Pigs, dogs and Big Brother
Gotta love these pigs. They are giving the finger to Big Brother, well, more their cute, wiggly tails. So we know that pets are implanted with RFID chips (usually under the skin between the shoulder blades in a dog or cat and providing the owner’s details together with information about the animal, which is logged onto a central database.) But RFID technology is also used for farm animals – to trace livestock through their life cycle. Microchip implants can identify an animal’s origin so if there is an outbreak of a disease, such as mad cow, the RFID-tracking system will identify the farm from which the animal carrying the disease came from. If you ask me, this is Animal Farm meets Big Brother. And one day, in the not too distant future, humans will be implanted with RFID chips and our daily activities and life-cycle will be tracked. But back to the pigs.
You’re about to watch a short video of smart pigs in Essex, UK. These pigs are equipped with (rather cumbersome) RFID-enabled collars that limit piggy’s food to a certain amount per day. The pig goes through a gate and the RFID collar works out how much food to dish out. You then see poor piggy looking sad that there is no more food as it leaves the feed chute area. But in a classic case of learned behaviour, some of the pigs have figured out the collar is the key to more food. And this is happening on a number of independent farms not just the one farm. Some pigs ditch the collars (yeah, they look uncomfortable) and other clever pigs come along, pick up the collar and…carry it to the feed gate a second time. So the animal that often ends up as bacon on the breakfast buffet is smart enough to make the mental connection between collar and more dinner and is teaching other pigs to subvert Big Brother.
And in another story of learned behaviour (this time without surveillance overtones) – have you heard about the Moscow dogs? Stray dogs have turned into canine commuters, using Moscow’s subway system to full advantage. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many industries moved from Moscow into the surrounding suburbs and stray dogs used the industrial complexes as shelter and for food scavenging – so when industry moved, they moved too. What’s fascinating about this is that the dogs apparently work together, helping each other to learn the length of time they need to spend on a train to the suburbs; what stop to get off; and which carriages to travel in. And just like human commuters, they often take a nap on the train. There’s even a Russian website devoted to these metro dogs. Apparently, the dogs wait patiently on the station for the train to pull in and they have learned to use the traffic lights, crossing the streets with pedestrians. And they have learned innovative tactics to easily obtain food from humans. In the evenings, they hop on the train and return to Moscow. Check out this YouTube video – you can see the dog is snoozing, the announcement is saying the train is reaching a station; the dog stirs; looks around to see people are getting off; and calmly saunters out the door, ready for a day’s scavenging.