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Cyborg locusts open new frontier

The first ‘cyborg-war’ has just been won after millions of wirelessly-controlled locusts swamped the North Korean army as it massed on the border with South Korea.

The cyborg insects, developed initially in secret US Army labs, simply smothered the troops, rendering their guns, tanks and aircraft useless. “You cannot fire a weapon or fly a jet when the mechanism is jammed with the bodies of thousands of kamikaze insects,” said one forlorn North Korean officer.

Massive advances in microprocessing and wireless technology have made implants in living creatures commonplace. Thousands of applications are being developed, both in war and peace.

Scientists first adapted large insects like locusts and flower beetles. The insects breed rapidly and in vast numbers in controlled conditions, and are then mechanically implanted with cheap wireless processors. They can then be instructed by remote operators – human or computer – to perform a number of reasonably complex tasks, from dive-bombing enemy weapons or spying on your enemies to diverting swarms of natural insects from crops.

Applications for business and industry are flying off the shelves. You can buy insect ‘spies’ for industrial espionage, or cyborg security squads to protect your premises. New manufacturing techniques are also emerging, along with new bio-materials such as chitin-like material for structures.

“This is the start of a new age of processing,” says industrialist Kum-wan Lee. “All the things humans don’t like doing, or are unsafe, from garbage disposal or sewerage processing to deep-level mining, can be addressed with controlled cyborgs.”

But is it that simple? Experiments to ‘cyborg’ small mammals are advanced, leading to a raging ethical debate. How long before cloned human cyborgs take to the streets? And who controls the controllers?

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism (i.e., an organism that has both artificial and natural systems). The term was coined in 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline used it in an article about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space. D.S. Halacy’s Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman in 1965 featured an introduction by Manfred Clynes, who wrote of a “new frontier” that was “not merely space, but more profoundly the relationship between ‘inner space’ to ‘outer space’ – a bridge…between mind and matter.” The cyborg is often seen today merely as an organism that has enhanced abilities due to technology, but this perhaps oversimplifies the category of feedback.

Fictional cyborgs are portrayed as a synthesis of organic and synthetic parts, and frequently pose the question of difference between human and machine as one concerned with morality, free will, and empathy. Fictional cyborgs may be represented as visibly mechanical (e.g. the Borg in the Star Trek franchise or Amber from the game Project Eden); or as almost indistinguishable from humans (e.g. the “Human” Cylons from the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica). The 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man featured one of the most famous fictional cyborgs. Cyborgs in fiction often play up a human contempt for over-dependence on technology, particularly when used for war, and when used in ways that seem to threaten free will. Cyborgs are also often portrayed with physical or mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart (military forms may have inbuilt weapons, among other things).

Real (as opposed to fictional) cyborgs are more frequently people who use cybernetic technology to repair or overcome the physical and mental constraints of their bodies. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, they can be any kind of organism – Wikipedia.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.