postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: DOG, The Most Perfect...


I have dogs on the brain today, but they are always on my mind anyway. For example, the other day the word "neoteny" came up on my word-of-the-day screen saver: 

neoteny |nēˈätn-ē| noun Zoology
the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Also called pedomorphosis. 

Come to find out that this retention of juvenile features in the adult wolf is what made dogs in the first place. We as human beings created the dog by stealing wolf cubs from their mothers back in the cave-day, and raising them as our own. By stealing the pups from their wild state, and then breeding them in a domesticated setting, we in essence, created the tail-wagging, droopy eared, and somewhat domicile creature that we love and pat on the head today.

When you think of it, it was caveman technology at it's finest... we created a companion in 999 BC just as Sony did with the AIBO back in 1999. The AIBO was a robot dog that ran off a memory stick, but was in production for just three generations and is now defunct. Compare that with the real dog, breed through countless generations, and you can see why the living-eating-shitting-barking variety has endured. It was made using better technology: the genetic manipulation of a species through domestication. In other words, we patiently molded a biological life form into a format that closely fit our needs of the time. 

This active crafting of a life form has changed over the years, from producing dogs that work for a living: hunting, herding, protecting – to dogs that do nothing for a living outside of looking pretty when tucked inside a pocketbook. Dogs, once used to drive the cows home, are today more often seen working in Hollywood than out on the range. But the neotenic development of the dog did have some interesting twists and turns, and reverse engineering was also employed...

For example, breeding the domesticated dog back with wild wolves produced a more wolf-like variety, and created the German Shepard along with other larger breeds. A longer snout, more alert ears, and keen pack behavior was breed back into the domesticated dog by crossing them with the original model: real wolves. 

The "Nepali" Shepard that lives in our house is a shining example of how ingenious humans are when it comes to shaping the world they live in, instead of just letting things be. This man-made creature is just about as programmable as the Sony AIBO was, only you can do so without the use of a wireless device and a laptop... just natural voice and finger gesture commands will do. Krypto also has adaptive learning built in, something yet to be created using silicon chips and cheap plastics. This model also has a storage capacity of about 3,200 bytes (about 400 words), and has GPS built in. The memory capacity of the dog may not sound like much when compared to your iPod, but dogs manage that memory millions of more times efficiently. 

The differences between a robot and a dog are not all that much outside of the superior artificial intelligence employed. Krypto has free will, something Sony was never able to reproduce. For example, when out walking Krypto, he calculates the easiest and safest routes back to the house. If I signal to use a route that is less efficient and more dangerous (i.e. there are more threats and less interesting trees) he pulls in the other direction, stubbornly. The "heel" command in this case is first ignored, and then as his neotenics take over, he capitulates with a look that expresses, "Why are humans such dumb asses?" 

It's that look, those eyes that express such exasperation at his Alpha leader that make me pause. Sonny, the humanoid robot of "I, Robot" fame, gave Will Smith that look quite often during the movie when Smith's character Del Spooner was doing something rather stupid. And in this way, my dog often makes me feel pretty darn stupid. Like when I throw perfectly good food in the trash, or try and walk straight thru a pack of barking street dogs late at night. 

My dog also gives me this look when I stay up all night typing, staring at screens that make little sense, when both he and I know that we should both be sleeping. And when complete strangers come to the door - he just can't comprehend my lax attitude at such a potential threat – come on, bark already, he seems he would say to me if only his kind were programmed to speak. 

But as the ages move on, perhaps someday dogs will gain the ability of speech with our help. There is already a dog on YouTube that can say "I Wruve You" quite convincingly. Perhaps all that is needed is some bionic assistance, in the form of an artificial voice box with the right neural implants to make that so. (Note to researchers: please don't tear open living dog brains in order to figure this one out – that would be cruel). 

But as the human species moves forward, dragging other species along with it, it would be interesting to see DOG as they will be in 500 years or so. Will technology be such that canines along with primates and other mammals have the ability to be programmed right along with our other iDevices of the future? Can humans use the hand of God, so to speak, to create a domesticated dog so advanced that they will be able to tell their masters to "frack off" if need be? 

Krypto would appreciate that function right now, as he looks to me with that expression that says, "Come on, you're late for our walk, get off that damn computer already!" 

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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