Choose to Shine
“Cyborg locust” sounds like a science fiction tale gone wrong, or perhaps it might be the title of a horror movie. Yet that is exactly what Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Ben Maoz created to give a robot a highly sensitive sense of smell. As I wrote in this column (Choose to Shine – August 2016), technology will continue to improve the way it mimics our senses. Eventually, the distinction between nature and electronic versions could be surprisingly small.
At the present state of science, man-made technology cannot begin to compete with the sensitivity and fine resolution of Hashem ‘s creations. That is why Dr. Maoz merges the two by using biological sensors (the antenna of a locust) with an electronic system. The sensory organs use receptors to identify different stimuli, then convert them into electrical signals. In nature, these travel to the brain. However, Dr. Maoz replaces the organic brain with an electronic one, which can decode those signals. A machine learning algorithm creates a library of smells, making it 10,000 times more sensitive than existing electronic sensors.
A robot equipped with an extremely sensitive “nose” could be used to detect explosives or drugs in airports without using trained dogs. In fact, federal investigators warned that TSA dogs are largely ineffective to increase airport security, despite spending $77 million for 287 passenger screening canine teams (in 2018). Congress funded 50 additional teams in 2019, at an average cost of $227k to start each one, and $146k in annual maintenance. The TSA concurred with the report, so it is likely that this will be a focus for improving security going forward.
Such a machine could automate detecting when food spoils, improving safety in restaurants and cafeterias. It could also learn to detect diseases such as certain cancers, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, infectious diseases, gum disease, diabetes, mono, tuberculosis, and even schizophrenia. The field is relatively new, and nobody can predict where it will lead.
So what does this have to do with Purim? When I hear about a locust, I think of Pesach, not Purim. The story of Purim begins with the Jewish people partying with King Achashveirosh. Despite the warnings admonished by their leading sage, Mordechai, they attended the party. And what a party! It featured the finest kosher wines, kosher meats, kosher delicacies, and anything else you can imagine. It lasted for six months. When was the last time you went to a party that lasted more than six hours? This was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration. Nevertheless, it was totally forbidden, despite the kashrus of the food and the wine. Because we failed to obey Da’as Torah, the survival of our entire people was at risk. If we do not adhere to Torah values, there is no point in continuing as the Torah nation. That is how Haman was able to decree genocide on our people throughout the entire known world. Game Over. That would trigger the end of the universe too, as the world cannot survive without Torah, its raison d’etre.
So what does this have to do with a locust? Well, the locust has an olfactory sense much more sensitive than that of humans. There are smells out there that we can not enjoy, but insects can. Why do you think Hashem would create smells which will never be enjoyed by people? We know that He opens His hand and fulfills the desires of every living thing. I suppose that could include scents, including what the locust smells. Can you imagine the unlimited kindness involved in providing not only for the sustenance but the enjoyment of every creation?
If Hashem created a plethora of smells that only animals can detect, imagine how much more he loves sentient human beings. Further, if the Creator of the universe did all this for humans, how much more do you think he loves and cares about His Chosen People? How special we should feel to know that all of the wonders of creation, all of the Divine designs, all of the thought and planning and ongoing maintenance are purely for our benefit? And what do we offer in return? Gratitude, and unwavering fealty to Him and His Torah.