DARPA to create brain-chipped cyborg moths
Looking to bug al-Qaeda
Famed US military mad-scientist bureau DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is engaged in an effort to grow/build cyborg moths for use as spies. No, really.
The program is called Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or HI-MEMS. In it, the arguably over-caffeined DARPA boffins aim to construct a tiny lepidopterine infiltration borg by growing a living moth around a "micro-mechanical system".
"Animal world has provided mankind with locomotion over millennia,"* says Dr Amit Lal, DARPA HI-MEMS program manager.
"For example we have used horses and elephants...olfactory training of bees has been used to locate mines and weapons of mass destruction. The HI-MEMS program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion, just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control."
Except that, rather than saddling up a moth and riding off, DARPA wants to implant a metallic core which will wear their bodies like a living cloak. Sound familiar? It does to us. If Dr Lal was using vast Austrian bodybuilders rather than moths, we'd be talking Terminator yet again (this happens rather a lot when one starts looking at the US defence establishment).
In a Times article today, Rod Brooks of MIT's computer science and artifical intelligence lab (CSAIL), was quoted on the insectoid cyber-infiltrator project.
"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."
"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."
The Times doesn't say, but we get a strong impression that Mr Brooks began waving his arms wildly around at this point.
"Biological engineering is coming," he went on, gathering pace.
"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.
"There's going to be more and more technology in our bodies...there's going to be a lot of moral debates."
For now, DARPA only aims to manufacture chipped moths, which it reckons to send into suspected terrorist facilities (presumably including al-Qaeda linen cupboards - that'll show them).
The bot-cored lepidoptera will be controlled by various methods such as "electrical muscle excitation, electrical stimulation of neurons", or the intriguing "presentation of optical cues with micro-optical visual presentation", suggesting miniscule displays strapped over the hapless creatures' eyes. Our personal favourite means of moth control, however, is "projection of ultrasonic pulses simulating bats".
The tiny Terminators will be worthwhile because "insect cyborgs...could carry one or more sensors, such as a microphone...to relay back information gathered from the target destination."
Talk about a bug problem. Etc.
Worryingly, MIT's Brooks adds: "The [Defense Department] 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 be given targeting authority?"
We say: please God, no. Except maybe in the case of eating holes in Osama bin Laden's clean keffiyeh.
Meanwhile, in what can only be yet another chilling media coincidence, other cyborg-related news broke today. Reuters reports that Arnold Schwarzenegger - the man who gave such a convincing portrayal of a soulless killer machine wearing human flesh as a disguise - is spearheading a new biological research initiative as governor of California.
"We are as powerful as any one can ever be on stem cell research," Mr Terminator reportedly said.
Reuters also noted that: "Stem cells are a kind of master cell for the body, capable of growing into various types of cell or tissue and cell. Scientists hope to use the cells to repair tissue damaged by disease or injury."
Terrifyingly, this mirrors the language of DARPA's Lal as he describes his process for chipping-up innocent creatures and turning them into zombie slaves under computer control.
"The renewed tissue growth around the MEMS will tend to heal, and form a reliable and stable tissue-machine interface..."
That's it. We're down to the bunker with a whole lot of survival rations. And bug spray. ®
*Verbatim. Go on, check the page.