Tag: Manufactured Animals

monkey-uncanny-valley
Anthropomorphobia

Monkeys Fall into the ‘Uncanny Valley’ Too

The uncanny valley, a phrase coined by Japanese robotic researcher Masahiro Mori nearly three decades ago, describes the uncanny feeling that occurs when people look at representations designed to be as human-like as possible – whether computer animations or androids – but somehow fall short. It turns out monkeys have that too.

In an attempt to answer deeper questions about the evolutionary basis of communication, Princeton University researchers have found that macaque monkeys also fall into the uncanny valley, exhibiting this reaction when looking at computer-generated images of monkeys that are close but less than perfect representations.

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labbit kiwi
Food Technology

Bunny Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Having trouble getting the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables? Try turning their 5-a-day into a trendy, collectible toy. We’ve seen Buddha fruit and square watermelons before, but never anything with…

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krill on finger
Anthropocene

Watch Out Whales, Humans Want Your Krill

Krill, those tiny members of the ocean’s planktonic community, have an importance disproportionate to their size. They are a vital food for whales, penguins and increasingly, humans. Demand for krill-based animal feed and 0mega-3 fatty acids is leading to a “gold rush” in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica.

Harvesting krill is the outcome of a decades-long trend of “fishing down the food web“. After humans decimated large oceanic organisms like tuna and swordfish, global fisheries have turned to smaller and less desirable species. Lobster, for instance, was once fed to prisoners, while cod was once so plentiful it was used as fertilizer. Now, fisheries are increasingly snapping up ‘bait fish’ like anchovies, mackerel and menhaden. The fact that commercial fishermen are now turning to krill, even jellyfish, indicates we may be scooping up the last and least tasty fish in the sea.

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1st-pic-SpecimenVault_Rat
Anthropocene

“That Was Then. This is Now”

The wunderkammer – the traditional repository of natural history curiosities and cultural relics  – has been updated by the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, which opened the doors of its new…

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beluga bubble ring
Anthropomorphobia

Nature Ludens: The Natural World at Play

An ingenious Russian crow that used a lid as a snowboard to slide down a snowy roof persuaded millions of YouTube viewers that animals are not merely beasts of burden – they also want to have fun. Indeed, the natural world appears to be teeming with creatures enjoying themselves in all kinds of different ways, and wildlife experts even claim that bonobos and dolphins have sex for fun.

But how can we know this is the case? Aren’t we really just projecting our human values on to animals? After all, moods are subjective, so it’s hard enough for humans to communicate clearly enough to each other, even when they share the same language – let alone try to figure out what another species might be feeling. So, to keep things simple and empirically testable, the kinds of scientific experiments that have established the ‘feelings’ of animals have focused on responses to stimuli in which cause and effect are not at all complicated such as withdrawal from pain [1].

Unsurprisingly, this has produced a very limited model of scientifically ‘proven’ animal behaviour, since there are still no clearly identifiable behavioural markers of conscious experience that don’t involve language. We still don’t know how to unequivocally prove what animals may be thinking. We can only claim that creatures such as these fox cubs playing on a trampoline appear to be having fun, since we cannot be objective about what we observe. However, the work of philosophers of science such as Thomas Kuhn, Stephen Toulmin and Patrick Heelan, among many others, questions the long-held view that scientific data are absolutely objective.

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GFP mice
Genetic-surprises

Better Than Nature?

At the turn of the millennium, miniaturized canines acquired the cherished status of living, designer handbag ornaments.  These teeny tiny photogenic doggies, which had been shrunken from generations of in breeding, were snapped up by fashionistas who pouted alongside them in front of seas of clicking cameras.

In just a fragment of evolutionary time, today’s ‘to die for’ bio-couture has been genetically spliced with jellyfish signatures. These trophies are freer to roam and easier to find than their miniaturised predecessors, as they can glow under UV, or ‘black’ light. Although not all varieties can fit in a clutch purse yet, there is an impressive range of designer ‘glo’ organisms available in green and red (blue is possible but isn’t as impressive under UV light). Options include fruit flies, fish, mice, chickens, rabbits, pigs and cats (for glo-cats, see here, here and here).

