Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wondrous Science

Item 1:
The US military is working to develop squadrons of "smart" insects for military purposes. From the BBC article, Pentagon Plans Cyber-Insect Army:
Darpa believes scientists can take advantage of the evolution of insects, such as dragonflies and moths, in the pupa stage.

"Through each metamorphic stage, the insect body goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects," its proposal document reads.

The foreign objects it suggests to be implanted are specific micro-systems - Mems - which, when the insect is fully developed, could allow it to be remotely controlled or sense certain chemicals, including those in explosives.

The invasive surgery could "enable assembly-line like fabrication of hybrid insect-Mems interfaces", Darpa says.

I thought these Darpa guys were supposed to be science-fiction-reading nerds. Can they not see that implementing this plan will inevitably lead to a dystopian future? Butterflies guiding bombs? It seems clear to me that this'd be an obvious heralding of the apocalypse.

The article also includes this handy rundown of several notable deployments of animals during war-time (which pretty much left me speechless):
WWII: Attach a bomb to a cat and drop it from a dive-bomber on to Nazi ships. The cat, hating water, will "wrangle" itself on to enemy ship's deck. In tests cats became unconscious in mid-air

WWII: Attach incendiaries to bats. Induce hibernation and drop them from planes. They wake up, fly into factories etc and blow up. Failed to wake from hibernation and fell to death

Vietnam War: Dolphins trained to tear off diving gear of Vietcong divers and drag them to interrogation, sources linked to the programme say. Syringes later placed on dolphin flippers to inject carbon dioxide into divers, who explode. US Navy has always denied using mammals to harm humans

Item 2:
Courtesy of the NY Times, meet Kiwa hirsuta.

From the article:
Kiwa hirsuta ... represents not just a new species or even a new genus ... but a family of animals previously unknown to science. The researchers were cruising the South Pacific last year, hundreds of miles south of Easter Island, using the submersible vehicle Alvin to study the strange creatures that live along cracks in the sea floor called hydrothermal vents.

Despite their extreme heat and sulfurous gases, these vents teem with bizarre bacteria, worms, clams and other creatures. In fact, many scientists theorize that life on earth began at these vents. ... Because it looked like the abominable snowman of crustaceans, they called it the "Yeti crab." The aquarium said its family name, Kiwaidae, comes from Kiwa, a Polynesian goddess of crustaceans. The creature is blind, and its hairs — really the kind of bristles found on moths or bumblebees — are colonized by bacteria organized in filaments.

Now, while I'd never want to ingest a kiwa, I could see myself buying a well-made plush toy that looked like one.

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