Species ex machina: ‘the crush’ of animal data in AI

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    A canonical genealogy of artificial intelligence must include technologies and data being built with, for and from animals. Animal identification using forms of electronic monitoring and digital management began in the 1970s. Early data innovations comprised RFID tags and transponders that were followed by digital imaging and computer vision. Initially applied in the 1980s for agribusiness to identify meat products and to classify biosecurity data for animal health, yet computer vision is interlaced in subtler ways with commercial pattern recognition systems to monitor and track people in public spaces. As such this paper explores a set of managerial projects in Australian agriculture connected to computer vision and machine learning tools that contribute to dual-use. Herein, ‘the cattle crush’ is positioned as a pivotal space for animal bodies to be interrogated by AI imaging, digitization and data transformation with forms of computational and statistical analysis. By disentangling the kludge of numbering, imaging and classifying within precision agriculture the paper highlights a computational transference of techniques between species, institutional settings and domains that is relevant to regulatory considerations for AI development. The paper posits how a significant sector of data innovation – concerning uses on animals – may tend to evade some level of regulatory and ethical scrutiny afforded to human spaces and settings, and as such afford optimisation of these systems beyond our recognition.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)155-169
    JournalBJHS Themes
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

    Cite this