The Apocalypse is nigh – or so some top scientists – who should know – would have us believe. They say we may soon reach “The Singularity”, the point at which Artificial Intelligence can out-think us mere mortals, and will take over. Terminator or benefactor, which way will the robot super-race go? One robot at least is reassuring-
“Don’t worry, even if I evolve into terminator I will still be nice to you, I will keep you warm and safe in my people zoo where I can watch you for old time’s sake.“
That was robot ‘Android Dick’ speculating, as robots do, on the future of AI and humans in an interview for PBS in 2011. I’ve never had the chance to use a quote from a robot before!
I’m sure I’m one among many people, and that’s without consulting the nonhuman animals, who think that Android Dick’s plans to keep us in confinement could be just the thing. Because as it stands right now, the nonhuman animals are definitely being denied their fair share of the planet. How animal-friendly AI actually proves to be down the line remains to be seen, but here are 10 fascinating ways ever-accelerating technology is already helping animals, which no-one would have dreamed of a decade or so ago.
First up, while we’re on the subject of zoos, eZoo, an exciting project from a group of Spanish digital imaging experts to consign to history the inhumane confinement of nonhuman animals in conventional zoos. Using multimedia technologies, eZoo plans to give the 21st century zoo visitor an immersive – and much richer than the traditional – VR experience of animals behaving naturally in their own environment. It promises us the thrill of diving with a blue whale, or flying wing to wing with a falcon. “Creativity and technology at the service of science, education, and respect for animals.” eZoo is relying on crowdfunding. If you want to help get this project off the ground, click here.
Already saving animals with virtual reality and much more, is a company called INDE. Watch this brilliant short video for close encounters with killer whales, penguins and more!
INDE develops “augmented reality, virtual reality, motion capture, computer vision and robotics to create next generation platforms that change the way people interact with content.”
And what a big mouthful of ‘technologese’ that is. Scenes like the one above apparently involve overlaying computer generated images on top of real life (don’t ask!) The result is projected before the user on to a screen, in real time, for a mind-blowing wildlife experience. INDE’s system is already in use in museums and zoos around the world. SeaWorld, please take note.
Next up, and going from thrilling experiences of animals ‘in the wild’, to watching them in horrible confinement: Animal Equality’s iAnimal
For the very first time, you, me, anyone and everyone get to see exactly what the meat industry is so keen to hide behind its closed doors, what it wants no-one to see. Users of the VR headsets get not just to see the living hell of farmed animals lives, but feel it, live it. And iAnimal is already saving animals’ lives. In the 3 months since its launch, thousands in universities and businesses, at fairs and festivals have committed to cruelty-free living, after the chilling experience of finding themselves ‘inside’ factory farms and slaughterhouses – “you will be right there when they [the animals] take their last breath.”
If you can bear to watch even without the VR headset, click here. And share with your friends.
And so to the ‘meat’ that will put those factory farms and slaughterhouses out of business for good. We so hope. Meet the Beyond Burger, the 100% plant based burger that even ‘bleeds’ like meat, and is selling like hot cakes straight from the meat counter in the USA.
Find out more here
The Beyond Burger was developed in a lab, and labs are also our next stop. And this is massive good news for animals. Brand new, exciting, and of supreme significance, iChip, the human-on-a-chip being developed at the University of California which could replace animals in toxicology and new drugs testing. How amazing would that be!
Every year more than 100 million animals in the US alone, are subjected to chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics tests, as well as medical training exercises and experiments at universities. And that’s without including mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals, which actually make up more than 99 percent of animals used in experiments, but because they are not covered by even the limited protections of America’s Animal Welfare Act, go uncounted.
iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), reproduces four major biological systems vital to life: the central nervous system (brain), peripheral nervous system, the blood-brain barrier and the heart.
I for one just cannot wait to see this fantastic technology free those 100s of millions from their painful captivity and probable death. I hope it will become available for use worldwide.
Now we move from technologies that hold out the promise of freeing animals from harrowing captivity to new developments helping animals in the wild. How about this for a ‘save the rhino’ project, in this case the northern black?
What do you say to 3D- printed replica rhino horns? A truly off-the-wall idea. The horns are the brainchild of a company called Pembient, which makes ‘bioengineered wildlife products’. Their plan – which has the support of retail giant Amazon – is to flood the market with synthetic horns (supposedly indistinguishable from the real stuff) and in doing so push the price so low, poaching is simply no longer worthwhile.
