A virtual reality system for chickens has been proposed to see whether it can convince the birds they are living a free range life when they are not.
The idea of Second Livestock, at least ostensibly, is to try and trick chickens into thinking they are living outside, in fields, when in fact they're inside, in cages. Or as one of our readers put it:
@HuffPostUK So basically The Matrix, but for chickens?— Andrew (@andycabourn) May 15, 2014
But there is more to it than meets either the eye. Both ours, and those of the chickens. Austin Stewart at Iowa State University is running the project as a sort of social experiment to see if (a) anyone buys it as straightforwardly real and (b) to examine our relationship with technology, and our own obsession with finding new ways to merge with the singularity.
Stewart's deadpan website reads:
"Eliminating the need for the physical space required for free-range livestock our Virtual Free Range™ gives livestock the experience of Free Range life while in the safe confines of our facility.
Free Range life, though providing a diverse diet, exercise, and socialization, is inherently stressful of the animals. It can also result in a high loss for the producer due to injuries and predation."
So yes, it's a joke. But not necessarily a pointless one.
Techcrunch reports that Stewart is also willing to work with anyone who might want to make the idea for real. So if you've got a chicken who is really keen to either play Portal or pretend to live outside while remaining safely away from foxes indoors, don't give up hope yet.