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What If You Were Made Of Lego? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
If you were made out of Lego, would everything really be... awesome? In this video, Unveiled discovers what the world would be like if we had real-life Lego people. Including an in-depth look at the AI of the future, this is biotechnology like you've never seen it before! It's the rise of the not-so-mini minifigures!
Transcript

What If You Were Made of Lego?


Lego has provided generations of master builders with the building blocks of imagination. And so many awesome creations and inventions have already been made using Lego. But, could we ever go one giant step further?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if you were made out of Lego?

The Lego Group has come a long way since it first started manufacturing interlocking plastic bricks in 1949. The basis for today’s hypothetical question, though, really begins in the 1980s, when the company began working closely with MIT on a robotics project… and, by 1998, the MIT Media Lab had developed a Lego Brick computer actually capable of operating a robot. In the early days of the robot revolution, this was massive news! But it was more than just a cool toy. One of the masterminds behind the project was the MIT scientist Seymour Papert, who also championed a theory known as constructionism - which argues that engineers, scientists, anyone really, can learn best by building through their ideas. It’s still a mentality that goes hand-in-hand with the Lego brand.

Over the years, Lego robots have been made that can, for example, play guitars, solve Rubik’s cubes, and knit scarves. Some have been mass produced and sold to customers, others have been custom-built for a number of specific projects… with perhaps one of the most impressive of all coming in 2019, when one Daniel West unveiled his Universal Lego Sorting Machine. West’s design - primarily built out of Lego - utilizes AI to organize Lego into eighteen different buckets. The bricks are now looking after themselves, then, but does that mean it’s only a matter of time before we see what would’ve once been deemed the impossible; an actual Lego person?

There is a natural starting point here. Designed by Jens Nygaard Knudsen, the iconic Lego minifigures can give us an idea of what a Lego person would look like. Early figures didn’t have adjustable arms and legs or facial features, but that all changed in 1978, when we got the first minifigures as we know them today - ones that did have movable arms and legs, as well as a pair of eyes and a smile. Since then there have been countless variations on the model, but the standard minifigure anatomy doesn’t usually change that much. It typically consists of a head with a stud on top, a torso with arms, and then legs attached to the hip. So, for today’s hypothetically life-size Lego person, it could be that we’d have that, but bigger. A not-so-mini minifigure.

Obviously, besides their plasticky basics, a Lego person would be totally lacking in all other aspects of human anatomy. They’d be the product of meticulous blueprints, sure, and the result of some intense lab engineering, but clearly, there’d be no natural life cycle here. No births, but also potentially no deaths, either. Which is all well and good, but only for so long as a Lego person knew anything about what they were; only for so long as a Lego person knew that they were alive. And here’s where today’s question requires some imaginative thinking.

While history has already shown us how a Lego machine can master something like a Rubik’s cube - and, let’s face it, some regular humans can’t do that - all we’ve had so far are very definitely robots. Usually pre-programmed, although more recently algorithmic, robots. For a true Lego person, then, we’d need to make some major advances with AI. But this is something that science and technology is already working towards. Various recent advances in regular robotics have led commentators to increasingly predict that sentient machines are just around the corner. And if thinking, feeling, self-controlling robots really are the future, doesn’t that future just look so much more fun if it’s all made out of Lego?

Say, in this future version of reality, genuine human consciousness can also be computerised - which is another field that some experts believe we’re beginning to see results in, too - and Lego people suddenly don’t seem quite so farfetched. Just stick your digital consciousness into our lab-built (master built) body, and… it lives! We’d have us a real-life Frankenstein’s monster, only far more colourful and significantly blockier.

So, let’s imagine that we’re in a future time like this. Artificial bodies are the norm, and your consciousness is housed within one that actually is made out of Lego. Are you pleased, or petrified? Happy, or confused? What advantages (or disadvantages) would you encounter? And what would your day-to-day life consist of?

Well, a 2016 poll by the British retail firm, Marks and Spencer, found that it takes the average person seventeen minutes to get dressed. So, here at least are seventeen minutes you could spend doing other things. As minifigures come with their shirts painted onto their torsos and their pants printed onto their legs, you’d never need to worry about changing clothes (or doing the laundry!) again. If you did want to change outfits, though, you’d essentially need to swap out most of the rest of your body to do it - removing your own head and legs, just to mix and match your look. So, maybe it would be best to just stick with the same thing most of the time… which is one up for convenience, but one down for individuality!

