Mission, Vision, and Structure

We envision a future in which a deep understanding of the origins and possible embodiments of autonomy will enable natural and synthetic systems to reach their full potential.

For now, what Xenobots do is live. In the near future, though, bespoke Xenobots made from a patient’s own cells could travel through the body to deliver targeted medicines, identify cancer, scrape plaque from arteries, or perform microscopic internal surgeries. Equipped with some extra receptors, Xenobots might seek out and digest toxic waste in the ocean, or identify interesting molecules in environments inaccessible to traditional robots. Levin sees enormous potential in the field of regenerative medicine. Bongard already sees Xenobots as a significant course-correction for traditional robotics. From their humble petri dish, Xenobots point to a future in which life itself is harnessed to heal, build, and regenerate.

—Claire L. Evans, “The World’s First Programmable Organism,” Pioneer Works

Led by Josh Bongard and Michael Levin, the ICDO will gather a multidisciplinary team of researchers drawn from artificial intelligence, machine learning, developmental biology, bioengineering and related disciplines. Together, they will lay the groundwork of a new field where life and machine intersect. By creating machines that can move, repair, locate targets, and work together to achieve complex goals, the ICDO will bring us closer to some truly extraordinary—and now quite achievable—goals:

  • Regenerating limbs and growing human tissues and organs
  • Delivering drugs and targeting cancer cells
  • Healing injuries and addressing birth defects
  • Collecting and removing environmental toxins
  • Entering, inspecting and repairing land- and water-based machines

A new vocabulary for life and machine learning

Computer science has moved beyond outdated dualisms like “life vs. machine.” It’s critical for the biosciences to do the same, replacing terms and metaphors that limit discovery, with a flexible, living vocabulary.

A key part of ICDO’s mission is developing a new conceptual framework to explore life, machines and intelligence—one that will support innovation at the frontier, and help us address the vitally important ethical and philosophical questions inherent in this work.

A multidisciplinary, multi-site collaboration

The ICDO will span two locations—the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, led by Michael Levin, and the Morphology, Evolution & Cognition Laboratory at the University of Vermont, led by Josh Bongard. The Allen Center at Tufts offers state-of-the art biological research facilities, including numerous model species and unique biophysics instrumentation. Computational work will take place at UVM in the Bongard Lab, utilizing the GPU-accelerated Vermont Advanced Computing Core (VACC), one of the top 100 supercomputers in the world. The ICDO research team will be composed of faculty, post-doctoral students and technical personnel from Tufts and UVM, working in close collaboration across both sites.