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A terrifying robot shows you the emotions slime mold can't express

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Slime mold can already behave in ways that are surprisingly intelligent, but what if it smiled like us and cried like us — or, at least, like a horrifying facsimile of us? An installation at London's Living Machines conference provides a fascinating, disturbing answer. As reported by New Scientist, computing researcher Ella Gale has created a link between slime mold "emotions" and a humanoid face. Gale let slime mold ooze across an environment full of both food and electrodes. The electrodes captured signals as the mold either headed towards food or shied away from light, producing a log of how the loosely affiliated cells communicate with each other. Since slime mold possesses a kind of decentralized, low-level intelligence — a mass of mold can even form memories — that's not too far from studying the workings of a simple brain.

Gale turned her electrical signals into sound, and with the help of her colleagues, she split the recordings into different sections based on what the mold was doing and how strong the related signals were. Then, she gave various reactions labels: mold heading towards food could be experiencing "joy," while a highly agitated response to light could be "anger." As a last step, she set a robotic head to display these emotions as the recording was played.

It's not really clear that this would let anyone actually see how slime mold is feeling in real time, though Gale has done similar previous work. After all, recording a session of slime mold movement won't necessarily produce anything you could tie to a single action. And even if it did, saying a slime mold is "happy" obviously doesn't mean it feels anything of the sort. However, this mad artistic science does turn our abstract understanding of slime mold as intelligent into something much more personal. It also manages to evoke some of the most primal terrors lurking in the heart of man: welcome to your new nightmare, full of slimy doppelgängers.