[Paleopsych] Wired News: Augmenting the Animal Kingdom

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Thu May 5 16:26:22 UTC 2005

Augmenting the Animal Kingdom

    By [21]Lakshmi Sandhana
    02:00 AM May. 03, 2005 PT

    Natural evolution has produced the eye, butterfly wings and other
    wonders that would put any inventor to shame. But who's to say
    evolution couldn't be improved with the help of a little technology?

    So argues James Auger in his controversial and sometimes unsettling
    book, Augmented Animals. A designer and former research associate with
    MIT Media Lab Europe, [23]Auger envisions animals, birds, reptiles and
    even fish becoming appreciative techno-geeks, using specially
    engineered gadgets to help them overcome their evolutionary
    shortcomings, promote their chances of survival or just simply lead
    easier and more comfortable lives.

    On tap for the future: Rodents zooming around with night-vision
    survival goggles, squirrels hoarding nuts using GPS locators and fish
    armed with metal detectors to avoid the angler's hook.

    Auger's current ambitions are relatively modest. He's developing a LED
    light that aims to translate tail wagging into plain English. The
    device fits on a dog's tail, and flashes text messages when the tail
    waves through the air. He plans to have a working product on display
    at [26]Harrods in London by September.

    "I'm serious about the ideas behind the products," says Auger. "I
    think that the fact that some of them could be realized means that as
    concepts they tread the scary line between fact and fiction and
    therefore are taken a little more seriously. If one person in a
    hundred is inspired to think about the philosophical issues behind the
    ideas and the other 99 read it like Calvin and Hobbs, I'd consider
    that a success."

    Auger admits that his ideas are mostly conceptual in regard to animals
    living in the wild. But for tame and domesticated companions, some may
    not be so far-fetched. For example, a bird cage could be built using
    existing aerodynamic testing technology that might give captive birds
    the illusion of long-distance flight. And odor respirators could
    filter out undesirable smells for dogs and other animals with highly
    developed olfactory senses.

    Technology augmentations have already been tried in agribusiness,
    where an animal's happiness can lead directly to bigger profits.

    A few years ago, farm researchers tried fitting hens with [29]red
    plastic contact lenses to reduce aggression caused by tight caging and
    overcrowding. The idea was quickly [30]dropped when it was found to
    cause more problems than it solved.

    Future technologies, though, could yield fruit. For example, some
    theorists have floated a Matrix-like scenario that would use direct
    stimulation of the brain to fool livestock about the reality of their
    living conditions.

    "To offset the cruelty of factory-farming, routine implants of smart
    microchips in the pleasure centers may be feasible," says [31]David
    Pearce, associate editor of the [32]Journal of Evolution and
    Technology. "Since there is no physiological tolerance to pure
    pleasure, factory-farmed animals could lead a lifetime of pure bliss
    instead of misery. Unnatural? Yes, but so is factory farming. Immoral?
    No, certainly not compared to the terrible suffering we inflict on
    factory-farmed animals today."

    Not everyone agrees that fitting animals with invasive and
    experimental gadgetry is desirable, or even ethical.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow, author of the [33]The Harrow Technology Report
    doesn't think the idea of augmenting animals is a good one.

    "Any time we mess with nature's evolutionary process we run the very
    real risk of changing things for the worse since we have very limited
    scope in determining the longer term results," Harrow says. "With the
    possible exception of endangered species and probably not even those
    because our modifications would by definition change the species, we
    must be exceedingly careful or we might change our biosphere in ways
    later generations might abhor."

    If the debate over animal augmentation is still in its infancy, it
    will likely only grow along with advances in technology. Ultimately,
    some theorists argue, humans may have to decide whether they have a
    moral duty to help animals cross the divide that separates the species
    by giving them the ability to acquire higher mental functions -- a
    theme explored in apocalyptic films such as Planet of the Apes and The
    Day of the Dolphin.

    "With children, the insane and the demented we are obliged, when we
    can, to help these 'disabled citizens' to achieve or regain their full
    self-determination," says [34]Dr. James J. Hughes, executive director
    of the [35]Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and author
    of Citizen Cyborg. "We have the same responsibility to enhance the
    intelligence and communication abilities of great apes, and possibly
    also of dolphins and elephants, when we have the means to do so. Once
    they are sufficiently enhanced, they can make decisions for
    themselves, including removing their augmentation."


   21. http://wired.com/news/feedback/mail/1,2330,0-603-67349,00.html
   22. http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,67349,00.html
   23. http://www.auger-loizeau.com/
   26. http://www.harrods.com/msib21
   27. http://wired.com/news/print/0,1294,67349,00.html
   28. http://wired.com/news/print/0,1294,67349,00.html
   29. http://www.upc-online.org/RedLens.html
   30. http://www.upc-online.org/s96redlens.html
   31. http://www.hedweb.com/
   32. http://jetpress.org/
   33. http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com/
   34. http://www.changesurfer.com/Hughes.html
   35. http://ieet.org/

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