I have published, some years ago and again few months ago, the news of scientists trying (and succeeding) to interact with cockroaches by sending signals to their antennas and therefore forcing them to move in a certain direction. The research has two objectives: a better understanding of how the brain works (and yes, neurones in a cockroach brain are exactly like the ones in our brain…) and exploiting the capability of a cockroach to move under rubbles to find victims of an earthquake buried under a collapsed building.
I have to say that I felt a bit of sympathy for the cockroach but the goals seemed to me to be worth the inconvenience (pain?) brought to the animal.
But now, I run into a project seeking funds on Kickstarter that aims at transforming a roach into a sort of micro-machine remotely controlled by a cell phone. The proposers are claiming that the cyber-roach will help kids understanding neuroscience.
The idea is to sell a kit containing a chip (as the one shown in the figure above) and some needles that can be inserted in the antennae of a roach (or in its legs) and wirelessly connected to a smartphone.
The kit comes with an app through which it is possible to interact with the insect and steer its movement as if it were a micro-machine.
Needles in its legs can detect the spikes created by brain commands and are relayed to the smart phone and displayed on the screen so that one can see what is going on as the animals move around.
According to the proposers the kids using this device show a better grasp of neurology and that demonstrate the usefulness of their product.
They are also showing a video clip on the Kickstarter web site as they advertise their idea and ask for funding. You can see it through the link I included. I decided not to include it here because I really don’t like using a roach as if it were a micro-machine. My sympathy is all to the roach, none to the proposers.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that we are more and more in the understanding of how our brain works at a “mechanical” level and we are learning how to interact with it, with tools that are easier and easier to use and affordable. This is going to create a nightmare in the next years. Will the wedding ring eventually contain some sort of interface letting our partner to influence our life at a “mechanical level”, would it open up a window on our thoughts? The scary aspect is that this is no more science fiction, just science….