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Female sage-grouse robot

I am going through a gadget blog phase just now. It is good to remind oneself of the wonders that capitalism is cranking out by the hour, especially if one reads Samizdata daily and is hence liable to be depressed, about ID cards, Islamofascism, etc..

Today at engadget, there is a torrent of mobile phones to be seen, of which this posting is only the most torrential of many. There have been about half a dozen other mobile phones featured at engadget only today, far too numerous to bother linking to indvidually. Go there, scroll down, and you will soon see what I mean.

I yield to nobody in my admiration for the mobile phone industry, and for the good it is doing to the world. The entire international aidocracy could drop dead, and on balance that would probably improve things, but if all the world’s mobile phones were suddenly to vanish, that would be a true catastrophe. In Africa, the impact of the mobile phone is proving to be literally epoch making.

But, I get a bit bored with mobile phones. Of engadget’s gadgeterial offerings today, my favourite is a robotic bird, designed to seduce real birds:

Apparently male sage-grouses, like some people, really aren’t picky enough about their mates to discern between the real deal and a dolled up machine. Unlike 90% of other, monogamous birds, it’s that oversexed sage-grouse libido that’s fueling UC Davis researcher Gail Patricelli’s project, designed to learn the innermost secrets about the game birds’ mating rituals. The fembot bird (no Austin Powers jokes, please) wheels – head bobbing – around all dolled up, just waiting for males to approach and do their mating ritual. Apparently something’s working right, too: Patricelli said of her coquette, “The males liked her quite well.” We’d rather not dwell on what “quite well” must mean in her line of work, but we’re happy for her – and her cold-hearted fembot – all the same.

The attempted humour of that is, for me, leaden. For better jokes about gadgets, I recommend Idiot Toys. But joking aside, is that not an interesting device?

I have often thought that computers and robots have a great future in enabling humans to communicate better with animals, in all kinds of ways. A computer/robot could turn the posturings of an animal into a stream of consciousness emotional commentary. It could offer a human a menu of simple statements that it is capable of passing on to the animal or bird, rather like Arnold Schwarzenegger choosing what line to say off a screen of computerised alternatives. Now I grant you, the first major applications for such gadgetry would probably be in making doomed animals more accepting of their doom (as with that woman who knows how to make cows less nervous), but at least it might cheer up their lives a bit in the meantime. And we will learn all manner of surprising things.

Maybe certain animals (pigs?) will become so likable to us that we will be unable to eat them any more, the way that we here in Britain (anyway) already prefer not to eat dogs, cats or horses.

11 comments to Female sage-grouse robot

  • Pa Annoyed

    Speaking of the consumerist products of capitalism, I want one of these!(Link) They don’t have such good jokes, though.

    The robot bird is interesting, although birds have long been known to respond to glove puppets and balls on sticks, so I don’t suppose this is evidence of too remarkable an ingenuity. I have heard some human males are not so fussy either. (Weizenbaum’s experiments with Eliza showed that it doesn’t take much for people to be able to ‘connect’.) Is it possible that the male grouse recognises the unnatural willingness of its strange partner, but doesn’t care?

    But to really understand our furry and feathered friends, what one needs is to experience them at their own level and on their own terms, by means of telepresence. Now that would be quite a remarkable achievement. And no doubt capitalism combined with certain ‘features’ (as in “it’s not a bug, it’s a…”) of human programming, will generate fantastic new marketing opportunities for animal lovers everywhere.

    Yes! You will be able to enjoy night hunting with your cat, become leader of the pack with your dogs, enjoy the thrill and challenge of the chase as the humane-alternative robot fox, achieve everyone’s dream of powerful flying as a mighty bird of prey!

    Isn’t progress wonderful?

  • Julian Taylor

    Ah, but if we had robot foxes, would the Labour Party still ban hunting with animals? Could we perhaps expect some cylon-friendly, smelly hunt saboteurs who would try to stop the hunting of androids?

  • Pa: Yes progress is indeed wonderful. According to Ray Kurzwiel there will come a time when our minds are no longer tetheres to these mobile sacks of meat we call bodies and telepresence will be meaningless. By that I mean imagine being able to upload your Self into any body you choose, or no body at all. The possibilites are mind boggling. Though I don’t know If I’d go out of my way to seduce a grouse.

  • Sunfish

    Ah, but if we had robot foxes, would the Labour Party still ban hunting with animals? Could we perhaps expect some cylon-friendly, smelly hunt saboteurs who would try to stop the hunting of androids?

    There was a talking head back in the 90’s who said “I don’t care about the foxes. I just want to fight the bloody class war!” I’m not positive, but she may have been an MP.

    I’m not sure about seducing grouse, to be honest. Not being a grouse myself, there are states where it’s legal but this is probably not one of them.

    On the other hand, roasted in rosemary and garlic, with a side of mashed potatoes topped with cheese….that’s a good use for a grouse!

  • You had me there, until you topped it with cheese, Sunfish. Why is everything has to be topped with cheese?

  • Nick M

    Pa Annoyed,

    Have you read William Gibson’s Count Zero? It starts in a rough New Jersey suburb and a big hit at the time is pirated video from a telepresence rig hooked-up to some kinda squirrel.

    On a more high-brow level, have you read Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” If you have a copy, please forward it to me because I’d love to read it.

  • Robert

    For some reason the idea of robots communicating with animals and able to translate everything back into english reminds me of that bit from the movie Mars Attacks.

  • Pa Annoyed


    Yes, I’ve read and enjoyed Count Zero. And Neuromancer as well, which does more of that sort of body-swapping thing. And for that matter, Iain Banks’ Feersum Endjinn has some quite extended scenes where the hero of the story is temporarily some sort of bird. An excellent book, although the idiosyncratic spelling gives me a headache after a while.

    Nagel is available here.
    But if you ever want some more highbrow reading on that topic, you could do a lot worse than to browse through David Chalmer’s little collection. Nagel’s bat paper is in “The Knowledge Argument” under “Philosophy of Consciousness”. There are quite a few papers in there about Nagel’s bats, and all sorts of other interesting neurological tinkerings. There’s quite a lot of rubbish, too, but then that’s modern philosophy for you…

  • Brian, when I worked for a crooked bastard, I watched one day as he spent a year of my salary on membership of a Grouse Shoot.
    That said I was made redundant and had to take the lousy bum to an industrial tribunal to get my back pay.

    Why not replace him with a ‘bot?So idiot sportsmen can be represented by programmably bad shots which exercise their shotguns(these people have guns-yes!)firing at artificial Grouse; this would spare the need for protests(Grouse taste nice anyway)while keeping wannabe ‘gentry’ from wasting money which they owe to other people.
    All in all, the ‘Ruling Classes’ are an illusion, but somebody needs to remind them, preferably rudely.

  • Sunfish


    You had me there, until you topped it with cheese, Sunfish. Why is everything has to be topped with cheese?

    Potatoes are bland, by themselves. They need the help. (I hope you didn’t take it as though was going to put cheese on the grouse!)


    All in all, the ‘Ruling Classes’ are an illusion, but somebody needs to remind them, preferably rudely.

    That has to be one of the coolest things I’ve read in a long time.

  • Nice of you to say so, Sunfish.
    Let’s face it, these creatures are just the mice in everybody’s larder.
    You don’t want to hunt them, but if the scratching and scrabbling stops you from sleeping you might automate things by baiting a trap.