I’ll admit that this is one of my more unashamedly clickbait titles. But it’s true – well, potentially somewhat true – that Russian dairy farms are experimenting with VR to improve the emotional welfare and milk production of their cows.
I say potentially true because we must acknowledge this picture could be fake. I mean, look at it. How could it not be fake? But PC Gamer did some digging into the story and found that the image originated from the official website for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region. The story itself came from milknews.ru – which sounds decidedly less official – but the case it makes is fairly reasonable, stating:
“In addition to physical needs, researchers began to pay more attention to the emotional state of animals. Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that in a calm atmosphere, the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of milk increases markedly”.
Milknews (I can’t believe I’m literally citing ‘milk news’ as a reputable source) state that the VR headsets project a “unique summer field simulation” and initial tests found “a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd.”
If this is true, there are substantial (and perhaps unprecedented) ethical implications to this practice – which is essentially ‘The Matrix’ for cows. Arguments over whether it’s fair to manipulate cows’ reality to improve their welfare sounds like the plot to a knock-off sequel of Orwell’s Animal Farm. I just hope the cows don’t get Half-Life Alyx before we do.
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