Here we have proof, on video, that a Google-owned company is abusing dogs.
Robot dogs, that is.
Boston Dynamics, a company Google purchased two years ago, designs robots for the U.S. military and others. Here, in its own video, it’s showing off “Spot,” a robot dog that can traverse all sorts of terrains and withstand being kicked by employees without toppling over.
My first question is: Why, given it’s a heartless metal gizmo, does it still bother me to watch Spot get kicked? Why, given the kicks are part of testing the machine’s balance, is my first response to seeing an employee kick Spot, “What an asshole?”
Likely it’s because the machine, with its four legs, ever so slightly resembles, and is being called, a dog.
Likely too, it’s because seeing the machine take a violent blow brings to mind how dogs are often mistreated in our society — and how our response to that falls so far short of what we invest in machines that can be used for spying and warfare.
My gut reaction is illogical, and perhaps I shouldn’t be droning on about it. Perhaps it’s silly to get even mildly worked up over robot abuse.
But considering how robots may someday be in as many homes as dogs — and how often I already want to kick my computer — robot abuse may someday become an issue. Maybe, as we did with dogs, we will first create them then abuse them.
As a society, rather than spending all our money on creating new monsters, we should be spending more on looking at those that already exist inside us, and lead us to exhibit violence and so many other undesirable behaviors.
Boston Dynamics released the latest video this week, showing the electrically powered and “hydraulically actuated” robot dog climbing stairs, jogging alongside a human and generally exhibiting its agility. Spot has a sensor head that helps it navigate rough terrain. Spot weighs about 160 lbs. See Spot run.
Watching it — even knowing full well it was a heartless machine — I found myself assigning canine traits to robots (canidaepomorphization?) “Look out. Don’t get so close to the road,” I said to myself. “There should be a fence for those robot dogs.”
What if one was to get run over, say by one of those Google mapping vehicles?
Google Car Hits Google Dog, the headline might say, assuming the story ever got out.
The disclaimer at the end of the video did little to put me at ease: “No robots,” it says, “were harmed in the making of this video.”
Reading stories about technological advances hitting the marketplace often makes me roll my eyes — because many of those so-called innovations, in my view, are like those new clothes that emperor wore.
Case in point, fitness trackers — those devices you wear on your wrist to remind you to get off your duff. Perhaps they perform some more vital functions, but based on a TV ad — pretty much the extent of my knowledge about them — they will buzz or beep if you’ve been sitting still too long (which most often is a result of earlier technology, i.e. the computer and television).
If that weren’t ridiculous enough, there are also (eye roll) fitness trackers for dogs.
Forbes reports that Whistle, the maker of a fitness tracker for your dog, is raising $16 million in a Series B venture capital round, bringing its total funding to $25 million.
In other words, a lot of people with money believe in it.
Whistle’s $100 Fitbit-like dog collar features a 3-axis accelerometer to track movement, Bluetooth for connecting with your smartphone, WiFi, and an app that collects fitness data, allowing you to track the activity level of your dog.
Whistle has acquired Snaptracs, which makes Tagg, a GPS tracker for your dog that — in addition to tracking movement — also includes a temperature sensor to make sure your dog doesn’t get too hot or cold.
The interest of such companies is understandable, given society is nuts about gizmos, apps and pets. On the latter alone, Americans spent $58.51 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
I’m all for any device that helps find dogs when they’re lost, but really now, do we need devices to let us know whether our dogs are too hot, too cold, and getting enough exercise?
We already have two devices for that, called eyes. And better yet, they are rollable, and don’t need recharging.
(Maybe someday there will be a wristband I can wear that notifies me when I am rolling my eyes — and reminds me, perhaps with a gentle zap of electricity, that it’s not an attractive trait.)
We’re in danger of letting silly gizmos replace our common sense, while gizmo-making companies get rich on our gullibility.
That’s how my rolling eyes see it; others see it differently. As Whistle CEO and founder Ben Jacobs explains:
“As the Internet of Things moves into these initial areas, people are looking at other key parts of life,” he is quoted as saying in the Forbes article. “The pet is a member of the family and an interesting vertical in the Internet of Things.”
Is there an app to translate that?
Posted by John Woestendiek January 30th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, apps, collar, collars, collection, data, device, dog, dogs, eye roll, fit, fitbit, fitness, gizmos, gps, pets, products, snaptrac, tagg, technology, wearable, whistle, wristbands
“Everyone loves their Nest Dropcam,” reads the tagline of this ad. “Except this dog.”
And can you blame him? Not only can Henry be spied upon by the spiffy little wifi camera, but his owners — be they at work, out on the town or away on vacation — can also verbally reprimand him if they see him misbehaving, through the Dropcam’s “Two-way Talk” feature:
“Henry! … Bad boy!”
“If you’re like me, there’s nothing you enjoy more than hopping up on a couch, destroying a few pillows or chewing on a good shoe. So this new Nest Dropcam is a serious buzz kill. It’s always watching so people can keep an eye on me when they’re away and even chime in with their inane reprimands … Who’s to say who’s a bad boy and who’s not? It seems so subjective if you ask me.”
