Stay on target
I talk a lot about robots. I love robots, even though they totally terrify me. And one of the more interesting things I’ve noticed recently is how animals (including us humans) react to robots. A few years back, researchers were already noticing that soldiers would get attached to bomb-disarming robots, noting that, in a combat situation, that attachment to the inanimate could cause problems.
But while homo sapiens might be the most intelligent species around, we’re far from the only ones that grieve a lost loved one. We’re far from the only animals that form attachments to our friends and family. Social bonds are pretty common and run in species as diverse as dogs and elephants. And almost all primates have shown some evidence of caring for one another. Even so, this clip from BBC One’s Spy in the Wild is a little unsettling.
Essentially, the team takes robo-animals with eye-cameras and plants them in groups of animals so the documentary crew can surreptitiously observe the critters’ life in the wild. In this case, though, a group of Langur monkeys got a bit… well… attached.
After the crew had planted the baby animatronic, the wild monkeys got a bit curious. They started looking at it, interacting with it, and eventually they start trying to care for it. They pet the robot and try to babysit it, but shortly thereafter; it falls off a branch. They start investigating to see if it’s still “alive” and when it doesn’t move, the other monkeys gather around to examine it, each in turn. When they believe it’s gone, the real monkeys become calm and reflective, hugging one another and seeking comfort as they mourn the bot.
It’s a surreal moment — real emotion elicited from a pack of monkeys that had only just met this mostly non-reactive facsimile. It’s sobering too, to know that our emotions are just as easy to manipulate because we are, for all intents and purposes, working with the same firmware. And yet, there’s something beautiful about knowing that we aren’t alone. Sure, we might be the only species to develop space travel and the internet, but monkeys feel many of the same things we do.
But it’s probably just a matter of time before our robotic conquerors take advantage of our soft-heartedness and slaughter us all.