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Revision as of 19:09, 27 February 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained 5 xkcd comics, and only 1837 (36740%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Anti-Drone Eagles
It's cool, it's totally ethical--they're all programmed to hunt whichever bird of prey is most numerous at the moment, so they leave the endangered ones alone until near the end.
Title text: It's cool, it's totally ethical--they're all programmed to hunt whichever bird of prey is most numerous at the moment, so they leave the endangered ones alone until near the end.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: People at work.

Law enforcement and security agencies often use birds of prey to combat drones flying unlawfully over restricted sites. This is often more cost effective than using technological means (such as scramblers and counter-drones) and safer for the public than using conventional weaponry (such as shotguns).

Eagles, being predators, have natural tendencies to attack the central components of drones while avoiding the sharp and spinny bits.

Cueball argues that this is unethical as it forces rare animals to put their lives at risk, and compares it to using police dogs for traffic control, which people would generally frown upon.

Not only would it be unethical, but also ineffective. The supply of Eagles is rather limited, and there are biological limits to how fast it can be replenished, whereas more drones can be created very quickly to replace those that are destroyed. Traffic control dogs would be similarly ineffective, as dogs would struggle to run as fast as a speeding motorcycle, and would be powerless to stop the motorcycle even if they could.

Megan thinks both ideas (eagles and dogs) sound cool, but she understands the ethical argument against using them for traffic control.

Black Hat, on the other hand, goes a step further and says that he has created a drone that hunts the eagles. In the title text, he continues that is ethical because they (only the title text mentions that there are several of such drones) only target the most populous species first, although they will eventually eradicate the endangered ones once they bring down the number of all birds of prey (note that this implies that he wants to make all birds of prey extinct or endangered). He seems to miss the point that it is not merely the relative number of birds that creates the ethical problem, but the fact that animals' lives are being put at direct risk by humans. His construction of the anti-eagle drone may be simply for the point of making the eagles' goals not only dangerous, but also entirely ineffective. This is probably not an opposition to privacy but merely his trademark classholery in action.

Nevertheless, Black Hat raises a crucial point in ecology: There are generalist and specialist predators (as well as herbivores). A specialist hunts or eats only one species (e.g. the koala eats only eucalyptus), while a generalist hunts or eats the most available food. Thus, a generalist often spares species that have become rare due to overhunting, disease or famine. A generalist predator (or herbivore) thus manages the wildlife, and a healthy population of generalists is almost always beneficial. Now, if Black Hat creates a drone that hunts the most available species, he gets the right idea (a food generalist manages wildlife), but gets the other one seriously wrong: Eagles are already doing their job as generalists, and as predatory birds are not so abundant, a generalist that feeds on predatory birds would need to have a very large territory. And as drones cannot reproduce yet[citation needed] and do not need to hunt as an energy source[citation needed], releasing a drone to fulfil an ecological role would not make any sense. How does the drone know it has hunted enough eagles? Does the eagle-hunting drone feel hunger and decide to hunt elsewhere after reducing the number of local eagles, or does it just hibernate?


(Cueball, Black Hat and Megan are standing.)
Cueball: Everyone loves these eagles that take down drones, but ... I dunno.
Megan: You gotta admit, it's pretty cool.
(Close-up on Cueball's face)
Cueball: Yeah, but ... training rare animals to hurl themselves at whirling machinery can only get us so far, you know?
(Regular shot)
Cueball: At some point, it's like releasing police dogs onto highways to attack speeding motorcycles.
Megan: Also cool, but I see your point.
Black Hat: Plus, I just finished my autonomous drone that hunts eagles.
Cueball: Man, you are an entirely separate class of problem.

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