be called 'rational' in human standards.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the references, what the article describes as "tinkering with genomes" and "tweaking what already exists" is what I was looking for. If they were able to "watermark the genome with their names and famous quotes" and "implant it into another bacterium that had been emptied of its own genome", is that not an attempt of producing a new rational agent? I am implying that any bacterium has a perception of its environment and takes actions towards a goal. $\endgroup$
    – CPHPython
    Oct 19, 2016 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ I think that an entity must be conscious to have a goal. Otherwise, you are abusing of the word 'goal' (this is your goal for the bacterium, but not the bacterium's own goal). But alas, this is quite philosophical. $\endgroup$
    – Lior Kogan
    Oct 19, 2016 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Conscious aside, I'm not sure you can call it flexible nor rational. It is more of an automaton. $\endgroup$
    – Lior Kogan
    Oct 19, 2016 at 19:49

Any logic circuit admits a variety of implementations. All programs executing on conventional digital processors can be expressed as logic circuits. Among the possible implementations of logic circuits are fluidic implementations, which do not depend on electronics per se. Thus it is in principle possible to implement, e.g. a POMDP processor (responsive to your specific question) in fluidics, albeit perhaps impractical at the moment.

I know of no general theory of Turing-completeness for analog computers, which would suffice to determine whether some alternative physical substrate, be it biological or not biological, can compute recursively enumerable functions. That is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for answering your question regarding any given medium. Usually the easiest way to demonstrate the sufficient condition will be to demonstrate the ability to construct a NAND gate, and to combine such gates into general circuits.

Another non-electronic example: Quantum computers may be non-electronic, at least in their processing elements, and are able to compute general deterministic logic circuits.


No, I think electricity is not essential for AI. In theory AI (a sufficient collection of computational processes that can adapt to changes in their input, thus producing 'intelligent' behavior), could be implemented using any mechanism that can compute that set of essential functions needed to create AI. Basically I'm suggesting the possibility of combining a set of non-electric Turing-equivalent machines into a collective that together can reach the AI-level of performance.


If AI can be implemented using an electronic computer, it should also be possible to implement it using any non-electronic machine that is computationally equivalent.

To date, several non-electronic machines have been proposed as Turing-equivalent: DNA computers, quantum computers, Babbage's Analytical Engine, animal brains, maybe even a really big network of daisies (perhaps that can communicate via their rhizomes).

In fact, it's plausible that one day we could create a network composed of small brains (perhaps from a less smart species than humans) that with the right kind of genetically architected biological interconnect and scheduler could route data through its network to control a robot -- thus we'd have a synthetic biological AI engine whose brain is made up of 100 chimpanzees, or 10,000 hamster brains, or maybe even 1 million nematodes.


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