February 18, 2012, 7:47 AM — I'm not sure if you've heard, but the US Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a pack of completely insane scientists and engineers bent on nothing less than, well, everything. This time around, they've managed to insert a neural probe tied to a wireless stimulator onto a moth's ventral nerve cord, according to a report over at New Scientist.
You can be sure that trying to engineer insects as spies is not something that's new. It's been in the realm of science fiction for years, appearing in tons of movies and novels about the future of spy technology. The question, though, is if the reality of it is more cool or concerning. Cyborgs in general are pretty cool, I'm fan of the merging of man and machine, Blade Runner-style. Who isn't, right?
What comes into play here is more of a privacy issue. The main thrust of DARPA's machine-insect interface is for spy purposes. Current research testing has made some major progress in the field, with the team able to actually control the flight of the moth with radio commands. The addition of carbon nanotubes and gold to the coating of the probe along with its makeup of polyimide polymer make it a much better match, with the probe's impedance more closely matching the insect's nerve tissue than previous attempts. What this means is better control of the insects via remote.
Spying insects could take the coming drone invasion lurking above civilian populations to new heights, with government or policing agencies deploying insects to keep an eye on whatever they wanted. It's an odd likening to George Orwell's 1984, with cameras in almost every room in the house, keeping Winston from even being able to be himself most of the time. If Big Brother really is the fly on the wall (literally!), where will our privacy go? Will law enforcement need a warrant for a mechanized dragonfly to enter a suspect's home?
Think about weaponization. Some poisons need only minute amounts to induce their harmful or potentially fatal effects. With the advancements to nanotechnology, armed cyborg insects firing lethal mini-darts is something out of the worst science fiction nightmare.
But it gets better: The team innovating insect-machine hybrids is also talking with conventional neurobiologists to test the application of this technology in humans. The practical application from a rehabilitation standpoint is fascinating, but I think we've all seen various puppeteer horror movies to know what's coming next.