Backyard Brains, a collaborative group working with neuroscience and technology, introduced RoboRoach last fall, inciting much press coverage and, alas, much controversy.
If you’ve not seen the RoboRoach concept, here is the video:
Reactions in the press to the RoboRoach varied from fascination-at-a-harbinger-of-the-future to serious ethical concerns for appropriating an innocent creature for gadget geek entertainment. See the BBC’s coverage of the controversy here and the CS Monitor’s concern here.
Of course, it’s easy to understand the concerns, and let’s face it, it is cruel in the same way that biological experiments on animals are cruel. The crux of the issue for me, of course, is not the meeting of technology and biology, but rather the lack of permission from the creatures involved. A few enslaved cockroaches may not be a tragedy, but we humans do have a tendency to occasionally extend the scale and scope of such experiments on to other life forms. We should get our thinking straight at the outset.
Controversy aside, I do love what Backyard Brains is doing (check out their SpikerBox product too), and their model of open education and experimentation is likely going to spread and grow. As it does spread, it points to the need for the spread of ethical perspectives on biology, technology, and what hacking into the future really means for us all.
But let’s not stop the backyard innovation — creating, thinking, and feeling go great together.