Brenda de Groot

Calling Monkeys

Animal ethics in a digital world

I was invited by the Leuphana University in Lüneburg (Germany) as an advisor on animal ethics, to introduce new students to the topic of ecology during the Opening Week 2018. As the theme of this year’s Opening Week was “Digital Futures”, I titled the topic: Calling Monkeys: Animal ethics in a digital world.

From an animals’ perspective 

I invited the students to wrap their head around the question:
What if we could communicate with animals through digital technology?

– What would they say?
– What would be the (moral) consequences of that?
– And what would our future society and planet look like if humans would listen?

See how one of the students explains it in 10-seconds (video starts automatically at the right point):

To help and guide them in answering these questions, I provided them with three resources:

1)  A Ted-Talk from Carl Safina on the thoughts and feelings of animals
2) A philosophical article by Tom Regan (1986): The Case for Animal Rights
3) A web article by LiveScience.com on deforestation

Now it was up to the new students! Over the course of the week, four groups of students would dedicate themselves to answer these questions and establish their vision on the matter.

On Wednesday I gave a lecture (see below) to further explain the topic and resources, and to answer questions. The students then had 36 hours to make a video of 90-seconds, in which they would communicate their thoughts on the topic. On Friday the students presented their videos to the other groups, and there was a final discussion.

From a total of 116 video’s made during the Opening Week, four outstanding ones would be selected to be played in the main auditorium. And yes, I am very proud to say one of the selected videos came from “my” students!

Curious for the videos? You find them further down in this article.


Of course it was beyond question that I’d foresee my contribution of plenty illustrations. If you are inspired, please feel free to use parts of the presentation for your own educational purposes, provide by a link to this article and mentioning the resource (© Brenda de Groot).

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Animal ethics powerpoint slide - (c) Brenda de Groot

Succeeding the presentation, I had a 45 minute get-together with each of the four groups of students in which I helped them out with their questions, vision and ideas. The videos below were the results of their hard work.

Video group 1: #belikebob

This group made a very well-rounded video, showing an introduction to how we treat animals nowadays, what is wrong with that, and what would happen if we could talk with and listen to animals.To answer the latter question, they created Bob, who shows how he would cooperate with animals to make the world a better place. They finished with a wake-up-call-to-action at the end.

This video was selected for playing in the auditorium.

I am impressed with how they explained the issue of speciesism in just a few lines, and all I got to say is #yes #maketheworld #belikebob

Video group 2: Virtual reality zoo

The second group had an amazing concept of creating a virtual reality zoo, which would replace nowadays zoos where animals are kept in unnatural conditions for human entertainment. Apart from the amazing experience what it is like to stand in between the animals in their natural environment, the visual reality zoo would also have the feature to experience the destruction of the rainforest while you stand between the trees. Very confronting, but in my opinion a necessary wake-up call.

The profits can be used for all sorts of ethical and environmental purposes.

Bonus points for their own voice recordings and elephant-drawings.

Video group 3: Animal-included society

The video shows what the animals would say if they could talk, thereby explaining why we should include animals in our decision-making processes with regard to the planet.

What you didn’t see in their video is that this group constructed a whole new governmental- and education system where animals would be represented and actively take part. We would cooperate to create a sustainable world, such as cleaning the plastic in the oceans and warn the animals not to feed on them.

Video group 3: Changing farming through a shopping app

This group created an app with which you can scan your groceries and earn points for ethical shopping. The app would be installed obligatory, and like with a Fitbit, you could share your ethical accomplishments through social media.

What I like is that the group starts off in the future, and let a cow that lives a good life talk about how a dire world it was to live in back in 2018 – before the app changed the whole farming system. They end with a call to action to the people living now.

Needless to say, I was very impressed by the students’ effort, creativity and motivation. Some students told me they only had 2 hours of sleep because they wanted to finish their video. Now that’s dedication.

My thoughts on digital technology and the future of animal rights 

I think that when we use digital technology for a good cause, we can accomplish incredible things. One such a cause is our planet, and all living beings that call it their home. In the digital future we are solving the most urgent problems of our time: environmental destruction, climate change, animal abuse, and the rapid extinction of animal populations and species.

I have high hopes that this generation of bright minds can work together to accomplish this goal. If you would ask me, a digital future like that would start right now.

This post is also available in EN