Science justifies these media friendly creations in service of the greater public good. Yet these animals have great popular appeal that speaks little to their ability to fight cancer or other diseases. Despite their ‘freaky’ designer origins, glo pets are undeniably ‘cute’. Genetic modification is part of a spectrum of technological approaches offered by the new science of synthetic biology, which enable us to overcome the apparent lottery of nature. The fundamental ‘vanity’ at the heart of synthetic biology is that we can do ‘better’ than nature, but is this actually possible?

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Image-Consumption

Broersen & Lukács – Mastering Bambi

Media artists Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács created a remake of the Disney classic Bambi from which they stripped all the inhabitants. The removal of the cuddly, anthropomorphic animals makes the utopian…

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Food Technology

Meat the Future

This promotional video for in-vitro meat was brought to you by the bureau for in-vitro meat promotion students of the Beckmans College of Design.…

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chinese dragon
Back to the Tribe

Where Be Dragons? Try Your Instinctual Fear of Snakes

This last Monday rang in the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Not restricted just to the benevolent, snake-like creature of Chinese mythology, or to the greedy, princess-stealing monster from Europe, dragon-like creatures occur throughout the world. Legendary reptiles occur as far apart as the feathered snake of Precolombian America and the rainbow serpent of Aboriginal Australia. It may be that, like flight in bats, pterosaurs and birds, the dragon “evolved” multiple times independently throughout human mythology.

If, indeed, the dragon can be considered a cultural universal –  it may be that “large scaly monster” is too general a category to be meaningful –  several theories purport to explain their origin. Giant reptiles like the crocodile or monitor lizard are obvious suspects. It’s easy to imagine how word-of-mouth could transform an already terrifying beast into something that flies or breathes fire. Dinosaur bones may have inspired other dragon myths, while the rotten carcasses of sharks and whales are even today routinely mistaken for sea monsters. By far the most interesting theory is that of anthropologist David E. Jones, who argues that dragons are a mash-up of the predators that ate our distant primate ancestors. Dragons prey on what we’re genetically primed to fear.

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w_robinson_hybrid_
Back to the Tribe

Hybrid Hummer

There is something lustrous about a hummer pulled by horses. Peculiar image of the week.

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baboon eating bread
Designed-by-Evolution

Bonobos (And Maybe Baboons) Domesticated Themselves

While evidence indicates that humans domesticated themselves, we’re not the only primates capable of self-domestication. Bonobos and baboons have shown they are just as capable of turning a kinder, gentler, and more cuddly culture into hardwired changes in their genomes.

Bonobos, aka the “sexy ape”, look a lot like chimpanzees and share the same forest habitat. It stands to reason that they should be similar in most other regards, but the two species are wildly different. On a physical level, bonobos have smaller skulls and canine teeth, but their greatest differences lie in the social realm. Bonobos are the laid-back lovers compared to the chimpanzee’s neurotic warmongers.

Bonobos spend more time playing and grooming than chimps. They have sex for just about any reason: so say hello, to solve conflicts, to celebrate finding food. A “bonobo handshake” is not how humans would want to start a business meeting. In the bonobo’s reduced physical stature and playful spirit, researchers have recently recognized the same changes that occurred when wolves became dogs, or when aurochs became cattle. But while dogs needed humans for domestication, bonobos have done it all on their own.

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Food Technology

Mark Post – Meet the New Meat

According to professor Mark Post, lab-grown meat could become the environmentally friendly alternative for breeding cows and pigs for meat consumption. Watch his talk!

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tilapia swimming in tank
Food Technology

Dumpster Fish the Future of Farming

Cities have seen guerilla gardens, rooftop honey production, and fire escape chicken coops. Now, urban farmers may be adding aquaculture to the mix. Headed by ex-banker Christopher Toole, the Society for Aquaponic…

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