Internet of animals. How digitalization will change the relationship between humans and nature

    04 Jan 2022

    The Internet of Animals may follow the Internet of People and the Internet of Things. At least, Knife author thinks so. Let’s read the full story.

     People, pets, livestock, wild birds, and mammals will become participants in a common communicative space (just one example: in Bashkiria, agricultural specialists manage the herd via the Internet, controlling the grazing of cows and adjusting their milking by robots remotely). Once we deified animals, tried to kill or tame them, and now we will like their posts and comment on their photos. Of course, we do it anyway, but soon everything will be completely different.

    Photos and videos with animals are among the most popular types of Internet content: several human lives are not enough to view all videos with cats on YouTube. But the Internet of Animals is not just “cats on the Internet.” German publicist Alexander Pschera, who owns the name of this concept, says nothing less than a new way of connecting man and nature.

    Soon we will have not only Discovery and videos with Nyan Cat, but also independent animal bloggers who, using special sensors and computer algorithms, will report their everyday life and joys to everyone who is interested.

    One of the first steps towards this is the electronic identification of animals, which has been used for over 20 years in many countries of the world. With the help of a small chip that is sewn under the skin, you can determine the location of the pet, study the pedigree and medical history. GPS trackers like Whistle  will collect data about your dog’s activity and advise how long he needs to go for a walk today. There are also remote control feeders and gadgets that allow you to play with your pet using a webcam and microphone.

    Scientists are developing collars for dogs that will inform owners of their pet’s mood or that they are about to run out of food. Sensors that measure your dog’s heart rate can help determine if he is calm or, for some reason, under stress. Scientists are already using tens of thousands of videos with cats that are considered useless as an array of data to compose phrasebooks that help the owner understand the needs of a pet, and devices connected to the Internet will make it possible to respond to them remotely. Perhaps we will soon be able to recognize and analyze other data, such as barking intonation and brain activity. But such technologies will not enter the market soon, so the scenarios from the “Black Mirror” do not threaten the dogs yet.

    The scientific discipline animal-computer interaction, which arose at the beginning of the XXI century, deals with the interaction between animals and computer devices.

    Before that, attempts to communicate with animals were also undertaken, but there was no talk of digital technologies yet. In 2011, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology learned how to “talk” to dolphins using acoustic signals and an underwater keyboard. Scientists tried to establish language contact with dolphins back in the 1960s, but the first attempt failed in the most inappropriate way. A dolphin named Peter refused to speak English, but began to pester researcher Margaret Howe with obvious sexual intentions. Now we, at least, ourselves are trying to decipher the language of dolphins, and do not require them to know English grammar.

    There are already quite a few cat and dog apps for tablets and smartphones. These are mainly primitive games, but on the basis of ordinary tablets it is quite possible to develop applications for interspecies communication.

    Primates have long communicated with humans using keyboards and touch screens – like the famous Kanzi bonobo, who learned about 400 symbolic signs and mastered the language at the level of a three-year-old. Other primates are still playing toys like Fruit Ninja. In captivity, they have nothing to do, so the monkeys start to get dull. Some scientists hope that they will be able to restore cognitive skills with the help of games.

    Perhaps soon, zoo visitors will have to come to terms with the fact that monkeys – just like people – will not want to tear themselves away from their gadgets for their entertainment.

    Several years ago, Peter Gabriel, as part of The Interspecies Internet project, was going to teach bonobos to communicate with each other using Skype. It is not yet known what came out of this project, but the idea may well get a new twist.

    If scientists can develop an adequate way of interaction between animals and digital devices, then we will learn to better understand their emotions and needs. You are unlikely to discuss the political news with your dog, but you can remotely observe where he walks and how he feels.

    But the Internet of Animals isn’t just about pets and monkeys at the zoo. Wildlife, too, will eventually be integrated into a digital communications network. And that can help us keep it.

    What the swallows talk about with their companions


    For the last

    For ten years, scientists have learned to use geotags and sensors to track the migratory movements of wild animals and observe their physical condition – much like you can track mail. On the technological basis of the “Internet of Things”, security systems are already operating in some reserves. Sensors track the movement of animals and give an alarm in the event of an attack by predators or poachers. Many zoos have webcams through which you can observe animals right in the browser window – for example, a cheetah and a red panda from the Moscow Zoo.

    More than 50 thousand animals in different parts of the world are equipped with geotags. The obtained data are added to the Movebank database and used in research, in particular by ornithologists. The project started in 2007, and since then, scientists have learned a lot about bird movements and habits. For example, the fact that tiny arboreal birds from the family of passerines fly over the Atlantic Ocean for two days in a row – everyone used to think that songbirds were not capable of this. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute have developed the Animal Tracker mobile app, in which you can follow the travels of birds around the globe.


    These innovations also have practical applications.

    Some animals can sense the approach of natural disasters much earlier than technical devices created by humans. If we could read these signals, many victims could be avoided.

    Such a project has been operating for several years on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Dozens of local goats are equipped with sensors. When the goats start to behave strangely, after 4-6 hours the volcano becomes active. The only difficulty is that the information from the sensors has not yet been transmitted in real-time. But soon, it will be possible to observe the animals using satellite navigation, and everything will become much easier.


    Explanation, part 1: Living world

    By the end of 2018, the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) project will start working, in which Russia and Germany are taking part. Antennas will be installed at the International Space Station, with the help of which scientists will track the movement of animals – primarily birds – across the globe. This will not only help bird watchers study the migration of American siskins, griffon buntings and many other species, but it will also improve conservation measures.

    The project will provide answers to the questions why birds die, how they are affected by human activities and what places in their routes are best left intact. It will also help limit the spread of pathogens that are transmitted to humans from animals (for example, bird flu and Ebola).

    The main organizer of the project, Martin Wickelski, envisions something like a noosphere, into which wildlife will turn thanks to new technologies: “The system will allow us not only to track the location of the animal, but also to know what and how it is doing. We can set up a global smart sensor system and observe the entire planet.”


    Nature after nature

    In the book “The Internet of Animals. A new dialogue between human and nature”Alexander Pshera argues that nature can no longer exist separately from human technologies. We can no longer count on the survival of many animal species without accurate data on their condition and location. This means that the old conservation measures are outdated – as well as the classic rhetoric about “conservation and non-interference.”

    Through geolocation, touch sensors, and handheld cameras, we are learning far more about wildlife than we have learned in decades. Soon, this data will be actively processed – first by specialists, then by computer algorithms – and posted not only on sites for bird watchers and zoologists but also on social networks.

    Therefore, soon you will be able to friend on Facebook not only the boss from your previous job, but also the forest ibis, and the wolf, and the Australian koala, which will regularly notify you how she is doing.

    The Internet of Animals will force us to face new legal and ethical issues. Who should own the photographs taken by an automatic mini-camera mounted on the animal’s body? And if it’s a monkey that can press the shutter itself? Selfies taken by an Indonesian macaque were the subject of a lengthy lawsuit several years ago. As a result, the court assigned the authorship to the photographer, who owned the equipment and the idea of ​​filming.

    It is unlikely that animals will ever be made subject to copyright. But questions about how much we can interfere with their lives will come up again and again.

    Some wild animals are already Internet stars thanks to geocaching and digital communications. After poachers shot she-wolf 832F on the border of Yellowstone Conservation, which was tracked by a geotagged collar, a major scandal erupted. The New York Times, The Guardian, and many other prominent publications wrote about it. Not only celebrities but also ordinary animals like your neighbor’s cat may soon be on the Internet. After all, new technologies spread among people in exactly the same way.

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