Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 5/4/2005At last, I thought. Technology solves one of man's (and it is man's) oldest problems: "Researchers use laser light to remote control flies", runs the report.

Tuesday 5/4/2005

At last, I thought. Technology solves one of man's (and it is man's) oldest problems: "Researchers use laser light to remote control flies", runs the report. I have a laser. I am occasionally undone. Provided the invention doesn't draw attention to the problem before solving it — illuminating one's genital area with bright splashes of sapphire light may be misinterpreted — this could be a breakthrough of epic proportions. Could prevent one, anyhow. And we'll pass over the possibilities of hackers wreaking mischief in public places — there is a limit to open systems, after all.

But I am wrong. The research is on fruit flies at the Yale University School of Medicine, and is far more intriguing than a bit of dishabille avoidance. The scientists introduced a chemical trigger that would activate in the presence of ultraviolet laser light, and tied it into the higher levels of the fly's brain that initiate part of the insect's behaviour for fight preparation. That done, they trapped the hapless drosophila in a 'glass domed arena' — no mention of crowds of cheering onlookers — and zapped it with UV pulses. The fly duly stretched its wings, tensed its legs, jumped and flapped on command.

This will be of immense interest to the tin-foil hat brigade, who already believe we are being controlled from afar by the Evil Conspiracy. They're already in a state of high alert this week following Sony's patent for ultrasonic direct injection of video game signals to the human brain: the stage is set for a remake of The Fly, this time involving a Playstation II, a fruit fly trapped in an inverted bowl and a green laser pointer.

Meanwhile, my favourite inventors at Shanghai Jiaotong University — who are contributing their own fundamental research towards the great technocritter dystopia I now so clearly foresee — have proved their mettle once again, this time by winning the 29th ACM International Programming Contest. Not only are these people possessed of great imagination and drive, but they've got the intellectual chops to make it happen.

In the words of Michael Howard: Fear. Fear fear fear fear fear.

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