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Virtual fences, mind controls

The future of farming is knocking on our door, with technology company Halter developing a collar for cows that monitors their health and can keep them in virtual paddocks.

“Traditionally, cows have been shifted around a farm or kept within a boundary using fences, electric wires, motorbikes, gates and dogs.

“Halter removes the need for these cues by training cows to understand and respond to sound and vibration cues from the collar.”

The company says the system promotes the cow’s freedom to express normal behaviour.

“With Halter, the animal agency is improved compared to traditional farming methods through the light touch method of shifting cows out of break using audio and vibration cues.”

The AgResearch Animal Ethics Committee approved research projects associated with the development of the product.

Technology is not only pushing cows into the virtual realm, but us too.

Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company, Neuralink, has tasked itself to build a next-generation brain implant with at least 100 times more brain connections than devices currently approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration [FDA].

Recently, the company received FDA approval to begin human trials.

The company claims to be focusing on “giving people with quadriplegia the ability to control their computers and mobile devices with their thoughts”.

“In the future, we hope to restore capabilities such as vision, motor function, and speech, and eventually expand how we experience the world.”

In its PR spin, it says it will: “Create a generalised brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs today and unlock human potential tomorrow.”

The technology is powered by a small battery charged wirelessly “from the outside via a compact, inductive charger that enables easy use from anywhere”.

The chip records neural activity through 1024 electrodes distributed across 64 threads.

“These highly-flexible, ultra-thin threads are key to minimise damage during implantation and beyond.”

Musk has been canvassing the product across a range of interviews and podcasts.

In response to Musk’s explanation of the technology, one commenter implied that their brain would explode after they said something “the government” doesn’t like.

“Can you learn a whole language from a Nuralink chip?” one interviewer asked, “I think probably yes”, Musk replied.

He further declared the chip would help “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence”.

Although the collar and chip innovations are separate, it is interesting to ruminate about the possibility of the Nurolink being able to be controlled externally and against the will of the user.

Third-party mind control may be ethically wrong and vowed against, but given the numerous ethical wrongdoings humans have undertaken, it’s not implausible.

It may be ethically okay to train a cow to stay in an area by buzzing it with a collar, the same way walking into a physical electric fence would, but the moment this sort of technology is abused in humans, all hell could break loose.

There are merits to Nurolink, like raising the quality of life for those with disabilities, but “expanding how we experience the world” through in-brain AI is a Pandora’s Box that need not be opened.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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