Cyborg cockroach

New Scientist reported on the developments of insect cybernetics, namely the new and improved model of a cyborg cockroach.

"PITY future cyborg insects. As if being remotely controlled by a human isn't bad enough, their every movement may be harnessed to power the electronics that hijack their bodies. This could also extend the length of their enslavement, since the microchips had previously relied on tiny batteries with short lifespans.

Engineers have been attempting to
gain control of insects' bodies for some time, to act as discreet spies or to take advantage of their advanced sense of smell to detect chemicals or explosives.

To do this, researchers implant electrical stimulators that zap certain nerves or brain cells, triggering an impulse that makes the insect move in a desired direction. This process can be controlled by a preprogrammed chip or by remote control
(NewScientist, 6 March 2008, p 40)." Read the rest.

Add a GPS, some RFID and/or 3G technology and a video camera on the thing and multiply it to a few hundred tiny cyborgs using crowd intelligence and we'll have one efficient spy machine similar to the spider robot of Minority Report but half organic. If the cockroaches get really smart we might have one interesting YouTube channel.

Read also Digitoday discussing the article (in Finnish). 1st pic orig. from, appearing in James Sherwood's article Nintendo Wii said to 'attract cockroaches' in Register Hardware news. 2nd pic from BotJunkie (screen capture from the movie Minority Report).


Anthropology Going (even more) Digital

Traditionally cultural anthropology has been about studying distant tribes and low-tech societies outside the Euro-American realm. It took a while until anthropology dared to stay at home and found that there are interesting objects of research also in the scholar's own society.

It took even more time for anthropology to engage in studying the everyday interaction of people and technology. Nowadays, the essential role of digital technologies in global culture is slowly being accepted as a proper subject within the discipline. In my view it should already be part and parcel of anthropology.

Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University is a pioneer in digitally oriented cultural anthropology. His view of and approach to modern anthropology was finally recognized when he was awarded the professor of the year 2008 title by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (Wired Magazine discovered him first though when Wesch was given the Rave Award in 2007.) Hopefully Wesch's example will further encourage anthropologists to probe the interesting realm of digital culture.

Check out Prof. Wesch's channel on YouTube and his Digital Ethnography blog. Here's one of the videos that earned the professor the Rave Award.

Pic from Kansan State Univ.


Update on Virtual Church for Kids

My colleague Olli mailed me an update for the virtual church for kids post from last week.

According to Helsingin Sanomat (HS) the chat area of Lastenkirkko ("Children's Church") had to be closed down right after the service had started because of anti-religious and ill-mannered discussion. The virtual church itself has already attracted lots of discussion and debate. Even the number of comments to HS's report added up to 384 this morning.

What a perfect example of the pros and cons of Internet as an open forum for discussion.

Just a thought: would it be an interesting experiment if a religious virtual world would be open for any kind of development - Hindu temples, atheist information booths (with Richard Dawkins' avatar), new age spiritualists, newborn Christian preachers and even Satanists. Then an avatar could browse through all sorts of virtual religions and decide for itself. Click and be saved!

Pic: "Blake Wake Visits Pixel Jesus in a Cave" by Dean Terry in Flickr.


Virtual Church for Kids

Reading Digitoday a few days ago, I noticed how the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland is trying to reach kids in cyberspace by launching a new Flash-based virtual world called Lastenkirkko ("Children's Church").

Like in Habbo, "the hangout for teens", in Lastenkirkko kids can create their own avatar, dress it up and chat away with friends. The church is open for kids' chatter only from 3 to 5 pm when the moderator is present. On other times kids are only allowed to use smileys to communicate with each other.

A juvenile Cyber-Christian can also listen to the stories of Bible, read prayers or just play games. Kids can also have their avatar blessed at the altar, play the organ or visit the grave yard.
Lastekirkko is a laudable move from the Church. It hints towards religion becoming less serious and conservative. Moreover, it is yet another interesting sign of the cultural dynamics of digital age. Virtual worlds are not seen merely as games or something unreal anymore but places of real and useful societal action. It seems like even the most conservative organizations have to have a virtual world entity nowadays. Or maybe the Church has started taking advice from Big Tobacco and catching them while they're young?
But when are the cyborg priests coming?
Pics: the virtual altar from Lastenkirkko, Futurama's robot priest from Futurama and Religion.


Video eyeware and the evolution of audiovisual entertainment tech

Tietokone magazine reported on consumer electronics news among which video glasses caught my eye, so to speak. Sony's executive Howard Stinger and Tom Hanks presented the company's new gadgetry, including video eyewear. Tietokone readers pointed out that although the report seems to claim otherwise, Sony isn't really the first one to present such equipment. Video glasses have been around for some years now and are sold online (see e.g. Verkkokauppa store in Finland and Zeiss' page).

Hanks, Stinger and videogoggles (pic source here).

Sony's video goggles got me thinking about the not so fresh innovation of Sony Walkman (released 1979), or the "Ear Patch Stereos" as they were literally called in Finland. What a technocultural innovation they were! Music that you could take with you and listen to just by yourself! One should remember that hundred years ago music was mainly a collective thing to do. Actually, since the beginning of music itself, people have gathered together to do music - sing together around the fire, in working groups, sorrowful mourning parties, or, more lately in history, gathered together to enoy professional live music performance, and so on.

Then came the record player which better enabled the production of music. The song could now be refined, remade, patched together from separate sections to form a piece best reflecting the vision of its maker (singer, player, song-writer, producer). One could enjoy music without knowing how to sing or having someone to sing for them. One could just listen to records or radio at home with closest friends. With headphones one could enjoy the records by the record player just by oneself.

Finally, Sony Walkman was invented and you could take the music with you where ever you went, and be isolated from your surroundings while being mobile....

...and listen to the music a billion dollar industry had meticulously produced to suit your taste and cultural niche.

The evolution of music tech has developed from enhancing group cohesion to individual isolation. It is one of the many common denominators of a group of individuals sharing same sort of cultural, social and esthetic values. Perhaps nowadays one listens to MP3s in isolation but still feeling connected to peers.

Video glasses are another interesting step in the technological evolution. Now that we have appliances like Nintendo Wii or the like, it won't be long when we can enjoy a walk in the park with friends and not get out of the bed or the couch. We can be physically more isolated but virtually more social and collective.

Imagine a bit more distant future, when gadgets like the Walkman (MP3-player) or video goggles become so tiny that they fit inside your eye and ear. Or, to a lot more scifi here, are implanted in your brain. Then virtual would become real (if it isn't already) and physical something as irrelevant as atoms and molecules of a DVD disc of TV screen are today in enjoying a movie.

Pic sources: Sony Walkman from Erlingsi's Flickr page, gramophone from Design Boom, the future eye implant from Übergizmo.