It’s like the Jurassic Park meets Westworld in a unique cinematic project that is being commandeered by TV broadcaster and naturalist, Sir David Frederick Attenborough. Next year, a new BBC natural history TV documentary will let loose hyper-realistic animatronic spy creatures to go undercover in the wild. As a first-of-its-kind behavioral exploration, man is going where wildlife has never gone before.
Artificial Intelligence goes Wild
The new BBC natural history show will see life-like AI [artificial intelligent] animals from baby crocodiles to adult orangutans infiltrate the jungles, deserts and grasslands of the planet, in an attempt to assimilate into real-life wild families.
Grouped into themes, each episode will explore how these animals display love, grieving, intelligence, misbehavior and friendship across species — or as one show runner described the latter — "whether the Lion King could be true”.
Making them acceptable
Thirty-four of these animal doppelgängers will be commissioned to live amongst the real thing, with fully-working skeletons built bone by bone, a realistic muscle structure and an exterior created painstakingly by animatronic artists.
The orangutan, the most costly of the robots had each hair implanted one by one in its body, while newly-hatched crocodiles were waterproofed in case their new mother dropped them into the river.
A wild dog puppy was developed to make characteristic submissive and playful gestures in order to help it be accepted by the pack.
A strategically placed egret and tortoise helped film-makers capture an elephant family trying to protect its new baby while on the move.
One of the tortoise robots proved to be so realistic that its real-life counterpart attempted to mate with its robot companion.
Upsetting the Natural Order
Program-makers admitted that the integration of the finished creatures into their new families was “quite nerve-wracking," having trepidations about upsetting the natural order of things.
In one difficult scene, a young langur monkey is made to believe she dropped her robot baby to its death, with the family gathering round to mourn it.
Producer John Downer said these documentaries which took three years to film will help compare human emotion and behaviors, by showing they also exist in the animal kingdom.
“While it used to be frowned upon to anthropomorphize the nature world,” he said, “academics were now coming round to admitting the similarities.”
“I think that’s been the great breakthrough over the last ten years,” he said. “I think animal behaviorists knew it, but they didn’t dare say it. You can’t spend any time with animals without realizing that so much of what they do is just like us.”
‘Spy in the Wild’ will be broadcast on BBC One January 12, 2016. It will be an amazing series to watch episode-by-episode to see what is learned each week, as well as at the end of the experiment. And I'm guessing, if successful — like its fictional counterpart Westworld— perhaps, it will be renewed for another season?