Update: PETA Goes All RoboCop on RoboRoach
Update: PETA has confirmed with Apple that the sadistic Roboroach iOS app that was submitted for review at the App Store has been rejected. Good for Apple! Now let’s hope Google makes the same correct decision when the Android app to control mutilated cockroaches is sent for review.
Originally posted on October 29, 2013:
Pulling the wings off flies—it’s the textbook example of sadism. But not only is a Michigan-based company called Backyard Brains encouraging kids to torture bugs, it’s also upping the ante by selling kits that turn bullying into a high-tech “experiment.”
The company’s RoboRoach kits instruct kids to “anesthetize” a live cockroach by dousing him or her with ice water; sand the animal’s thorax (yes, you read that right), use a needle to puncture it, and superglue an electrode connector to it; cut off most of the roach’s antennae and superglue electrodes to the stubs; and use a hot glue gun to attach a battery pack to the roach’s back, all so that kids can control the animal’s movements via a smartphone app. The product works only for a few days, but the electrodes are permanently attached, and Backyard Brains offers only vague instructions about “retir[ing] the cockroach to your breeder colony.”
Wired calls RoboRoach “a serious potential upgrade for those kids that love to burn ants with a magnifying glass in summer—and an ethics-free lesson in mind control for the pursuit of entertainment.” PETA calls it “cruel” and has submitted a complaint to the Michigan attorney general and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs about the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine (performing surgery on cockroaches), which is a felony, and instructing children to commit this crime, too. We’ve also contacted the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development about Backyard Brains’ offering live cockroaches for sale and shipment without the required permit.
Studies indicate that not only do cockroaches experience pain, they also have complex memory, learning, and spatial awareness. In one study, researchers used computer simulations to show that insect brains have enough neural circuits to possess consciousness, and insects may even be able to count.
Cockroaches are also very social—they live together in closely bonded groups, can recognize individual members of their family, and make collective decisions that will benefit the entire cockroach clan. A study by scientists at Queen Mary University of London found that cockroaches “talk” to one another and prefer to dine in groups.
Not only is RoboRoach harmul to roaches, it’s potentially harmful to the cyborgs’ handlers. It could desensitize them to the feelings of those who are weaker than they are. One might just as well call it a “bully starter kit.”
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