Thinking about what to write for the RightBrains challenge, I could not choose between many interesting innovations that have been inspiring to me over the years. Not long ago, my sister told me about a TV program, which she thought was “just something for me”. It is called Spy in the Wild, a program that uses (really) lifelike robots put in nature to learn about species, where the robots get closer to animals than ever before.

Spy in the Wild

Over the years I have become more and more aware of how much animal harm there is in this world and how I feel that humans do not understand animals. Therefore, I find the scientific idea behind Spy in the Wild very interesting and useful. The used robots can come closer to animals than humans with cameras and therefore observe more intimate behaviour. This way, humans can learn more about how animals behave and how much they are like humans.

Animatronic Spy Creatures

Spy in the Wild uses over 30 ultra-realistic animatronic Spy Creatures (with undercover cameras) across 31 locations over three years of filming. The Spy Creatures can make realistic noises and movements just as the animals around them. Next to these preprogrammed actions, the Spy Creatures can also react and adapt to other animals. This way, the Spy Creatures can interact with the other animals and are sometimes even included in the pack. For example, a monkey Spy Creature was included one time and when the monkey robot was “dead”, the other monkeys mourned over him. The Spy Creatures get unique, personal animal behaviours on camera showing remarkably human-like behaviours. For example, a monkey using a soap-like product to take a bath, the same way humans use soap to bathe or how squirrels pretend to bury nuts to fool each other.






An orang-utan washing with soap in forest in Borneo ©BBC


But what IS that.. Artificial Intelligence?

Over the years of studying Artificial Intelligence, one thing became clear to me. Explaining what it means to study Artificial Intelligence to people who do not study it themselves is hard. I cannot even count the many times someone has asked me “but what IS that.. Artificial Intelligence.. what do you do!?” and I answered: “it has to do with computers and stuff”. The robots of Spy in the Wild are a good example of what can be done with Artificial Intelligence and the coolest innovation I currently know. The way the robots are programmed to move, interact and learn is all done with Artificial Intelligence. In short, you could say that Artificial Intelligence is about transferring natural Intelligence into Artificial Intelligence.



cover photo ©Spy in the Wild