What if chickens could don virtual reality headsets that would give them the experience of free-range living while being confined in cages?

That's the idea Austin Stewart, an assistant professor at Iowa State University, presented in Ames, Iowa, last month, according to Sydney Brownstone at Co.Exist.

The virtual reality chicken headset technology, which Stewart dubbed Second Livestock, helps birds live in a "pastoral" world. "There's waving grass, a few trees, and some artificial intelligence chickens wandering around as well," he said, as reported by Brownstone.

But is this project real? Not exactly, writes Gavin Aronsen at Ames Tribune. "My goal with the presentation is to make it so people are not sure if I’m serious," Stewart, who added he does not know whether he is fully serious or not, told Aronsen. "If it was a total spoof, when you’re in there watching it, your level of engagement is different."

Rather, Stewart wanted to spark conversation about ethical treatment and technology's impact on humans. "The goal of the project is to raise that question of how do we know what’s best, or what is humane treatment and also to look at how we treat ourselves. We’re living in these little boxes, just like chickens," Stewart said, according to Aronsen.

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And Stewart's desire to examine how humans cage themselves with technology is more apparent on the Second Livestock website.

"The design of our (chicken) facilities allows them to be located anywhere, even in urban centers. It is even possible to retrofit an empty office building," the website reads.

"After all, Second Livestock is modeled on human activities such as the layout of the common corporate office. A networked grid of cubicles with Internet access is not far removed from the enclosures we build for our chickens. However, our chickens likely get more exercise while on the job."

Email: kpolatis@deseretnews.com Twitter: KandraPolatis

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