Communicating with Unconventional Intelligences: Synthetic Living Machines to Enable the Study of the De Novo Emergence of New Collective Minds​

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    February 26, 2021 - February 25, 2022

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Priority:

    Diverse Intelligences

  • Region:

    North America

  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Dr. Michael Levin

Institution: Tufts University

In 2020, Michael Levin and his team at Tufts University introduced xenobots: small synthetic organisms created from embryonic frog skin cells. The cells form unique body shapes, resulting in behaviors that bear little resemblance to a frog’s.

This kind of novel life system—one unconstrained by traditional frameworks of biological development—might provide the key to understanding intelligence in the universe. In this project, the team will use xenobots, which have no brains or nerve cells, to study how a primitive mind emerges in an unconventional body. The project also seeks to communicate with xenobots to develop a framework for understanding novel intelligences of all types.

Through the project, the team seeks to create a powerful model to address a long-standing question in philosophy of mind: How does a single, integrated intelligence arise from a collection of cells, with memories and goals belonging to the collective but not to any individual cell? This investigation will impact the fundamental understanding of embodied cognition as well as drive practical advances in regenerative medicine, swarm robotics, and AI.

Photograph of xenobots by Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman released under CC BY 4.0


Opinions expressed on this page, or any media linked to it, do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. does not control the content of external links.