Robo-Roaches

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I found out about this in an article while researching for an essay about Cyborgs, and it’s one of those things that I really have no idea how to feel about. Basically some neuroscientists at a company called Backyard Brains have created “the worlds first commercially available cyborg” in the form of a cockroach that’s leg movements can be controlled by a smartphone via a robotic-backpack-thingy.

At first I was disgusted, not purely on an animal rights standpoint but on the commercialisation aspect of it all- not only is animal testing now reserved for men in white coats but for anyone with $99 to spare. But then hasn’t this been the case all along? My uncle once unashamedly admitted that he experimented on a cockroach after finding one in his kitchen cupboard, namely trying to kill the creepy-crawly in a variety of ways. He proved his original hypothesis that cockroaches are hardy little bastards, but never thought to publishing their results in a peer-reviewed academic paper. We are all capable of tormenting insects ,  not forgetting of course the fact that most people would just step on a cockroach if ever they saw one.

So does the fact that you buy a bit of machinery capable of messing with the little guys nervous system make the situation any different? Yes it does, and it’s not just a case of technophobia, as it actively encourages people to perform surgery on live animals, which if it were a dog or cat or even a rat would be horrifically cruel.

The point is, so they say, not to torture cockroaches and make them perform tricks for our own amusement but to educate and to make neuroscience accessible to everyone (who can afford it). They hope this will create new advances in the field of neuroscience much more effectively and possibly be a pathway to start curing neurological diseases. Apparently the roaches don’t feel a lot of pain during the procedure, and they also adapt to being manipulated meaning that the experiment only lasts for a few minutes, but it still feels like a bizarre “why are you hitting yourself?” situation. Then again if it helps you understand why people are hitting themselves then it’s worth doing right? Or is the greater good, as Kant says (I think), irrelevant?

I don’t know. It’s too weird.