Killer Cybernetic Insects: The Future of Warfare

Dave Anthony, writer and director of several video games from Call of Duty video game franchise, joined the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. on 1st October 2014 with his presentation ‘The Future of Unknown Conflict’ at Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Anthony's presentation, part of ‘Art of Future War’ series, included his description of the possible threats to the United States and other countries around the world in the near future, while also providing solutions for how the governments should prepare against such dangers.

Cybernetic insects, such as this mini-drone, could be used in military reconnaissance.

The event featured everything from 3D printers to flying drones, which served as the backdrop to Anthony's vision of what the future of unknown conflict will look like and how the US government should prepare for potential threats.

In his presentation, Anthony showed clips of several Hollywood films portraying events that were eerily similar to those of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York City and the Washington, D.C. as well as the 2008 Mumbai attacks, before the actual attacks occurred. This was to demonstrate that the creative community of Hollywood and now also the developers of video games may have the foresight for what dangers may arise in the future. These dangers include emerging artificial intelligence, drones, cyber attacks, and others.
Ominously, Anthony expressed his opinion, and voiced his firm belief, that "there are a lot more attacks coming soon".

Anthony also portrayed his vision of the future warfare:

“Imagine you have an insect drone. It has a camera on it. It has a bit of cyanide on it, in the sting on its tail. Imagine you got a swarm of these. Imagine the camera has facial recognition software on it.” said Anthony to his audience, before continuing: “All of this is available right now."

And Dave Anthony is not alone in this thinking. Way back in 2006, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) tasked the best America's scientists with submitting "innovative proposals to develop technology to create ‘insect cyborgs’".

Imagine you have an insect drone. It has a camera on it. It has a bit of cyanide on it, in the sting on its tail. Imagine you got a swarm of these.

"Proof of existence of small-scale flying machines is abundant in nature in the form of insects" wrote Amit Lal, a DARPA programme manager, in an instruction booklet the agency issued to the prospective researchers in the field.

For years now, the US military has been trying to develop ‘micro air vehicles’ - ultra-small flying robots capable of performing reconnaissance and surveillance in dangerous territory. To their frustration, challenges in building these machines are enormous: The dynamics of flight change at very small sizes, and the vehicles need to be lightweight enough to fly, yet strong enough to carry cameras and other necessary equipment. Most importantly, they need a source of power - a battery light enough for a flying robot to carry, but with enough juice to keep the craft aloft for the duration of the mission.

Perhaps, DARPA boffins realised, they don’t need to start completely from scratch. If they will begin with live insects, they’re already halfway through to their dreamed ‘insect cyborgs’. All they have to do is figure out how to hack into insects' brains to try and control their movement.

One of the cyber-beetles created as a part of DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) programme.

And if you think that this is just something belonging to the realm of science fiction, think again. Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) is an ongoing project of DARPA with the goal of developing machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of their metamorphosis.

Already in January 2009, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, announced that they had managed to create (as a part of the above DARPA project) a remote-controlled flying cyborg beetle by attaching a computer chip to the brain of a large flying insect and they have released a video of the ‘cyber-bug’ in action as evidence to back their claim.

So next time you see a peculiar bug whizzing by your head, beware - it could be the government spying on you.