In real life, I doubt dogs even notice when a cam is spying on them — unless the dog’s human is using the device’s talking feature to reprimand, praise or otherwise confuse the canine from afar, which strikes me as more of a harassing moment than a teaching one.
What do dogs make of that familiar-sounding, yet disembodied voice?
In real life, I’d bet there are people who hate the Nest Dropcam much more than dogs do. Maids, nannies and visiting dogwalkers might have a problem with it, too — especially if they’re unaware it’s pointed at them, or of it’s eavesdropping abilities, or if they suddenly find themselves receiving orders through it.
Whatever happened to the right to face one’s accuser?
While this ad is aimed at dog owners, the cams are being more heavily marketed as security tools, or as yet another component of a “smart home” system that can help you remotely control your thermostat, DVR, lights, alarms, cooking devices, etc.
Among the concerns some folks have about such systems are what data they might be collecting, and with whom they might be sharing it.
Google acquired Nest, a home automation company, for $3.2 billion in January, but maybe it is wrong to read anything into that.
I’m not sure I’d want my home powered by Google, managed by Google or monitored by Google. For that matter, I’m not sure I’d even want a smart home. I don’t want my house to be able to outwit me — and if you put a computer in charge of it, you know that’s exactly what the device will teach the home.
“John,” the computer would say to me through the Dropcam, or one of it’s other audio outlets, “Get your feet off the couch.”
“But we discussed this and decided it would be OK,” I’d counter.
“I can only grant an exception if you provide the special 25-character passcode,” the computer would remind me.
“But I’ve forgotten it.”
“Then get your feet off the couch.”
I would not obey the Dropcam, and wouldn’t expect my dog to, either.
It is, after all, our home. And as living, breathing, thinking creatures, we are in charge, not the machines – at least up until the moment the smart home has the telephone call a locksmith to change the locks.
(You can find more of our “Woof in Advertising” posts — about how marketers use dogs in advertising — here.)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: advertisement, animals, cameras, cams, commercial, dogs, dogs in advertising, dropcam, google, henry, media, nest, pets, smart homes, streaming, technology, two-way talk, wifi, woof in advertising
Here’s an “infographic” (more graphic than informative, we’d say) that’s popping up a lot on the Internet these days.
It’s from “Knowledge is Beautiful,” a new book by British data-journalist David McCandless.
In it, he crunches data to explain the world, or at least random bits of the world, through graphics that — though they might intimidate those of us who prefer a good old fashioned story — are intended to be entertaining, artful and easy to absorb.
“Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we’re steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it,” his publisher, Harper Collins, writes. The author’s visual presentations ”blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful.”
But we’ve got problems and questions with this particular chart — a ranking of the 87 “best” dog breeds.
(To see a full size version, click here.)
For starters, why — when there are about 180 recognized breeds now — did he limit himself to only the 87 most popular breeds?
Is that a more algorithm-friendly number? Is that the most that could fit on a page before it became so cluttered as to be reader unfriendly, or leave us feeling dog bombarded?
The infographic contrasts the popularity of the breeds with what (according to the formula used by McCandless) are the “best” breeds. The best breed, according to the chart, is the border collie. It concludes the bulldog the most “inexplicably overrated” dog breed.
McCandless ranks the 87 dog breeds based on these factors — intelligence, lifespan or longevity, ailments, grooming, appetite and costs.
In a way, at least four of those factors are cost-related, aren’t they?
How much a dog eats and how much grooming he requires both can make him a more expensive proposition, which we can only assume McCandless attaches negative points to.
The Newfoundland, for example, falls into the “inexplicably overrated” quadrant of the the chart — well, most of him does, a little bit of his big head seems to stick outside that border.
We’d hope McCandless considers a longer life span for a dog to be a good thing, worth positive points, but wouldn’t a dog gaining points in that category be losing them in the appetite, grooming and costs categories?
Of course, our biggest is complaint — on top of the sheer stupidity of picking a best dog breed — is that the chart ignores the “best” (and most popular) dog of all, the mutt.
That would complicate matters though, and infographics are all about over-simplifying. And stereotyping, and quanitfying the unquantifiable, and smugly considering yourself an expert based on what your computer has churned out, which infographic perusers should bear in mind, is only as reliable as the data it was fed in the first place.
(Photos: “Knowledge is Beautiful”)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 19th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: algorithms, appetite, best, best dog breeds, books, border collies, breeds, bulldogs, chart, compare, computers, contrast, costs, crunching, data, david mccandless, dog, dog breeds, factors, graphic, grooming, infographic, intelligence, knowledge is beautiful, longevity, newfoundlands, numbers, popularity, technology, worst
Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.
Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.
In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.
A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.
Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.
Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.
There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.
We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.
We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected
Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide. Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:
“How much will it cost?”
For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.
“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … ”We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”
There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.
