When bacteria attack a host, they aren’t a conversation about whether to go after a particular cell; they’re doing something called quorum sensing, which means that just by sensing what others around it are doing, an individual starts doing a certain thing. Social insects use a similar technique to pick out a new nesting site.
Now, thanks to some elegant nature-inspired programming by MIT researchers, a pack of bipedal robots are using quorum sensing to execute a complex behavior that human groups have tried—and, by and large, failed—to perform for decades: The robots can do the Thriller dance in unison—and, what’s even more impressive, if one misses a few steps, it can rejoin the other dancers without a hitch.
This sort of technological synchrony, Technology Review’s arXiv blog points out, could make such robots invaluable in construction or manufacturing tasks that require high levels of cooperation. That would be well and good, but after seeing those moves, we’re just wondering what other dances they might know—and whether they do bar mitzvahs.