Animals driving cars and other jobs

10.43, Monday 8 Feb 2021

Perhaps more animals should go to work. Here are three examples of animals driving cars:

  • A charity taught dogs to drive cars as a stunt (with video). These dogs need a little assistance, sure, but they’re about as good as I was the first time I sat behind the wheel when I was 14.
  • Rats taught to drive tiny cars to lower their stress levels (with video). So why expend so much effort inventing fully autonomous vehicles, when we could have semi autonomous vehicles and chilled-out rats to complete the job?
  • A goldfish drives a fish tank on wheels (YouTube). An animal-piloted vehicle needn’t look conventional: By using a camera and computer vision software it is possible to make a fish control a robot car over land. By swimming towards an interesting object, the fish can explore the world beyond the limits of his tank.

I’m reminded of this 2017 design concept to train crows to pick up litter in cities. Cleverly, the crows don’t need to be trained directly. Instead this concept imagines installing a crowbar: a smart machine training crows to pick up cigarette butts from the street.

Check out CrowBox if you want to try this on your own street. It’s an open source hardware design, an experimentation platform designed to autonomously train corvids (the family of birds crows belong to). So far we’ve trained captive crows to deposit dropped coins they found on the ground in exchange for peanuts.

We’re accustomed to animals working in agriculture: sheep dogs, oxen to lend their strength to the plough, chickens according to their nature. So why not in the industrialised sphere too?

One ethical concern is that animal employees, as we can see in agro-industry, would be driven too hard and mistreated in the name of efficiency and business economics. But it strikes me that this is more of a complaint about capitalism than the ethics of animals having jobs.

Surely the answer to animals potentially being over-worked is to find a way for them to unionise.

Who could speak for collies driving Ubers? Or give a voice to ferrets scampering along shelves and piloting forklifts in Amazon warehouses?

It’s not like these roles are given much representation today, with people doing them. So maybe the real value of dolphins driving delivery drones would be to show us the path to fair worker treatment for all, humans and nonhumans alike.

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