Belmont Club

The Beatles

Not the singing group but cyber-beetles with a killer beat. They will be one of the many kinds of insects controlled by machine interface under the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems of DARPA. With a current budget of $3.2 billion, the program is “placing mechanical systems into insects during the earliest stages of metamorphosis.” The result? “Little insect cyborgs. Little spies. Little Terminators.”

issue development occurs late in metamorphosis and tissue growth around these inserted mechanical systems heals forming stable tissue-machine interfaces. The mechanical systems inside the insects are to be controlled by GPS, radio, optical, or ultrasonic signals from remote control units. Direct electrical muscle excitation, electrical stimulation of neurons, electromechanical stimulation of insect sensory cells, as well as optical cues are used to control the insects movements. Little insect cyborgs. Little spies. Little Terminators.

Their main attraction is low cost and reliability. Insects already know how to fly and fuel themselves. “HI-MEMS is providing us with robotic micro UAV capabilities at incredibly low cost. … No years of experimentation developing micro flight vehicles. Nature took care of all that eons ago.” Doubtless there are problems, but if the bugs are ever worked out of the system the US will have the literal fly on the wall.

And in case that wasn’t enough, scientists are developing a nuclear powered transponder for the cyborg insects. “Electrical engineering associate professor Amit Lal and graduate student Steven Tin presented a prototype microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) transmitter—an RF-emitting device powered by a radioactive source with a half-life of 12 years, meaning that it could operate autonomously for decades. The researchers think the new RFID transmitter, which produces a 5-milliwatt, 10-microsecond-long, 100-megahertz radio-frequency pulse, could lead to the widespread use of radioisotope power sources.”

A technology capable of producing low-cost, undetectable platforms carrying self-powered surveillance devices heralds a sensor revolution. Edward Guest’s wish “to have no secret place wherein I stoop unseen to shame or sin; To be the same when I’m alone And when my every deed is known” may no longer be a virtuous aspiration but a description of inescapable fact. There will soon be literally no place to hide. A wag at Bruce Schneier’s blog expressed the ultimate destination of these rapidly unfolding developments.

One state to rule them all,
One database to find them,
One big brother to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them

In a world where ubiquitous surveillance is a fact of life the political control of the omniscient state could become the ultimate weapon. Radical Islam may not be able to compete against such a technology unless it takes the tack of controlling the state which controls the technology. It may be cheaper for foreign dictators to corrupt Western politics than resort to such 20th century strategies as guerilla warfare — not always a good idea when the very insects themselves may be informants for armed drones hovering unseen overhead.

The politico-military effects of the the technological revolution have yet to be fully felt, but their shadow is already falling over public discourse. The effect of Wikileaks, the role of encryption, regulation by the FCC over the Internet, the power of Google; the threat of foreign agents of influence — the impact of all of these has yet to be absorbed.

What seems evident is that for liberty to survive to any meaningful extent into the future the limits to government must be renewed. Either that or humanity must eventually fly into the boundless reaches of outer space, where, hampered by the speed of light, the one ring of surveillance will always a be a little too late to intervene.

Link to Wretchard’s novel “No Way In” print edition
Link to Wretchard’s novel “No Way In” Kindle Edition”