Skip to main content

Swiss researcher offers blueprints for animal-friendly autonomous machines

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” By that metric, America (and every other nation that gorges itself on factory-farmed livestock) has some ethical issues to address.

For Oliver Bendel, a researcher at FHNW University in Switzerland, the issue isn’t strictly with our industrial agricultural techniques. Bendel worries that the high-tech future we’re developing fails to consider the well-being of Earth’s other creatures. Specifically, he thinks we should be developing animal-friendly autonomous machines.

“Machine ethics is a young discipline, 10 to 20 years old,” Bendel told Digital Trends. “It deals with machine morality or with moral machines. Machine ethics has so far concentrated almost exclusively on automatic actions that affect people. The moral machines I design also take animals into account.”

In a paper published last month in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics, Bendel lays out a few ideas for how autonomous machines might be developed to respect the animals around them. Bendel suggests using “annotated decision trees,” in which the machine’s actions are clearly described, along with annotations that provide moral guidelines. “With [annotated decision trees] one can make moral assumptions and justifications explicit and make them the framework of the machines,” he said.

Among Bendel’s animal-friendly autonomous machine ideas, he proposes wind turbines that exhibit themselves when birds approach, robotic vacuum cleaners that avoid ladybugs, and farm equipment that steers around baby deer hidden among crops. “Cars that brake for toads and hedgehogs would be important to me,” he added.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, researchers use a platform called Moral Machine to crowdsource moral judgements that could someday help self-driving cars make split-second decisions. But the scenarios in Moral Machine are almost exclusively concerned with human well-being. As autonomous machines become more commonplace, Bendel thinks it’s essential that we develop a framework that takes animals into account as well.

“In the future, more and more robots and devices will encounter animals, pets as well as farm animals and wild animals,” he said. “Robots like Nao, Pepper, Paro, iPal, and K5 appear everywhere in households, nursing homes, retirement homes, and shopping malls. They are primarily oriented towards people. That must change. Because in fact they also encounter animals, frighten them, disturb them, injure them. At the moment, we are anthropocentric in robot construction.”

Dyllan Furness
Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer from Florida. He covers strange science and emerging tech for Digital Trends, focusing…
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more
The 11 best Father’s Day deals that you can get for Sunday
Data from a workout showing on the screen of the Apple Watch Series 8.

Father's Day is fast approaching and there's still time to buy your beloved Dad a sweet new device to show him how much you love him. That's why we've rounded up the ten best Father's Day tech deals going on right now. There's something for most budgets here, including if you're able to spend a lot on your loved one. Read on while we take you through the highlights and remember to order fast so you don't miss out on the big day.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 -- $200, was $230

While it's the Plus version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 that features in our look at the best tablets, the standard variety is still worth checking out. Saving your Dad the need to dig out their laptop or squint at a small phone screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 offers a large 10.5-inch LCD display and all the useful features you would expect. 128GB of storage means plenty of room for all your Dad's favorite apps as well as games too. A long-lasting battery and fast charging save him the need for a power source too often too.

Read more