Yield: Driverless vehicles and Machiavellian chickens
January 13, 2017
The news almost daily comes up with stories about driverless vehicles and artificial intelligence.
Judging from the news stories, it won't be long until all you have to do is get into your vehicle or hitch an Uber ride, poke your destination into some global positioning device, then just sit back and take a nap, read a book, play with your smartphone or even sip your favorite beverage until you reach your destination all safe and sound.
It all sounds well and good, but you can count me among the skeptics. Now, I'll be the first to admit, that a driverless, computer-guided car in the big cities makes about equal sense as putting your life in the hands of a big-city taxi driver. The odds are about the same.
But, once you get out of the city limits into the vast Fly-Over Nation, where work and road are synonymous, is where driverless vehicles hit their limitations.
All I have to do is watch the cattle trucks and hay/grain trucks rocketing past Damphewmore Acres on our decrepit, narrow, hilly, wash-boardy, partially pulverized, patchwork blacktop road to realize that those same trucks — driverless— would be a peril you wouldn't want to share the road with.
Heck, I'm nervous sharing the road with them even with experienced truck drivers behind the wheel.
The Flint Hills are cattle country and every spring and fall during our two cattle-shipping seasons, the gravel roads fill with cattle trucks. Most of them are destined to some desolate loading or unloading facility in some unnamed pasture, far from humanity that even a four-wheeler has difficulty in accessing.
I can just see the chaos in my mind as a dozen driverless, computer-loaded cattle trucks head down a dusty, or even worse, muddy road in pre-dawn darkness, to find their appointed location at their appointed time for loading up or unloading cattle. Of course, even before heading to the pastures, the driverless rigs need to find a set of cattle scales to weigh the trucks.
Experienced truckers have a hard time negotiating their big rigs down minimum-maintenance roads and then corkscrewing that rig to square the door on the back of the truck up to some portable or permanent cattle chute. I don't think they make computers smart enuf to handle the situation.
Plus, you have this situation: Will the driverless Uber-trucks come equipped with robots with the capability to open and close the truck doors and ramps, help count cattle, get the weights and counts right, and then deliver, say, to a feedlot hundreds of miles away? And, then wash the truck up after the trip to get ready for the next?
Somehow, I doubt it. Why, it might cause an unheard-of cowboy labor strike if they become totally responsible for getting trucks loaded and unloaded
Elsewhere in rural areas, I can understand driverless tractors that guide themselves across grain fields. But I bet farmers would still make sure there's a human aboard to protect their expensive machinery investment from a computer glitch.
But, I just can't see totally driverless farm machinery maneuvering itself from field to field on gravel roads. Will the computer know the gate or the bridge is narrower than the combine header? Doubtful.
How much expensive driverless farm machinery will end up in the bottom of a creek, down a steep ditch, wedged tightly on a bridge, wrapped/crumpled around a corner post or a tree, or buried fender-deep in a roadside quagmire? Enuf to make insurance rates skyrocket, I'd guess.
And, finally, the utopian vision of a perfect scenario of universally safe, driverless vehicles on rural roads in the Fly-Over Nation doesn't take into account the risk-taking, devil-may-care attitude of testosterone-laden teen-aged farm boys who live to get behind the wheel of any and all vehicles.
Nope, I think the computer geeks have to do a lot more thinking and inventing before driverless vehicles become the norm in farm/ranch country.
As a chicken/egg producer in cattle country, I get a certain amount of good-natured guff from my cowboy friends. One even slyly suggested that it takes a "bird brain" to raise chickens.
Well, what do you know? I found some recent overseas research that finds chickens are smarter than suspected and even have "Machiavellian" tendencies. That word was a huckleberry above my persimmon (as my dear old dad, Czar E. Yield, used to say), so I looked it up.
Here's what Wikipedia says. Machiavellian: cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one's career, devious, cunning, crafty, artful, wily, sly, scheming, treacherous, two-faced, tricky, double-dealing, unscrupulous, deceitful, dishonest.
For instance, the worthy scientists found shifty roosters will make food calls to attract mates even when no food is present. Along with that, chickens are capable of greater logical reasoning than children and have distinct personalities.
Poultry intelligence has been greatly underestimated with the farmyard bird demonstrating thinking skills that are similar to mammals and primates. Chickens exhibit logical reasoning that humans do not acquire until the age of 7. They also have a sense of numbers, with even newly hatched chicks able to discriminate between quantities and do simple arithmetic.
They perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events.
Chickens are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.
The birds are known to have distinctive personalities, were found to exhibit self-control when it comes to holding out for a better food reward and are able to self-assess their position in the pecking order.
Chicken communication is also quite complex and consists of a large repertoire of different visual displays and at least 24 distinct vocalizations, which they use to attract a mate or sound the alarm for danger.
Not only do individual chickens have distinct personalities, but mother hens also show a range of individual maternal personality traits which appear to affect the behavior of their chicks.
So, there! Take that! You criticizing cowboys find yourself some research that shows cows are smarter than chickens — and that cowboys are smarter than chicken farmers.
I love profound new research findings. Y'all have a good 'un.❖