George Dvorsky, is a Canadian futurist, ethicist, and sociologist, who has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology—particularly as they pertain to the improvement of human performance and experience. A founding member of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, he is the Chairman of the Board and is the founder and program director for its Rights of Non-Human Persons program. In addition, George is the co-founder and president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and has served on the Board of Directors for Humanity+ for two terms. George has been interviewed by such publications as The Guardian, the BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Beliefnet. He made an appearance on the CBC’s The Hour and has been profiled in NOW and This Magazine. His work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times, Forbes, and Slate. He has also written for such publications as The Humanist, Canadian Freethinker, Cryonics Magazine and a number of Thomson & Gale university texts. He is also an avid CrossFitter, an ancestral health enthusiast, and an accomplished music performer, composer, and recording engineer. He blogs at Sentient Developments.
Wanderlust: There has been a recent increase of Internet videos (the ones above) that depict humans enabling their pets to “play” video games on smart-phones and video game consoles. Similarly, in order to gain new insight into animal behavior, scientists have been experimenting with multimedia-enabled devices in the last decades. Today, along scientists, game designers are trying to merge human spaces with pet spaces through pervasive computing interfaces.
Could these new technologies reduce anthropocentrism and blur the gap between different species?
G.D: There is no question that new technologies are allowing humans and animals to interact in more profound and novel ways. As a result, we are getting increasingly able to peer more deeply into the psyche of animals and gain a better understanding of how they perceive and engage in the world.
In some cases, these interactions re-enforce our suspicion that many animals are more intelligent and thoughtful than we have previously thought. We are finding that animals are quite ‘human-like’ in many respects. We share many traits, including the joy of play, applying skill, and winning games. No example captures this more effectively than the video of Kanzi, a bonobo ape, who discovers the sheer bliss of playing Pac Man. There is something intrinsically universal, at least among primates, about chasing and gobbling-up annoying little ghosts.
By showing that animals like to play as much as we do, our sense of empathy in increased. It helps us to relate more, and acquire an enhanced sense of the other.
But because we have previously suffered from a communications gap, and even a kind of interspecies disconnect, it has been all too easy for the dominant species to subjugate animals and belittle their capacities. By playing games with we are forced to interact with them in more intimate sort of way, which can only impart a stronger sense of their moral worth.
Now, that said, there is a risk that these sorts of technologies can be taken too far. In most of these cases, these are human games designed for humans. Or, they are designed for animals for the purpose of entertaining humans (take the iPad mouse game for cats — those poor cats are getting tortured!). It would be more interesting to see games that are strictly designed for a specific species. If we are going to do this right, we need to engage animal minds. Again, the challenge is to understand animal psychology, and cater to their particular tendencies and talents (including different sensorial bandwidths).
What I would like to see in the next generation of animal-and-human video games is a greater opportunity for collaboration between two players. The Pig Chase experiment is an early but unfulfilled attempt at this. For greater impact, game developers will need to learn about animal psychology and cognition. I am imagining, for example, a game in which success is dependent on the various strengths of two different species. It has been shown, for example, that some primates can perform memorization tasks better than humans (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071203-AP-chimp-memory.html). And obviously humans perform a number of cognitive tasks better than primates. It would be quite profound to create a game in which inter-species co-operation is a necessary requirement for success (to increase sense of bonding and camaraderie), and at the same time, still be a lot of fun.
Continue reading “George Dvorsky: On video-gaming pets, the future of nonhuman animals, and cultural uplift.”