The schnauzer circles the robot, close enough to show it’s not afraid. It barks and barks, back arched, tail quivering. The robot bobs and prances, until at the end it seems to crouch in submission. This car park is the meeting place of two types of umwelt, both in dog-shaped bodies but alien to each other. For 57 seconds, we are in a post-human world.
Of course, the video is in many ways only a rehearsal. Really, the four-legged Boston Dynamics robot has no more umwelt than a remote-control garage door, and we do see plenty of human beings, including the robot’s operator. Animals have met machines before, and reacted to them with hostility, as they would to a vampire or any other uncanny being; in that sense, this YouTube clip is nothing new.
Still, there has never before been a document of an event that gives such a vivid sense of what things may look like after we are gone. By the time our species self-immolates, we will no doubt have built our own successors. Watching this profound video, one cannot help but long for the era when those successors coexist with animals, free from our destructive interference, each day bringing millions of strange and unprecedented interactions like this one.
First published in Issue 200