E. Todd - December 2018
Roughly 10,500 years ago humans domesticated wild cattle. The genotype of cattle has been modified more than any other species of domestic livestock. These modifications have enabled us to keep them in a wide variety of conditions and environments, most conducive to the mass production of meat and related byproducts. The modern cattle industry produces about 25 billion pounds of meat each year and is valued at 200 billion dollars. Some of the byproducts include leather, china, glue, film, soap, pharmaceuticals, insulin and gelatin.
The quantities of beef and the related byproducts have been achieved through the selective breeding of behaviours found to be most beneficial for our needs. Throughout the domestication process, humans have provided the basic requirements such as food, water, veterinary care and suitable environment but have taken away the freedoms that cattle would have in the wild, such as choice of mate, feed and freedom of movement.
Domestication has reduced their longevity and contributed to various abnormalities relating to health and well-being previously absent in their free roaming ancestors. We have created a pliant animal reliant on our care, forever altered by the environmental experiences, genetic changes and goal-oriented breeding programs thrust on them.
Now you may be wondering how does the domestication of cows relate to data collection, privacy and artificial intelligence. Historian and best selling author Yuval Harari in his latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century aptly summons up the unlikely connection. Harari states,
Humans are similar to other domesticated animals. We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk, but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors. They are less curious and less resourceful. We are now creating tame humans that produce enormous amounts of data and function as very efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but these data-cows hardly maximize the human potential.
There is something fascinating about looking at the past’s vision for the future. We’ve all seen the images of what people in 1900 envision for the year 2000. Perhaps it’s because there are pockets of the future within the confines of that era’s technological milieu. There begins a surreal relationship between the promise of the future and the weight of history.
Take the example of the battle car. The automobile was new and ready to change the world, so some people busied themselves with thinking about its other applications. This prediction came true, of course, and evolved into the modern-day war tank. Autonomous cars are undergoing a similar process, with Ikea imagining alternative uses for the interior.
But how do these ideas come to be? One way is through patents.
Patents offer a glimpse into visions for the future.
These visions are sometimes complementary, often competing. And whoever wins often points history toward a certain direction. Consider the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell is often credited with its invention, but some people believe it was really the Italian inventor Antonio Meucci. The debate all comes down to a patent technicality.
The Patent Library, The Institute of Patent Infringement’s art installation at London’s V&A Museum explores the strange and uncanny future being imagined by big tech firms right now. The Institute sifted through thousands of publicly-accessible patents filed by Amazon and invited the audience to browse and critique this “legally-sanctioned” future by providing opportunities to hack, alter, and repurpose these patents for ulterior aims.