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Robotics Science

Cyborg Cockroach Sparks Ethics Debate 512

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the lightly-sand-the-carapace dept.
sciencehabit writes "A do-it-yourself neuroscience experiment that allows students to create their own 'cyborg' insects is sparking controversy amongst scienitsts and ethicists. RoboRoach #12 is a real cockroach that a company called BackyardBrains ships to school students. The students fit the insect with a tiny backpack, which contains electrodes that feed into its antennae and receive signals by remote control — via the Bluetooth signals emitted by smartphones. A simple swipe of an iPhone can turn the insect left or right. Though some scientists say the small cyborg is a good educational tool, others say it's turning kids into psychopaths." Fitting the backpack requires poking a hole in the roach's thorax and clipping its antennae to insert electrodes.
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Cyborg Cockroach Sparks Ethics Debate

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  • Cockroach rights? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Monday October 07, 2013 @07:49PM (#45064909) Homepage

    People who have never killed a roach in their life are free to throw the first stone.

    Anyone?

    Anyone?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:00PM (#45064999)

      You don't see a difference between killing it and doing this?

      • You don't see a difference between killing it and doing this?

        This does seem a great deal more educational... If you need a humanities tie-in, you can always read "I have no mouth but I must scream" as you navigate your cockroach around, the pitiless god of its very sensory inputs!!!! Um, I mean, to learn about the invertebrate nervous system....

        • by Capsaicin (412918) * on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @01:10AM (#45066769)

          This does seem a great deal more educational.

          Exactly. This teaches that living creatures, and one would hope by extension other humans, are properly controlled at our whim.

          As I'm teaching my boys, the point of life is to get other people to do stuff that is against their interests and in yours. All this talk of dignity, human rights, liberty &c. is, as Nietzsche pointed out, merely the pathetic cry of the weak, whom it is the right of my offspring to manipulate and exploit. I wonder where I can get this for them -given the great educational value.

          And they call me a sociopath ...

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            What scares me most about this post is your +5 mod. I bet lots of those points came from folks who actually believe that.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            As I'm teaching my boys, the point of life is to get other people to do stuff that is against their interests and in yours. All this talk of dignity, human rights, liberty &c. is, as Nietzsche pointed out, merely the pathetic cry of the weak, whom it is the right of my offspring to manipulate and exploit.

            And they call me a sociopath ...

            With good reason. [wikipedia.org]

            Antisocial (Dissocial) Personality Disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights

          • by Zynder (2773551)
            They call you a sociopath cause you go around quoting Neitzsche.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Gort65 (1464371)
        Why's this post considered a troll? Seems a valid question to ask, even if one is fine with doing this to a roach. Personally, I can see some validity in doing this within reason, but I do think that the issue shouldn't be taken lightly. So, to me, the question above is well worth asking. Mind you, I have bad karma, so maybe it's natural that I missed the point of the score. ;)
        • Re:Cockroach rights? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by unrtst (777550) on Monday October 07, 2013 @09:18PM (#45065597)

          You don't see a difference between killing it and doing this?

          I first took that to imply that killing it is obviously worse, then read Gort65's reply and realized the anonymous GP was probably implying that zapping the antennae of a roach is worse than smashing it to bits (which, if you have done often, you would know that parts of it keep moving for quite a while unles you keep smashing and grinding all of it).

          So, my answer: yes, there is a big difference. IMO, this is more humane than smashing it.
          If one were to attempt to stretch this analogy to testing things on animals, especially primates, not only would I find that silly (much too far a stretch), but I would also argue that the same comparison be made: what's worse: smashing a monkey with a large object repeatedly until all bits stop moving, or putting some electrodes on his head?

          Please note, I'm not making a right or wrong judgement here, but the first post made a good point.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by tulimulta (769091)

            I think this is a false comparison. What do you think happens to the cockroach after the experiment? It is set out to freedom?

            The real comparison is killing something living vs. torturing something living and then killing it.

            Additionally, I think it's arrogant to think that humans have rights to torture animals (needlessly). Of course, it's a whole different debate whether we have the right to torture animals to save humans (drug testing etc.).

