Cyborg insects: use or abuse?

V. Tamara Montrose, Grace Carroll, Richard Smith, James A. Oxley

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster

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Insects are widely utilized in research, in the food industry and in art, entertainment and fashion. Another recent use involves integrating living organisms with robotic systems to create cyborg insects. Various taxa are used as cyborg insects including cockroaches, beetles and moths. Cyborg insects are proposed to be useful for surveillance, emergency search and rescue and as educational aids. This review critically considers the likely impact of the insect species used, perceptions of whether insects experience pain, and the proposed context in which the cyborg insects are to be used upon public acceptance of their use. The main findings are that the use of species commonly perceived as pests when developing cyborg insects may be beneficial in encouraging public acceptance of their use. In addition, whether individuals believe insects can experience pain is likely to impact on the acceptance of the use of cyborg insects. Systematic study of the public’s opinion regarding whether insects experience pain has not been performed however prior research (e.g. Kellert, 1993) suggested that the public believed that insects could experience pain. Public concern is also indicated by complaints received when live insects are crushed or eaten in popular television shows. The context of use, such as military applications, emergency search and rescue or as educational aids, is also important. Media portrayal in the United Kingdom of the use of cyborg insects in search and rescue contexts, detection of explosives and thwarting terrorism tends to be positive, whilst their use in public surveillance and as educational aids is more negatively portrayed. Key conclusions are that the popularity and charisma of the insect species used, belief in insects’ capacity to experience pain, and the perceived benefits of their use in particular contexts are all likely to impact on whether cyborg insects are perceived as an acceptable use or unacceptable abuse of insects. Further systematic study of these three key factors upon public opinion and/or acceptance of cyborg insects will be valuable in elucidating this field of study.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2017


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