Monday, October 15, 2012

Uplifting Thoughts

Over on the sidebar is a link to “Contrary Brin”, a site I sometimes visit and post on under my same nom de cursor, Tacitus.  Dr. Brin is a successful science fiction writer, and while I mostly argue with him about his politics (which I consider flaky even by California standards), there are times when more substantive discussions ensue.

Dr. Brin has written extensively on the topic of “Uplift”, the process by which non-human species can be genetically nudged into sapience.  His stories often feature intelligent dolphins and chimpanzees, although the latter still seem to be partly comic relief.

In any event the concept of Uplift is interesting, and a recent discussion developed along the lines of how much we are both ready for and capable of doing in the near future.  Here are a few of my suggestions….

Companion Animals
This will be first, because so much of it is already happening.  We have simple looking tasks like Seeing Eye dogs, and more complex ones such as dogs trained to recognize seizures.  We just need to diversify a little, add some technology and find a way to make the dogs a little smarter.

My father is a case in point.  At age 90 he has enough dementia that he needs constant oversight.  He has a little dog named Mugsy that provides unwavering companionship, a great thing in its own right.  Now, we just need to smarten the dog up a bit.  More than a bit in the case of Mugsy, but you get my drift.

Dad is not left alone, but he could be for short stretches if Mugsy were able to respond to falls, verbal cues, or just a lack of movement for a certain stretch of time.  He could then go over to a floor level button and stomp it with his ridiculous little paw.  This could turn on a monitoring system (assumes Dad wears a bracelet with the sensors).  Position in the house, length of time since movement, vital signs could all be read.  A loud buzzer could sound asking for an “ok” signal.  This could work.

And for dogs smarter than Mugsy, perhaps guide dogs with GPS?

The Service Industry
Look, it’s almost a cashless economy already.  We just swipe cards and wave devices to pay for things.  So why not replace fast food counter help with cute capuchin monkeys?

They can figure out your order with about the accuracy of sullen teenagers and can push the relevant buttons.  There is that whole feces throwing thing to get past so we would have to Uplift them to the point of perfect continence…I foresee uniforms with Velcro and the addition of small purpose built primate potties. 

Speaking of uniforms, they would also look better in silly little hats.

Go ahead and laugh, but I for one would actually increase my visits to “MonkDonalds” if the ordering process was entertainment instead of drudgery.

The concept could easily be expanded to German Sheppard bartenders.  They would have a paw pad reader to provide extra security.  We would not want bar patrons yelling “Squirrel” and reaching over to get a drink on the house.  Any who tried should be bitten.  No need to hire a separate bouncer.

There have already been some interesting uses of animals in this field.  The US Military used to have geese guarding bases.  They were noisy and observant.  But this is just using their territorial instincts and stupidity.  We can do better.

Consider the possibility of rats for night time security.  Outfit them each with a shock collar that keeps them from straying off site.  The collars would also have little “rat-cams”, thermal sensors and GPS units.  The rats would do what rats do…wander around all night.  Just as in past times with human watchmen there would be stations to check.  At random times each station would dispense rat chow.  It would take a good sized computer to monitor all this, but at least thermal signatures could be watched automatically.  The visual images would be back up.  A full scale attack of the entire “Rat Patrol” would be a last ditch defense!

Writing anything speculative about the near future is always perilous.  And as I was writing this I purposely did not search the internet to see how many of my ideas had already been attempted.   Pretty much all of them!

Looking for a GPS unit for your Seeing Eye dog?  Got it covered.

Monkeys as waiters?  OK it is a Japanese tavern instead of McDonalds, but the concept has been proven.

Hey, how about The Monkey Police!

And a rat based security force?  Well, they have so far been trained only to  detect land mines, but the technology is fairly close to my whimsical notions.

I begin to see why most science fiction writers prefer to put their stories a little farther off in the future.

1 comment:

next door Laura said...

Now I know what you're thinking when I ask what you're thinking and you shake your head out of the trance and reply, "nothing really".

I suspected as much.