          • by gsslay (807818) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:50AM (#45067967)

            You've missed the point. No one cares about what's best for the roach. The roach is a insect without much of any brain and no conscious.

            What makes it worse is the attitude it fosters within the child.

            I'm not convinced it'll turn anyone into a psychopaths, but studies suggest this is how psychopaths start out; torturing insects and small animals. So this is one small step away from pulling wings off bees. Except this has educational approval!

    • Does this make people psychopaths [wikipedia.org]? After reading that article, apparently not. This word is thrown around so many times I can only think of the famous line spoken by the Inigo Montoya character in The Princess Bride.
    • by Phil Urich (841393) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:47PM (#45065389) Journal

      Well, with the exception of the big indoor mall water park, since the ultra-rich owners of the mall greased things to get the palm trees in without inspections . . . which meant that nobody checked for cockroaches. So the only cockroaches in all of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada are in the West Edmonton Mall waterpark.

      Best part, by the time the owners finally admitted they needed to do something about them, it was too late, because you know what exterminators use to kill cockroaches? Yup, you guessed it, chlorine-based insecticides. So at this point after so many generations living around chlorinated water and then a few attempts at extermination these are basically unkillable cockroaches. With the exception that the winters here are cold enough that they've never gotten out of the mall.

      In retrospect, thank god the LRT (ie. subway or "underground", basically, although it is mostly above ground) never ended up going to WEM.

    • by PCM2 (4486)

      Dammit! Until I read this, I had been proud of the inch-long cockroach corpse that had been lying on the ground near my desk for months. Biggest damn roach I'd ever seen in San Francisco, and I squashed it running right across the carpet. Only it didn't take much damage, other than dying; there it lay, legs folded up in death, antenna and all. But just now I turned around and it's GONE! Some bastard has stolen my gigantic dead cockroach, and I want answers.

      • by cusco (717999)

        Inch long? I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida for a century one year. Four inch long cockroaches that fly. I stomped on one, twisted my foot around to ensure that it was mush, picked up my foot and the bastard ran away. My apartment was in a 50 year-old wood building, there was no way to get rid of them. The locals pretend that they're not cockroaches and call them 'Palmetto Bugs', but everyone knows what they really are. One of many, many reasons not to live in Florida.

    • by macraig (621737)

      What is described in TFS is quite a bit different ethically than killing a creature in protection of onesself or one's den. I'm curious why you see no ethical difference.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday October 07, 2013 @07:50PM (#45064917)

    If anyone is worried about these slight actions turning kids into psychopaths, they would be AGHAST at what kids normally do with insects when they catch or find them...

    Fire, pliers, rocks, etc. All are involved.

    • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:05PM (#45065031)

      I remember when I was 5, I used to make paper balloons and stick as many crickets as I could find in them, and then I would set it on fire just to watch the hoppy action.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My brothers and I used to love to use a magnifying glass on ants on my parents' patio. I don't think you would classify any of us as psychopaths 50 years later. Fortunately, we don't have any roaches where I live now, but I remember them in the apartment I first rented when I got married...took a month or so to exterminate them all.

      I wouldn't buy anything that used roaches, not out of concern for roaches, but out of dislike for roaches.

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:22PM (#45065183)

      When I was a little kid and pulled the legs off a daddy longlegs, my scoutmaster told me not to do that, that it was cruel. Now we're encouraging kids to inflict pain on animals for their own amusement. Can you really not see a problem with that?

      • by bitt3n (941736)

        Now we're encouraging kids to inflict pain on animals for their own amusement.

        You're overstating your case, given that their intent is presumably to educate, not to amuse, and there is a long precedent for harming animals in the interests of educating humans, continuing to the present day.

        • by quantaman (517394)

          You're overstating your case, given that their intent is presumably to educate, not to amuse, and there is a long precedent for harming animals in the interests of educating humans, continuing to the present day.

          Killing and dissecting for educational purposes yes, performing harmful experiments on living creatures? Not so much.