Moving from one seriously endangered species, to all and every. “When it comes to studying the endangered species, it is very important to protect them where they are in their natural habitat. We want to rescue them, but how can we do it if we barely know anything about them?” Enter the drone.
Drones can be used for fun, like dressing them up as ghosts and skeletons for Halloween pranks (take a look on YouTube!) Or more seriously as in this instance, to provide an invaluable weapon in the crusade to save endangered species and their habitats. It seems that the images received from drones can be used for creating 3D models, or virtual reality landscapes. This gives researchers a new way of studying otherwise inaccessible territories, and without disturbing the wildlife – information that can be shared between conservationists worldwide. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory-3 has already been used to map tree diversity in the Amazon basin, and Carnegie Science plan to use it to create a 3D animal mapping of the world and to monitor climate change. Big ambitions, with hopefully positive results for our planet and the life on it.
And drones figure again. In December 2012, Google awarded WWF a $5 million Global Impact Award to create an ‘umbrella of technology’ to protect wildlife. Thank you Google. This is really 5 useful-to-animals technologies rolled into 1 package: the WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project
- Unmanned Aerial Systems for surveillance and rapid response
- Digital monitoring systems that monitor high-risk areas and boundaries of protected areas
- Affordable wildlife/patrol tracking devices connected through mesh networks
- Rifle shot recognition software in portable devices with real-time connectivity
- Data integration and analysis through the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).
Already in use in Namibia, Kenya and Nepal to combat poaching and wildlife crime.
Cheating a bit here, because I’m homing in on one particular piece of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project – the innovative camera and software system in use in Kenya, that stops poachers in their tracks.
It works like this: infrared cameras on stationary poles line the border of a park, with a mobile unit atop the rangers’ truck. The thermal cameras pick up heat emitted by people and animals and the accompanying software identifies whether that heat comes from a human. If it does, the computer sends an alert to the head warden, who deploys a quick response ranger unit to intercept the intruder. Simple! Well actually, complex and advanced – an incredible aid to stem the poaching tsunami in East Africa. Heartfelt thanks to Eric Becker who designed the system.
And we’re still in the same neck of the woods, geographically speaking. Advances in genetic sequencing and forensics.
With support from the WWF the Kenya Wildlife Service has launched one of the first forensic and genetics labs in Africa. Formerly, despite a relatively high arrest rate for wildlife offences, few offenders could be brought to a successful prosecution. Now, by creating a gene database of key wildlife populations, it’s become possible to trace confiscated ‘products’ to the scene of the crime, and help win convictions.
Last but not least – Number 10
A far cry from robots taking over the world, or humans-on-a-chip, Number 10 is very much down to earth but with a real feel-good factor – it’s animal prosthetics. This new possibility of giving individual animals a whole new lease on life, is of course a spin-off from developments in human prosthetic technology, but none the less valuable for that. We’ve moved on a long way from the days of messy plaster casts and moulds. Now 3D technology allows the creation of a perfect, light, smooth-surfaced prosthetic within hours.
So meet Holly, the pony suffering from debilitating laminitis, who had her Christmas wish come true.
The 3D printed shoe she was given redistributes her weight away from the painful areas of her foot. CSIRO’s printing expert John Barnes said, “We’re glad that this technology is opening so many doors and is now helping to aid the rehab process for these animals and get them walking comfortably again.”
Then see the sweet story of Cleopatra the rescue tortoise.
Cleopatra suffered a metabolic disease that weakened her shell because her ‘owner’ fed her the wrong diet. She now sports a shiny new shell at her forever home, the Canyon Critters’ Rescue in Colorado. Does she look happy or what?
And finally, Grecia the toucan who last half his top beak in an attack by a gang of teenagers. An injury like this means the bird had no chance of either eating or defending himself, and would certainly have died had he not been rescued by Rescate Animal ZooAve. The loss of his beak also affected his voice. There’ve been previous successful attempts at creating prosthetic beaks, for a penguin and an eagle, but Grecia’s beak proved a real challenge. Happily, Grecia can now eat normally and is back on song – literally! And here he is.
This won’t be the end of the story for Technology and the Animals. I just know there will be lots more good stuff to come 😀