One of the many interesting talks next week at Penn will be one by Alper Bozkurt, on the “Internet of Bionic Things: Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms for Environmental Sensing". His abstract:
The present day technology falls short in offering autonomous mobile robots that can function effectively and efficiently under unknown and dynamic environmental conditions. Insects and canines, on the other hand, exhibit an unmatched ability to navigate through a wide variety of environments and overcome perturbations by successfully maintaining control and stability. In this talk, Dr. Alper Bozkurt will present how microsystems based neural stimulation and physiological monitoring systems are used to wirelessly navigate cockroaches and train dogs to enable cyber-physical working animals. These biobots can potentially assist humans in environmental sensing and search-and-rescue applications to pinpoint hazardous material or to find earthquake victims. This is one of the on-going efforts under Integrated Bionic MicroSystems Laboratory (iBionicS Lab) which has a vision to introduce conceptually novel neural engineering methodologies and systems to interface artificial systems with biological organisms towards the next generation bionic cyber-physical systems. Such cyber-physical systems would be the building blocks of a new era where everything is connected to each other through the Internet of Things.
"Bionit Things"? "Cyber-enabled Bionic Organisms"? "Cyber-physical working animals?" "Biobots"? "Bionic cyber-physical systems"?
Dr. Bozkurt's web page offers some other candidate terms: "… interfacing microtechnologies with metamorphic development of insects for building remotely controlled biobotic organisms (insect cyborgs)…". And his iBionics lab page offers "bioMEMS" (= bio-micro-electro-mechanical-systems), exploring "explores novel interfaces with sensory and motor neurons, cockroaches, sphinx moths, plants, birds, canines, lemurs and humans" on the way to that goal of "building a cyber-physical systems based new era where everything is connected to each other through the Internet of Things".
In the end, perhaps we'll all be Wikileaks flybots on various interesting walls, while signing up for systems that claim to allow only beneficial probiobiotic cyberbacteria to infect our cybermicrobiome, and to prevent hostile cyber-ribosomes and golgibots from hacking our cellular cyberphysiology. Meanwhile, teams of Russian cyberbiologists will be striving to perfect new strains of bioransomware, while police webdogs try to sniff them out…
But this is Language Log, not Speculative Dystopian Fiction Log, so my topic this morning is a simple matter of predictive neologistics.
Assuming that our future will be full of Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms (or Cyber-Physical Working Animals, or Bionic Cyber-Physical Systems, or Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms, or whatever), what will we call them?
Will there be a single cover term, like biobots? Or lots of specific names for particular cases and subcases, like netkaryotes, cyber-roaches, flyborgs, webdogs, …
Will we systematically distinguish quasi-autonomous cyber-organisms like ant-borgs from subcellular cyber-organelles like net-ribosomes, or will we finally abandon the whole oppressive organism-ist fallacy?
And crucially, will IPv6, with its maximum of 2128 = 3.4 x 1038 possible addresses, be up to the task of handling the "new era where everything is connected to each other through the Internet of Things"? Pending colonization of the Kuiper Belt, or assigning an IP address to every earthly atom, we should be safe for a while — apparently there are only about 5 x 1030 prokaryotes on (and in) planet Earth, and the total number of eukaryotic cells should be substantially smaller. Even putting every grain of sand on the web should only add another 1019 addresses or so.
Unfortunately I'll miss Dr. Bozkurt's talk, due to being in Argentina at the time. During the month of November I will have traveled to China, Argentina, and France — this is a complaint (or perhaps a confession of poor planning), not a boast, since I'm also teaching a large undergraduate class, supervising research, submitting grant proposals, dealing with personal life, and all the other usual things. The trips' purposes are good ones, but I would have been happier to be able to carry them out in Scranton or Baltimore.
[Also, I assume that some others will join me in finding "everything is connected to each other" a bit off. It's clear what it means, but at some point I formed the idea that "each other" is limited to binary relations. Obviously this is a point on which the language is changing, or has changed, or maybe was never any other way…]