          I can see the value, using technology to control the behaviour of a cockroach is cool and teaches you about how the creature works, I think this could be a valuable tool in a biology class. But take it outside the class and you're turning a living creature into a toy.

          I think it overstates things to say it's turning kids into psychopaths, but you can't deny it isn't a bit creepy.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you live anywhere cockroaches run rampant, you know the score. Kill them, or be infested.

  • Cruel (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Monday October 07, 2013 @07:52PM (#45064945)

    I completely agree. It's completely unacceptable to force innocent students to used something as restricted and crippled as iOS. For once could someone actually think of the children.

  • Makes sense (Score:5, Funny)

    by WGFCrafty (1062506) on Monday October 07, 2013 @07:54PM (#45064957)

    IPhones have been turning humans into mindless drones for years, now its the insects turn.

  • Imagine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2013 @07:56PM (#45064971)

    A beowulf cluster of those!

  • But do you actually get to kill the cockroach at the end of the experiment?
    Would be such a waste not too. Brouhaha!!!

  • Too buggy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:17PM (#45065137)

    I tried the app, but it was too buggy.

  • In a low tech way, (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:18PM (#45065147)
    We do something similar to horses, They're called "reins".
  • Because if you think it's okay to kill a pig or a cow, but not to cyborgify a cockroach, you have some serious double standards going on.

  • Have they ever been to a school? I'm sure any school in the country has a surplus of cockroaches they can send back to the company.

  • and by others they mane people who ahe no clue what a psychopath is?

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:37PM (#45065309)
    I understand the value of doing experiments, and I understand the value of replicating experiments. But this doesn't sound like either. It just seems like something that you install on a roach and watch it go. What is to be learned from going through the motions? That it works? We already know that. Are the students practicing some valuable skill when they clip the antennae and attach the backpack? If so, then doing this might have some value. But if this is being done "just because" then yeah, they probably shouldn't be doing it.
    • by bitt3n (941736) on Monday October 07, 2013 @09:02PM (#45065507)
      What's the point of dissecting a frog? We already know what's in the frog. We're not going to find anything new. It just seems like you cut the frog open and look at the organs. What is to be learned from going through the motions?
      • by gnoshi (314933)

        What's the point of dissecting a frog? We already know what's in the frog....

        I think that there is a lot more to be learned from actually doing a dissection than there is from looking at photographs of a dissection, because of the poking and exploring that can only be performed during a real dissection. In contrast, this particular project provides a visual illustration of a phenomena - i.e. that cockroaches movement is driven by electrical input in the nerves which run through the antennae - but I don't think is has the same degree of exploratory value.

        That said, I think this quest

  • by namgge (777284) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:38PM (#45065315)

    ... stabbed me earlier today and fitted me with bluetooth. A couple of hours practice, however, and I am spoofing his to keyboard connection.

    Pwned by Roach 2.0...

    Bwwahahaha!!!!

  • by Tyler Durden (136036) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:38PM (#45065319)

    So cyborg cockroaches are smart enough to start up an ethics debate? These suckers are advanced!

  • by Guppy (12314) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:45PM (#45065375)

    FYI: If you've ever doubted the ability of Japanese manga artists to make anything cute, take a look at Gokiburi Gijinka [mangaupdates.com], which features the adventures of adorable little Gokicha-chan and her misunderstood struggle to make friends with humans -- who for some inexplicable reason she can't understand -- keep trying to squash her.

  • by russotto (537200) on Monday October 07, 2013 @08:49PM (#45065395) Journal

    It's not ethical to force an animal to move left and right by attaching electrodes to its head. Not at all. The ethical way is to put a metal bar in its mouth and pull on THAT to force it to move left and right.
     

  • 5th Element (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday October 07, 2013 @09:16PM (#45065585)
    Please tell me they have a version that uses a rotating dish instead of a backpack.
  • by bmo (77928) on Monday October 07, 2013 @09:21PM (#45065619)

    ...and reading all the faux outrage (because it is) over the poor cockroaches...

    I'm gonna go boil up some lobsters - just to piss you guys off - and I will savor every butter-dipped bite.

