|Photo credit: Alper Bozkurt|
The military-science industrial complex continues its pursuit of modeling drones after nature in order to hide in plain sight. While there have been some successes in this area with systems like RoboBee, nature’s flight pattern is proving to be difficult to perfectly replicate, as well as providing steep challenges in energy consumption.
Enter cyborgs. While mice have long been tested upon in the areas of direct mind control, it is cyborg insects that are currently leading the way. In October of last year, I wrote about a pet cyborg project called RoboRoach that was essentially open source, mail order neurosurgery for kids. While few people seem to have ethical concerns over insects, we would do well to take a look at how the mechanization of living beings is starting, and where it ultimately might be heading.
North Carolina State University has begun researching ways to hijack the nervous system of moths in order to create remote-control “biobots.” They claim this could be an invaluable tool in emergency response (emphasis mine):
“In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster.”
By attaching electrodes to the muscle groups responsible for a moth’s flight, Bozkurt’s team is able to monitor electromyographic signals – the electric signals the moth uses during flight to tell those muscles what to do.
The moth is connected to a wireless platform that collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. To give the moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets.
“We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight,” Bozkurt says. “That’s essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network.”
But Bozkurt stresses that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to make moth biobots a viable tool.
“We now have a platform for collecting data about flight coordination,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths.”
It has become a common tropism to introduce even the most vile perversion of technology that better belongs on the Island of Dr. Moreau as a means of saving humans.
The fact is that this type of experimentation has its roots in military surveillance tech, not medical breakthroughs or search and rescue.
Here is a video from 2008 uploaded by mainstream tech site New Scientist – from the same researcher Alper Bozkurt, at the time from Cornell University:
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This technology was later reported on by Slate in 2012 as a DARPA-MIT project (my emphasis):
Those who are afraid of bugs and those paranoid of government surveillance will be equally uncomfortable with this story.
The New Scientist reports that as part of a program by DARPA, the military research group, scientists from MIT have found a way to control the movements of “cyborg” moths. The necessary gear includes a neural probe attached to the bug’s ventral nerve cord, “a device to generate electrical pulses,” a radio receiver, and a battery—all weighing less than half a gram. The MIT scientists were able to make the “tethered” moth move its abdomen one way or another.
Research into this territory is not new. In 2008 and 2009, Ryohei Kanzaki of Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology made headlines for similar work, like a moth-powered robot (seen in the photo accompanying this post).
According to the New Scientist, “DARPA hopes this kind of control will one day allow intelligence agencies to use insects to carry surveillance equipment and spy on unsuspecting enemies.” (Source)
Worldwide investment in neuroscience is now in the billions of dollars, but even scientists within the program – at least in Europe – are beginning to wake up to the fact that the stated goals are only the window dressing on the real endgame.
While many will easily dismiss the significance of cyborg insects, universities and scientific journals are announcing that the The Era Of Cyborg Nanotechnology Has Begun – funding for the research cited comes from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Air Force.
The Journal of The American Chemical Society didn’t talk about insects, they talked about humans:
No longer just fantastical fodder for sci-fi buffs, cyborg technology is bringing us tangible progress toward real-life electronic skin, prosthetics and ultraflexible circuits. Now taking this human-machine concept to an unprecedented level, pioneering scientists are working on the seamless marriage between electronics and brain signaling with the potential to transform our understanding of how the brain works — and how to treat its most devastating diseases.
By using nanoelectronics, it could become possible for scientists to peer for the first time inside cells, see what’s going wrong in real time and ideally set them on a functional path again.
In one of the lab’s latest directions, Lieber’s team is figuring out how to inject their tiny, ultraflexible electronics into the brain and allow them to become fully integrated with the existing biological web of neurons. They’re currently in the early stages of the project and are working with rat models. “It’s hard to say where this work will take us,” he says. “But in the end, I believe our unique approach will take us on a path to do something really revolutionary.”
Science and technology always have been a double-edged sword and should not be dismissed simply because those who are currently at the top running the show are anti-human psychopaths; but neither can we remain naive about their existence and close our eyes to the dark future they will carry out unless we become informed. We must insist that technology is only explored after a solid framework of ethics has been established, and research is not directed top-down from military applications.
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