Cyber-Beetles Still Buggy

Recently announced cyber-beetles researched by the Department of Defense and DARPA may still have some bugs to work out, but the models have shown quite a bit of promise.  Beetles are only one foray into the fusion between cybernetics and organic matter that has been sweeping the technological field lately.  Berkely Researchers now say these cybernetic insects could eventually become models for MIV’s (Micro Air Vehicles) with potential military or scientific applications.

DARPA says eventually they hope to be able to send beetles with cyber-enhancements to fly over 300 feet by remote control to a target, and remain there until instructed to leave.  The potential applications are virtually limitless.  And even more interesting is the barrier between brain and hardware that has been traversed so quickly and quietly in recent years.

But this isn’t the first technology to arise that combines an animal with a computer in order to train the creature while progressing through (for example) and obstacle course.  Guided rats, controlled through brain implants, have already been tested by the State University of New York, led by Dr. Sanjiv Talwar.

The experiment involved taking rats, implanting electrodes into different areas of their brains, and getting them to perform tasks based on a reward/punishment regiment stimulated in the brain.  The scientists were eventually so successful, that they could in turn make the rats jump, run, turn, climb, and crawl up to 500 meters from the command console through a complex and treacherous obstacle ridden terrain.  They were able to climb ladders, run across bridges, tightrope walk, and descend a steep ramp, exactly as they were told to.  Scientists have already hailed this as the next step in wetware integration.  “We were also able to guide rats in systematically exploring large, collapsed piles of concrete rubble,” Dr. Talwar said, “and to direct them through environments that they would normally avoid, such as brightly lit, open areas.”

The beetles, on the other hand, are far smaller and have the capability of flight.  As such they can go through several places rats cannot, and will be more difficult to detect by enemies.  In addition, consider the psychological impact of combating a force that could potentially be looking through the eyes of every insect you encounter.  Indeed the battlefield of the future will soon mimic science fiction stories once thought too fantastic to be truly prescient.

The Dalai Llama once said, “If it was possible to become free of negative emotions by a riskless implementation of an electrode – without impairing intelligence and the critical mind – I would be the first patient.”  It’s particularly interesting that the Dalai Llama would say this now that this cybernetic-enhancement filled world may be closer than we once thought.  Perhaps in the future, the fastest thinking computers will be organic in nature rather than technical, but rather the controlling mechanisms within will be electronic.  And the question of course becomes, if we can do this to the minds of animals, how soon until our own are likewise fashioned for control?  Perhaps now would be the time to also recall the words of the devil from Milton’s Paradise lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”