Animal domestication is part and parcel of what humans do, what as specie we excel at. Ever since the human race became a technological species (stone carving and axe grinding), the immediate biosphere, innocent and available, was the field of action, and tool application upon which we applied our skills.
We have used animals not only to eat and carry our cargoes, or us, but also as the backbone of our production of utensils making and healing remedies. We have used, and continuously use, the plethora of life forms in the cornucopia of the biosphere for almost every imaginable idea of material need, but not only. Animals have become our hyper-mythologized creatures of fantasy bringing both fear and magic to our infant awe-inspired storytelling capability.
Both loyal friends and fearsome enemies, the creatures that are not us have forever been our toys of preference.
Small wonder then that reaching new heights of technological prowess, we turn to these evolutionary products of Mother Nature, searching the deep recesses of the bacterial DNA for magic potions, and technorganic compounds that will yield an untold number of benefits.
Morality aside (for the moment), the sheer amount of progress made in the last few years is nothing less than astounding.
Applying engineering techniques and knowledge from biology and computational information, we are in the process of harnessing little-known exploits already in nature to create new forms of unconventional computation.
Computing swarms of soldier crabs
“Back in the early 80s, a couple of computer scientists — Ed Fredkin and Tommaso Toffoli — studied how it might be possible to build a computer out of billiard balls.
The idea is that a channel would carry information encoded in the form of the presence or absence of billiard balls . This information is processed through gates in which the billiard balls either collide and emerge in a direction that is the result of the ballistics of the collision, or don’t collide and emerge with the same velocities.
Now Yukio-Pegio Gunji from Kobe University in Japan and a couple of pals have built what is essentially a billiard ball computer using soldier crabs. “We demonstrate that swarms of soldier crabs can implement logical gates when placed in a geometrically constrained environment,” they say.”
(image+text from Technology review: Computer Scientists Build Computer Using Swarms of Crabs)
(Image credit: Journal of Energy & Environmental Science | Clarkson University | Ben- Gurion University of the Negev)
Meanwhile, whilst the soldier crabs help us create the billiard ball computer others are busy harnessing the power of clams:
“The same group previously showed how cyborg snails could survive hosting the first fully implanted biofuel cells. This time U.S. and Israeli researchers put implants in three living clams and then hooked the clams together as a battery to create enough electricity to turn an electric motor — a step toward the scenario in the 1999 film “The Matrix” in which Morpheus compares a human being to a Duracell battery.” (Innovation Daily)
If, however, clams and crabs aren’t enough, the fabled cockroaches are here to help us enter into toxic areas and measure the toxicity of the area and send the information back. “Researchers have turned cockroaches into living, scurrying fuel cells by implanting them with electrodes. The scientists hope that eventually, insects can carry monitoring or messaging equipment that’s powered by their own bodies.” (Innovation Daily)
Instead of looking at cockroaches as disgusting pests, some scientists see them as potentially helpful scouts. Because of the insects’ hardy constitution, these scientists envision outfitting the roaches with tiny sensors or cameras and sending them to collect data in conditions that are harmful or inaccessible to people. In a step toward creating such insect soldiers, researchers now report a small device that can generate electricity from sugar in a cockroach’s blood (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja210794c). (Via : Chemical and Engineering news:Fuel Cell Taps Into Roach Power)
“While bees are extremely important to our ecology, they are becoming important to our defense against biological and other weapons, as the bee’s discreet sense of smell, equivalent to a dog’s, is being exploited as a much cheaper way to detect various odors in the environment.” (Physorg: New Bee Sniffing Technology Can Detect Many Dangerous Vapors At Once)
“The next time a moth alights on your window sill, watch what you say. Sure, it may look like an innocent visitor, irresistibly drawn to the light in your room, but it could actually be a spy – one of a new generation of cyborg insects with implants wired into their nerves to allow remote control of their movement. Be warned, flesh-and-blood bugs may soon live up to their name.” (New Scientist:The cyborg animal spies hatching in the lab)
Hundreds or thousands of cyborg crickets could form a mobile communications network, transmitting signals through their calls. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
“By taking advantage of the way crickets communicate, researchers are building “cyborg crickets” that could form a mobile communications network for emergency situations, such as detecting chemical attacks on the battlefield, locating disaster victims, monitoring gas leaks, and acting as smoke detectors.” ((PhysOrg.com)
Hybrots, Animats and Semi-Biotic systems
Hybrots: A hybrot (short for “hybrid robot”) is a cybernetic organism in the form of a robot controlled by a computer consisting of both electronic and biological elements. (wiki)
Animats: Animats are artificial animals, a contraction of anima-materials. The term includes physical robots and virtual simulations (wiki)
Semi-biotic systems: Semi-biotic systems are systems that incorporate biologically derived components/modules – which could range from multi-protein complexes through DNA constructs to multi-cellular assemblies – and integrate them with synthetic components (e.g. microfabricated systems) to produce hybrid devices. (wiki)
The Next step: Re-engineering life
We are playing an interesting game here, dangerous to some extent, rich in potential and possibilities.
Mating our bioengineering capabilities with the immensity of options nature has already brought forth we are now entering the age of bio-engineered life.
This is a situation that is novel, fascinating, awe inspiring and inherently hazardous.
” Right now, Venter is thinking of a bug. He is thinking of a bug that could swim in a pond and soak up sunlight and urinate automotive fuel. He is thinking of a bug that could live in a factory and gobble exhaust and fart fresh air.” (NYT:Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World)
Venter’s entrepreneurial approach to science is an interesting manner of conceiving of life not as a subject matter of biology but as the theme of the next wave of human engineering.
In a very immediate perception, then, the animal cyborgization process is only a small part of the process of reinventing nature to fit our purposes.
The ethics of the question, if question there is, concerning the re-invention of life and the cyborgization of animals (in conjunction with recreating ourselves and our own process of cyborgization) is not only deep and all encompassing, but possibly unanswerable.
That we need take precautions is obvious, that we must implement all measures of safety and protection is evident, but that we will proceed along this path is also plain and actual. The question therefore is not will we do it, because we are, and we will. The question is what are the consequences on an aesthetic and evolutionary plane.
Consider the following example:
Rayfish Footwear creates personalized sneakers from stingray leather. Our groundbreaking bio-customization technique allows you to design your very own Rayfish. At Rayfish Footwear, we harness the beauty and variety of nature to create the world’s first truly custom sneakers. One fish, one shoe.
The beauty in our world has evolved over millions of years. Whether it’s a spectacular forest, a coral reef, or a fragile butterfly, nature has made it all. For centuries artists and designers have taken inspiration from the beauty and variety of nature.
Rayfish Footwear takes nature’s beauty one step beyond inspiration. We use it as direct input. By remixing pattern-generating DNA, we can create designs never before seen in nature. From tigers to turtles, the infinite variety of earth’s organisms is now at our disposal. Through our unique process of bio-customization, the patterns and colors of dozens of animals can be transformed into a truly personalized shoe. For more visit Rayfish
then please watch this:
How to think about this?
“Technology is not neutral. We’re inside of what we make, and it’s inside of us. We’re living in a world of connections — and it matters which ones get made and unmade.”
On the aesthetic and philosophical consequences and implications in the next part.
shortly to be continued..
Cross-posted at SpaceCollective