We all knew that The Matrix would seep into reality to some extent in the 21st century, as virtual worlds continue to improve at a rapid pace, and day-to-day life becomes, at least occasionally, quite overwhelming. But we’re going to guess that nobody expected a Matrix-like phenomenon to begin with… dairy cows. That seems to be the case, however, as dairy farmers in Russia are now testing the use of VR headsets on cows to improve their living conditions and make them more relaxed as they’re milked.
Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region
News of the VR headsets being tested on cows in Russia was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region. In a recent online post, which comes via Futurism, the Ministry said that “A prototype of virtual reality glasses was tested on a farm in the Moscow Region to improve cow conditions,” and that the tests were being performed in order “to pay more attention to the emotional state of [the] animals.” (Note that quoted text has been translated from Russian into English.)
Although the VR headsets look like they’re off-the-shelf units, it is noted by the Ministry that they’ve been adjusted to properly fit a cow’s head, and had the images they deliver tweaked to better suit cows’ particular type of eyesight—relative to people, cows have poor depth perception, trouble perceiving colors with shorter wavelengths such as green, purple, and gray, and also react to the intensity of light differently than we do. In terms of what was actually shown to the cows, the only example noted in the Ministry’s post is “a unique summer field simulation program.”
2,000 cow dairy farm in Vologda, Russia. 8,800 litres on 3/day milking. Milk price 40 c/litre. pic.twitter.com/tlc2WYzU9Z
— Joe Burke (@joeburkebeef) May 22, 2015
The Ministry highlighted the fact that the VR headsets had the intended effect of decreasing the cows’ levels of anxiety and increasing their general emotional well-being, although it’s unclear exactly how these levels of anxiety and emotional wellbeing were tested. We do know from other unrelated experiments that animals can have these types of metrics gleaned from the amount and types of hormones found in their feces though, so presumably, some test measuring hormone levels was administered.
These improvements in the cows’ emotional wellbeing will likely lead to more and better milk being produced, at least according to research conducted by Wageningen University employees in the Netherlands, which was referenced in the Ministry’s post. And while it’s hard to say if the desired improvement in the quantity and quality of milk produced was the real impetus for this experiment, it’s obviously a good thing for cows to be more comfortable, regardless of why farmers want them to be.
Despite the claimed fact that the VR headsets make the cows more comfortable, it’s still hard to argue that there isn’t a serious dystopian chill that runs down one’s spine when considering the prospect of strapping VR headsets onto farm animals en masse. In The Matrix, the machines kept humans locked in a virtual world so that their energy could be harvested, and that has always been seen as a nightmare scenario. Is doing the same thing to cows so we can milk them more efficiently that much better?
What do you think of using VR headsets on cows to make them less anxious? Is this a great example of how virtual reality can be used to improve the world, or is this application simply too creepy to be considered a step toward a true utopia? Give us your opinions in the comments!
Header Image: Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region