Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pity the Poor Future-foes of the Developed World

Can cyborg moths bring down terrorists?

By Jonathan Richards
Times Online
May 24, 2007

At some point in the not too distant future, a moth will take flight in the hills of northern Pakistan, and flap towards a suspected terrorist training camp.
But this will be no ordinary moth.

Inside it will be a computer chip that was implanted when the creature was still a pupa, in the cocoon, meaning that the moth’s entire nervous system can be controlled remotely. The moth will thus be capable of landing in the camp without arousing suspicion, all the while beaming video and other information back to its masters via what its developers refer to as a “reliable tissue-machine interface.”

The creation of insects whose flesh grows around computer parts – known from science fiction as ‘cyborgs’ – has been described as one of the most ambitious robotics projects ever conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the research and development arm of the US Department of Defense.

Rod Brooks, director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is involved with the research, said that robotics was increasingly at the forefront of US military research, and that the remote-controlled moths, described by DARPA as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, were one of a number of technologies soon to be deployed in combat zones.

“This is going to happen," said Mr Brooks. "It’s not science like developing the nuclear bomb, which costs billions of dollars. It can be done relatively cheaply.”
“Moths are creatures that need little food and can fly all kinds of places," he continued. "A bunch of experiments have been done over the past couple of years where simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, have been operated on and driven by joysticks, but this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and ‘grown’ inside it.
“Once the moth hatches, machine learning is used to control it.”

Mr Brooks, who has worked on robotic technology for more than 30 years and whose company iRobot already supplies the US military with robots that defuse explosive devices laid by insurgents, said that the military would be increasingly reliant on ‘semi-autonomous’ devices, including ones which could fire.
“The DoD has said it wants one third of all missions to be unmanned by 2015, and there’s no doubt their things will become weaponised, so the question comes: should they given targeting authority?

“The prevailing view in the army at the moment seems to be that they shouldn’t, but perhaps it’s time to consider updating treaties like the Geneva Convention to include clauses which regulate their use.”

Debates such as those over stem cell research would “pale in comparison” to the increasingly blurred distinction between creatures – including humans – and machines, Mr Brooks, told an audience at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science.

“Biological engineering is coming. There are already more than 100,000 people with cochlear implants, which have a direct neural connection, and chips are being inserted in people’s retinas to combat macular degeneration. By the 2012 Olympics, we’re going to be dealing with systems which can aid the oxygen uptake of athletes," [he said]...

Scientists create remote-controlled pigeon

Times Online and agencies
February 27, 2007

Chinese scientists have succeeded in implanting electrodes in the brain of a pigeon to control the bird’s flight remotely, state media have reported.

The Xinhua News Agency said scientists at the Robot Engineering Technology Research Centre at Shandong University of Science and Technology in eastern China used the micro-electrodes to command the bird to fly right or left, and up or down.
The implants stimulated different areas of the pigeon’s brain according to electronic signals sent by the scientists via computer, mirroring natural signals generated by the brain, Xinhua quoted chief scientist Su Xuecheng as saying.

It was the first such successful experiment on a pigeon in the world, said Mr Su, who conducted a similar successful experiment on mice in 2005.

The report did not specify what purpose the pigeons may perform.

3 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Can't help thinking of the field marshal of the roaches in Gilbert Shelton's Fat Freddie's Cat cartoons.

What's the half-life of a moth?

May 27, 2007 7:30 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

In the adult stage, various kinds of moths live from two weeks to two months.

Plenty of time in which to gather intelligence from a specific site.

May 28, 2007 2:04 AM  
Blogger Mike Beversluis said...

For what it's worth, those future developments are just building on top of an already over-whelming advantage. I, for one, welcome our new moth-masters.

May 29, 2007 4:04 PM  

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