In Poor Taste

Seth Victor

I’ve been meaning to comment about an article I read earlier this month. As NPR’s Robert Krulwich reports, a couple of innovators from the UK have created carnivorous machines. I think the article sufficiently captures the mix of awe and  horror at the development of furniture that derives its energy from consuming animals. Sci-Fi disasters aside, the idea of inanimate objects not just killing as a pest-removal system, but actually needing to “eat” to “survive” raises questions, namely, why?

I’m all for alternative fuel sources, but this is too much. First, as I understand the process from the video link, microbial fuel cells aren’t terribly efficient. Eight flies powering a clock for twelve days may sound impressive, but we are talking about

clocks, which don’t require a tremendous amount of energy. Stealing electrons from bacteria isn’t going to power a car anytime soon. Yes, animals (and some plants) can convert bio-mass into energy, but this is the only way they (we) have evolved to create energy. Ultimately most terrestrial life relies on solar energy, so why not just go to the source. Oh wait, we already do that.

Second, where are we going with this technology? One of the featured inventions attracts rats and mice to a table by encouraging defilement, then killing the animals via a trap door and guillotine. The energy gained from this process powers…the trap door and guillotine. If this strikes anyone as slightly morbid, don’t worry; it’s meant to be. The video promoting these inventions, affectionately named “Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots,” plays up the machines’ entertainment value, insinuating that waiting for a mouse beheading is akin to watching “24” or “Big Brother.” The promotion does not seem to contemplate feasible mass-production or practical use of microbial fuel cells, which is a relief. It does however clearly suggest that we use these robots to better understand how to co-exist with them as domestic pets, which makes me uncomfortable.

On one hand, I can try and see their point when the creators compare these robots to keeping reptiles who eat other living things, yet are kept for entertainment value. Additionally, this all seems so ridiculous that I am still waiting for the punch line. On the other hand, no. I cannot get around creating a robot that is meant only to kill animals, no matter how much of a nuisance they may be considered. Perhaps there is no better illustration of our disconnect with animals and natural relationships than that people are creating machines that destroy animals, and encouraging us to have closer understanding with the former. Yes there are issues with “pest animals,” but turning them into unwitting contestants on a personal reality show is not the answer. Krulwich writes that these engineers “get so excited by the daring novelty of their designs that they fail to notice that they’ve crossed a line.” I have to agree.


5 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pace Law Library, Animal Blawg. Animal Blawg said: In Poor Taste […]

  2. agreed. i can’t help thinking about the fly-powered clock. if that, er, technology were applied on any scale, e.g., a fly-powered clock (or something along those lines) in most homes, wouldn’t there be an ecological impact? those kagillion flies have other jobs to do, don’t they?

  3. I’m sure the spiders have something to say, at the least.

  4. You mention our disconnect with animals and natural relationships. At the website for this contraption, they speak of “habitability amid the wilderness, protection against the feral.” These are apparently people entirely disconnected…and obviously frightened of the wild they can’t control. (Yet.) As for crossing a line, someone in the comments at the site asked, How long before we’re using this on people? Another replied, About time the homeless do something productive.

    Once the line is crossed, a new one appears.

  5. “get so excited by the daring novelty of their designs that they fail to notice that they’ve crossed a line.”

    A perfect assessment of what is involved on that abyssal creation.

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