In the everyday world, a lot of us also spend a lot of time on our hair… but that wouldn’t be necessary anymore, either. For a Lego person, drying, styling, and conditioning would never be a concern. All you’d need is a choice of plastic hair pieces and elaborate hats, popping them on and off your head whenever you fancied something different. You could go with spiky red hair, then don some bat ears for Halloween, and then rock a wizard hat just because. No more cutting or combing or worrying at all.

For all the free time you’d gain, though, you’d miss out on a lot, too. Like… noses, for one. Minifigures typically don’t have noses. There are exceptions, but according to the Lego podcast “All Sorted” in 2015, there are more than 1,700 minifigure heads and less than 100 of them have anything resembling a nose. So, your hair would look great, but you could well lose your sense of smell.

That said, in this far-future, hypothetical world - one where we can digitize something like human consciousness - there’s reason to believe that we’d be artificially creating most key human sensations, too. In recent decades, there have been significant advances made in what’s known as electronic sensing, which uses mechanical sensors and data programs to replicate how humans, in this case, smell. This has paved the way for innovations like the electronic nose, variations of which already exist - and some of which could soon smell even more precisely than human noses can.

It’s a similar story with ears. Again, other than for a few rare models, minifigures don’t usually have them. But that doesn’t mean that a Lego person would automatically be deaf. Speech recognition technology is already commonplace in today’s world; just think of the many virtual assistants we now have, like Siri and Alexa. Meanwhile, there are various and ever-improving systems which enable machines to register and understand more and more everyday sounds other than speech. So, really, getting a Lego person to hear the world around them would be a relatively simple task.

We can also already predict how a Lego eye would work. Behind the painted-on, round, black pupils that regular minifigures have, there would be cameras, sonar and laser technology. Right now, some of the most advanced applications of tech like this are seen in autonomous, self-driving vehicles, but humanoid robots are increasingly equipped with mechanical sight, as well.

How their mouths would work is perhaps slightly more complicated, but we still already have a lot of the technology in place. We’ve seen with pioneering projects like the AI Sophia that articulate speech is certainly achievable. But, researchers are going further, and are even working on electric tongues… which would potentially enable robots to taste. In 2019, it was also reported that scientists were developing artificial skin that would allow robots to experience the sense of touch. And, in one of the standout developments of recent times, a combined effort by Stanford and Seoul National University has also produced an artificial nervous system. Apply any (or all) of those things to our Lego person, and our one-time Frankenstein’s monster suddenly becomes more and more refined.

The rest of the regular minifigure body isn’t exactly real-life-ready, however. Legs can only usually rotate ninety degrees forwards and forty-five degrees back, and the arms are equally limited. Minifigure feet have holes in the bottom of them, which would clearly cause problems… while the hands are essentially C-shaped claws, and not at all built for daily tasks. However robotic hands have been made out of Lego before, so it would be easy for our Lego person to upgrade them.

In other aspects of life, though, there are plenty of environments that a Lego person could thrive in. And mostly because they wouldn’t have to worry about breathing. As with any proposed artificial lifeform, it would be so much harder to die of natural causes if your human consciousness was somehow housed inside a Lego body. Fire, or intensely hot situations, would still be a threat because you’d melt… but you’d be able to indefinitely explore anywhere that’s underwater, for example, with ease. Going into space would also be so much simpler, as even today so many proposed future space missions involve sending AI to distant worlds rather than people - to avoid the high-risk of human loss. Quite how an alien civilization would react to an approaching crew of Lego people, though, is anyone’s guess!

But, arguably the coolest thing about being a Lego person is that you’d be able to start again whenever you wanted. The bricks that made you could be pulled apart and put back together, in whatever way you preferred. If Lego people did translate into just bigger versions of minifigures, then you’d be limited to only pre-painted designs - but even then, there are still literally thousands of those! If Lego people were more complex than that, though, if every part of their bodies from their hands to their eyes to even their tongues were custom built to house cutting edge AI, then we’d have walking, talking, real-life Legoland all over the planet! And that’s what would happen if you were made of Lego.
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