Today we can modify the appearance of our canine companions by docking their tails, cropping their ears, chalking them, tattooing them, giving them dental implants and pumping them up with neuticles.
As controversial these methods may be, they may represent just the first step in the re-molding of the canine species.
Artist James Auger wonders if evolution might not be improved with the help of technology. His controversial and sometimes unsettling new book, “Augmented Animals” is an exploration in how technological enhancements might be used to help animals survive in modern environments or just to lead more comfortable lives.
One of Auger’s projects is an LED light that can translate tail wagging into English. The device would fit on a dog’s tail and flash text messages as the tail waves through the air. Auger reportedly plans to have a working product ready to display by September of this year.
It’s an interesting idea – but based on the bit of information provided on Auger’s and MOMA’s websites, the device appears to simply be based on the speed that a dog’s tail wags. Current research and common sense tell us that a dog uses much more than just the rate of wagging to provide information. The height of the tail and the degree to which left or right wagging predominates also provide information – as do an entire constellation of other postures associated with the wag.
Auger has also designed an augmented dog hackle. He wrote that, “The natural ability to raise the hair along the length of his back when confronted with dangerous situations has been lost in many domestic breeds. This proposal suggests automated hackles. Either heart rate variation monitoring registers change in the dog’s autonomous nervous system activity automatically activate the mechanism or the dog’s owner sensing confrontation in the park activates the mechanism by remote control.” He adds that he has tested this device at a park and stated it worked to scare other dogs away.
Huh? This fellow may be a technological guru and a talented artiste, but methinks he’s no expert on dogs. First, heart rate is not a good predictor of arousal in dogs. Again, we must note that emotional reactions are part of a constellation of physiological and sensory mechanisms in living beings. One can not simply choose one, simple to measure, physiological parameter and arbitrarily use it to measure emotion. Second, dogs don’t raise their hackles to scare other dogs off. Hackles are raised as part of arousal reactions. Dogs can be aroused in many situations that don’t involve fear or the need to drive intruders away.
Auger has also proposed development of a canine respirator to protect dogs from “unpleasant” odors. O-Kay. But I want to know who defines what “unpleasant” is. Dogs adore the smells of feces, trash and rotting dead things. We don’t need to protect them from that. I sincerely hope that Auger’s doggy respirator is designed to filter out the distasteful odors of such things as Chanel No. 22 (one of my favorites), Febreeze, potpourri and baths. I do think that dog’s might find that useful.
So, do these items this simply represent an artistic statement? Were they designed to make us think about the state of animals in an urban world?
Auger states that “I’m serious about the ideas behind these products, I think 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.”
Seriously? Please. Considering the time, money and effort that would have to go into anything even remotely resembling mass production of this junk, the money and time involved would provide a much more dramatic and meaningful result if they were simply applied to measures like resource conservation and education.
Sorry Mr. Artiste, but technology is NOT the answer to all of the world’s problems. I know that it’s dirty and it’s ugly and it doesn’t provide much in the way of publicity, but simply using less and appreciating it more has the potential to make a much bigger and more long-lasting positive impact on the world than designing and making more stuff.
I’m not the only one who thinks that fitting animals with expensive, invasive experimental gadgets is unethical. Jeffery R. Harrow, author of “The Harrow Technology Report” doesn’t like the idea either.
“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.”