Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What's Bugging You?

A Cyborg Beetle, perhaps?

Specifically, a Giant Flower Beetle. From Technology Review :
A giant flower beetle with implanted electrodes and a radio receiver on its back can be wirelessly controlled, according to research presented this week. Scientists at the University of California developed a tiny rig that receives control signals from a nearby computer. Electrical signals delivered via the electrodes command the insect to take off, turn left or right, or hover in midflight. The research, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), could one day be used for surveillance purposes or for search-and-rescue missions.
The beetle's payload consists of an off-the-shelf microprocessor, a radio receiver, and a battery attached to a custom-printed circuit board, along with six electrodes implanted into the animals' optic lobes and flight muscles. Flight commands are wirelessly sent to the beetle via a radio-frequency transmitter that's controlled by a nearby laptop. Oscillating electrical pulses delivered to the beetle's optic lobes trigger takeoff, while a single short pulse ceases flight. Signals sent to the left or right basilar flight muscles make the animal turn right or left, respectively.

Most previous research in controlling insect flight has focused on moths. But beetles have certain advantages. The giant flower beetle's size--it ranges in weight from four to ten grams and is four to eight centimeters long--means that it can carry relatively heavy payloads. To be used for search-and-rescue missions, for example, the insect would need to carry a small camera and heat sensor.
There's a video of the experiment available too.

I know it's only a beetle, no more intelligent than a microwave oven (seriously). the thing that makes it so suitable as the chassis for a cyborg is its robot-like, sterotyped behaviour. The simple external signals, left, right, stop, start, just activate "canned" sub-programs, with all the existing biological computational power in its limited neurology being used to do the low-level stuff, something that requires significant computation, but no actual thought processes.

I know all that. But it still makes me queasy. There are ethical issues that need looking at. We're fairly safe with beetles, and even rock lobsters. But should we try cyborging creatures more complex than toasters, it's not clear that we're acting ethically. Where do we draw the line?

That bugs me.


Anonymous said...

Does it run under...never mind...

Anonymous said...



sumptos devil s advocate said...


Check out what's going on here locally in unincorporated Shelby County (the part that is outside of Memphis and the towns):


I think that you might be interested in commenting on this, as it is very recent and the discussion is fresh.

Anonymous said...

SDA, Huh? The article you link to has nothing to do with cyborgs or remote controlled animals.

Anonymous said...

Fairly safe with


and even


but how about



Battybattybats said...

I've heard it stated that Ants have been observed to have individual personalities and Bees to have emotions...

If so not only does that have lots of ethical implications with bug experimentation but what about my toaster?