I swear I am not making this up, but a company called BackyardBrains has released an unbelievably creepy kit for the budding neuroscientist in your home, called RoboRoach. For just $99.99 you can buy junior the tech he will need to take a live roach, wire it up, and control its movements:
Have you ever wanted to walk down the hall of your school or department with your own remote controlled cockroach? We are now excited to announce the world’s first commercially available cyborg! With our RoboRoach you can briefly wirelessly control the left/right movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves. The RoboRoach is a great way to learn about neurotechnology, learning, and electronics!
I love how BackyardBrains hopes that in your excitement over this ghoulish concept (to get a better feel for how ghoulish, check out the “surgery” instructions) you will fail to notice the fact that control over the roach will be “brief” (one can only imagine what that means). In any case, I’m pretty sure infatuation with this cyborg kit would be a pretty good predictor of future serial killers.
More important, that someone even thinks RoboRoach is a cool idea bespeaks a profound cluelessness about how we should be thinking about our relationship with other species. Mark Bekoff is definitely not impressed:
Cyborg cockroaches who can be controlled by smartphones teach many wrong lessons including that they encourage bad citizen science and utterly inhumane education. They also suggest that quality and useful neuroscience “research” is something you can do from your home or wherever you and your smartphone may be. These are thoroughly misguided messages.
There is no reason to assume cockroaches cannot feel pain (see also), however, even if we learn they cannot or it seems highly likely they can’t, this does not mean it is okay to use them in invasive research or in silly and useless projects like RoboRoach.
I guess this is just an updated, techier, version of kids torturing bugs, admittedly a very powerful proclivity. But mitigating that instinct, rather than encouraging it, will no doubt make for a nicer world (or at least one with fewer Doc Ocs).
Does this look cool to you?
Or this (skip forward to 2:20):