    --
    BMO

    • by sjames (1099)

      Fine, just don't jam electrodes into it and drive it around the kitchen first.

  • by gnoshi (314933) on Monday October 07, 2013 @09:44PM (#45065765)

    First, because it should be obvious - doing something to an animal without killing it is not the same as killing it. For example, shooting a rabbit and thus killing it is not the same as breaking its legs kicking it around a football field. Thus, it could be argued that punching a hole in a cockroach thorax and clipping the antennae is not the same as stomping on the roach. So we should probably write off the "if you've ever killed or would ever kill a cockroach, then you have must accept this as ethical" arguments.
    Second, just because kids burn ants with a magnifying glass doesn't mean we should be encouraging kids to burn ants with a magnifying glass. As artor3 posted in a previous comment:

    When I was a little kid and pulled the legs off a daddy longlegs, my scoutmaster told me not to do that, that it was cruel. Now we're encouraging kids to inflict pain on animals for their own amusement. Can you really not see a problem with that?

    That isn't to say that installing this on a cockroach is equivalent to burning ants; simply that just because children do do something doesn't mean they should be encouraged to do it.

    Even if people do conclude this is ethical - and I'm not saying it is or is not - then the subsequent question is how you ensure children understand that while cutting half off the antennae of a cockroach is ethically acceptable, cutting half off the ears of a mouse is not. That is, assuming we consider that unethical.
    There is also the question of when it becomes unethical, in terms of animals used. It wouldn't be too challenging to build a kit to allow mid-teenagers to install a similar device in a mouse (assuming they had a steady hand), including sterile implements and gloves, adhesive, etc. Would that be ethically acceptable?

  • There does seem to be a difference here between eating animals, using them as labour or performing experiments on them. Those are examples of us sacrificing animals to serve our own ends. That is one type of ethical debate which our society is generally decided upon. This is an example of needlessly harming and terrorizing an animal. We do not allow cockfighting or recreational animal torture. This seems, at least to me, to be an example of that sort of relationship with animals. The fact that we are teach
  • We use to dissect frogs, various animal organs and even a cat when we were in high school. Granted none of it was living material but I fail to see the issue of messing with a cockroach from any perspective as a learning tool.
    • by Kidbro (80868)

      In med school they dissect humans. Granted, none of those are living material, but I fail see the problem with shoving electrodes into a live human's brain and remote controlling him as a learning tool.

      The "granted, none of it was living material" is a quite relevant part.

      And no, I'm not comparing humans to cockroaches - I'm just pointing out the absurdity of ignoring the difference between a corpse and a living creature when it comes to how it's acceptable to treat it.

  • I agree. (Score:4, Funny)

    by sconeu (64226) on Monday October 07, 2013 @10:33PM (#45066061) Homepage Journal

    They should stop experiment on cockroaches, and start experimenting on lower life forms instead....

    Members of Congress come to mind as a possibility...

    • Re:I agree. (Score:4, Funny)

      by mjwx (966435) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @03:10AM (#45067321)

      They should stop experiment on cockroaches, and start experimenting on lower life forms instead....

      Members of Congress come to mind as a possibility...

      They tried.

      They opened up the politician and found they lacked both a spine and a brain. Unable to find anywhere to attach the electrodes they gave up and moved onto roaches.

  • Clearly unhealthy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @12:47AM (#45066679)

    I agree that this is psychopathic. I can see how this is very harmful for children to be involved in this. One of the warning signs of psychopathy is to abuse animals in a grotesque manner. That we would actually teach children to do this and to adopt red-flag behaviours of a psychopath is nuts. This is not swatting a roach on the floor, which kills it instantly and as quickly as possible, which we have all done. This is torturing and messing with a living thing for long periods of time. They are not the same thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They mimic the neural signals that a roach experiences when it's antenna touch an obstacle. This is arguably much more humane than using a bit in a horses mouth. This is not intended to hurt the roach and has been engineered to match its nerve signals. You should learn about it if you're concerned. Look up their "spiker box". I've done the same with a different device and electrodes to force muscle control in my arm. It doesn't hurt, just feels weird. Super fun.

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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