Remote control animals

Something creepy for your Friday: attaching electrodes to animals’ brains so their movements can be controlled remotely.

Cyborg beetle
Beetleman26 / CC BY-SA

This is yet another topic that sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually being done right now (like tractor beams). Researchers have found ways to control the movements of rats and mice, of course, but also cockroaches, beetles, moths, sharks, dogs, turtles, and pigeons. Now, science has been playing around with mice movement (in mazes) for a while, and moths have a love-hate relationship with technology (well, a love-burnt-to-a-crisp relationship), but this is next-level.

In most cases it’s not direct control. Electrodes are attached to the animals and these stimulate the reward centres or sensory centres of the brain, inducing them to turn left or right. An exception is beetle remote control (pictured above), which directly controls the wing muscles during flight. And in the case of dogs the whole thing is non-invasive, communicating instructions with sound and vibrations.

Why are we even trying to make these cyborgs? Well, there are noble reasons (rescue animals to go where people can’t during natural disasters) and there are dodgy reasons (espionage and warfare, of course), but to me it’s pretty messed up either way.


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