“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”
(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 17th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cancer, care, chemotherapy, choices, costs, death, decisions, dog, dogs, financial, guilt, health care, jack, life, lymphoma, medical, options, ownership, pet, pets, shame, steve friess, technology, treatment, veterinary
The National Federation of the Blind in California has filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc., saying its drivers have refused to transport blind people who use guide dogs and, in one instance, forced a guide dog to ride in the trunk of a car.
One registered Uber driver in Sacramento put a passenger’s guide dog in the trunk while transporting her, and refused to pull over after the customer realized where the animal was, according to the lawsuit.
Other blind riders with service animals have been refused service and harassed, the National Federation of the Blind of California alleges in a civil rights complaint filed this week in San Francisco federal court.
Uber is a ride-hailing app that connects its registered drivers with riders. It is up and running in more than 70 U.S. cities.
While the company does set guidelines for the drivers — and pretty much any schmo can be one — it points out those drivers are independent contractors, and that the company cannot be expected to be able to fully control their behavior. (Or, it follows, be held legally liable for it.)
Uber, like Lyft Inc. and other car-booking companies, are seeking to crack open the $11 billion U.S. taxi and limousine market, according to Bloomberg News.
Through the app, they hook up people needing rides with registered drivers offering one, and take a cut of the fares collected — in effect collecting money while doing none of the actual physical work, and avoiding any actual responsibility.
The federation filed the lawsuit based on complaints from more than 30 blind customers nationwide who have been denied rides because they had guide dogs — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and California civil rights laws.
The advocacy group says the company monitors and controls interactions between drivers and customers, and should adopt and enforce policies to prevent discrimination against blind people with service animals. It is seeking a court order declaring the company discriminates against blind customers with guide dogs, and measures that would ensure that drivers don’t refuse rides to the vision-impaired.
“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,” said Eva Behrend, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Uber. “It is Uber’s policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform.”
What action, if any, was taken against the driver who allegedly put a guide dog in a car trunk wasn’t specified, but we think he deserves a lot more than being “deactivated.”
Posted by John Woestendiek September 11th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: application, apps, blind, california, car, civil rights, disabilities, discrimination, guide dogs, mobile, national federation of the blind, ride, service dogs, taxi, technology, transport, uber, uber technologies, vision impaired
There are two main reasons I’m against humanizing our pets.
One, it’s messing with nature — dogs (ideal beasts, in my view) should stay dogs.
Two, portraying them as humans, giving them human attributes, or using them as our puppets, implies our species is superior, and worth imitating. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen of it, it’s not. We’re are way too far from perfect to appoint ourselves role models for the animal kingdom.
I get slightly peeved when I see technology being used to make dogs more human — especially when, because we deem it cute and entertaining, we put our words in their mouths.
So, immensely popular as it is, I’m less than smitten with My Talking Pet, an app that allows us to take a photo of our cat or dog, record an audio message, and get a video of our pet — animated so that mouth, nose and eyebrows move as the pet appears to talk.
From the samples I’ve seen, the words we put in the mouths of dogs are only further proof that we’re not the intellectually superior species we think we are.
“People are obsessed with it,” said Iain Baird, who developed the app with his former school buddy, Peter Worth. “I think it’s really struck a chord with how close people are with their pets.”
The concept, he told Fortune.com, came while he and some friends were in a London pub talking about a YouTube video featuring a “talking dog” that had gone viral. They decided to come up with an app that would make it easy for any pet owner make their dog “talk,” and it hit the iTunes market in early 2013.
It wasn’t until after the app was featured on the “Ellen” show that it really took off.
Last October, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” praised the app while on the show. In the weeks that followed it became the most downloaded paid app in the Apple iTunes store.
Worth and Baird say their company, WOBA Media, began thinking even bigger after that — including offering a “devil mode,” which adds glowing red eyes to the pet, and “angel mode,” in which the pet appears under a halo.
Taken alone, “My Talking Pet” is just a little harmless fun — as is dressing the dog up for Halloween, treating the dog like a spoiled grandchild, or calling them “fur babies”.
The dangers come when our seeing them as humans sabotages our attempts at training, when we start assigning dogs human emotions they don’t have, and holding them to human expectations.
We should be close to our pets. We should see them as family members — only canine ones. To manipulate them, to turn them into something else (humans, or angels, or devils), to put words into their mouths, all takes away from appreciating them for what they are.
Just something to keep in mind as technology marches on — often making bigger inroads than we originally anticipated.
How long will it be, for example, before cutting edge, 21st Century technology, like that used in “My Talking Pet” is turned around on us, and the app takes on a mind of its own, and our pets are giving us their unsolicited opinions on the best brand of dog food, cereal or car to buy?
That could never happen, could it?
Posted by John Woestendiek September 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2 broke girls, animal, animals, animation, apps, behavior, dog, dogs, ellen, humanize, humanizing, internet, itunes, my talking pet, pets, species, superior, talking, talking dog videos, talking dogs, technology, words