That Viral Video Of The Young Deer That Did A Smackdown Of A Hawk That Was Attacking A Rabbit Provides Intrepid Insights For AI Self-Driving Cars

By Lance Eliot, Contributor
Inspiring story of viral video about a deer can be leveraged to learn about AI and self-driving cars. getty

A recent viral video caused a lot of head-scratching and rapt wonderment.

It provides a breathtaking story, entirely seen visually and absent of any narration (thankfully so, allowing for our uninterrupted attention to the altogether moving pictorial saga itself).

Let me walk you through the action as though your perchance happened upon the video while otherwise perusing your usual dose of social media. Assume that you came upon the video on a random basis and opt somewhat leisurely to click on it, mainly out of curiosity about why it has garnered so many views.

The opening scene consists of a seemingly pleasant and innocuous green pasture that is surrounded by a lush forest. Grass in the untamed pasture has grown relatively high, providing for a bit of hiding coverage for any petite-sized animals that might opt to go out into this verdant open space.

A rabbit has ventured out into the grassy area.

If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, you are right that the rabbit is about to get a rather unpleasant surprise. Please prepare yourself accordingly for what happens next.

Out of view of the fixed-in-place video camera (affixed to a tree or some such supporting structure), a hawk must have been flying in the sky above the pasture. All that we know and catch a fleeting glimpse of is an ominous shadowy figure that shockingly and surprising swoops down upon the rabbit. It happens in an eye-blinking split second.

One moment the rabbit is hopping along without a care in the world, and the next moment it finds itself in the clutches of fearsome talons.

Yikes!

The hawk is doing what hawks do.

While this nimbly flying creature is now on the ground, it is trying to voraciously turn the rabbit into a tasty meal. A mighty struggle ensues. The prey is desperately trying to fight back against the determined predator. We hear the faint and frantic squealing of panicked cries coming from the rabbit as it does whatever it can to getaway. The odds though of escaping are extremely slim.

Hawks have fine-tuned this kind of predatory machination and the rabbit is presumably and inexorably not long for this earth, sadly so.

But wait for a second, this story has only just begun.

Out of nowhere, a young deer suddenly scampers into the pasture. We aren’t sure what this deer has in mind. It sprints in a circular fashion around the engrossed hawk and rabbit. Is the deer going to take a close look at the life-or-death battle underway? Will the deer merely scamper back out of the pasture and leave the struggling pair to whatever ends that destiny or fate shall decide.

Get ready to drop your jaw and become utterly mesmerized by what happens next.

The young deer attacks the hawk.

Say what?

Yes, the deer attacks the hawk.

One kind of doubts that the hawk was giving much due to the deer, prior to that moment, and logically assumed that the deer would simply move along. It seems likely that hawks quite frequently might perform ferocious attacks on small animals and be amidst larger animals while doing so. It also seems likely that those larger animals would tend to scurry away and not want to get involved in someone else’s fight.

Who can blame them? Self-preservation would seem to be the axiomatic approach for any nearby observing animals. Those larger animals have their own set of predators to be worrying about.

That being said, if an eagle was possibly flying around, it might relish seeing the hawk on the ground. Eagles are considered predators of hawks. We would not be especially surprised if an eagle took advantage of the hawk as the ground-based struggle was taking place. The eagle would be all too happy to catch the hawk unawares.

But a deer opting to intervene, well, you’ve got to admit that is something unexpected and assuredly astonishing.

But there’s more!

The rabbit manages to escape from the hawk. This indubitably makes sense. That hawk is now being pounced upon and being ransacked by the young deer.

This is one heck of a beat down by the deer. As some have stated, we watch as Bambi seemingly transforms into Rambo. The hawk tries to get away, fluttering its wings and going toe-to-toe with the deer. Vicious fisticuffs are at work here.

If the deer had done this to simply distract the hawk, the job was completed. Excellent work. The rabbit was free and seemed to entirely get away, hopping anxiously back into the wooded area where the hawk would have little chance of rediscovering the prey. For the deer, it was time to call it quits, one would assume, and the deer could merrily move on and pat itself on the back for having done a good deed and preserved an itty-bitty rabbit’s life.

And yet the battle further ensues.

For several long minutes, the hawk and the deer go at it, fiercely. This is far more than an attempt by the deer to scare the hawk or startle the hawk into having given up the rabbit stew that was on the plate for today’s dining. We don’t know for sure what the two have got going here. The deer is absolutely determined to do what it can to dispense with the hawk.

Think about that famous fictional character known as the Hulk, and how there is a sudden transformation from one moment being relatively withdrawn and reserved, which then metamorphizes into this muscular overpowering hulking thing. That’s what seems to take place with this deer.

Eventually, we can see that the hawk is becoming less and less combative. The deer has clearly prevailed. Some have suggested that the hooves of deer can have sharpened edges that are akin to polished knives. The fact that the hawk was pinned to the ground by the deer and pummeled and slashed at by the hooves, you would certainly expect that the hawk would lose that kind of a streetfight skirmish.

Toward the end of the video, another similarly sized deer enters the pasture. As this newcomer approaches the conquering deer that has taken to task the hawk, the victorious deer momentarily moves menacingly toward the approaching interloper, getting the interloper to back off. This recurs a couple of times. One interpretation is that the triumphant deer does not want to share its hard-fought winning spoils. There are other possible interpretations too.

That is the gist of the video and we are then left to our own devices to decide what we have just witnessed.

I’d wager that it is a rock-solid bet that most people would be completely taken aback by the idea that a deer would not only attempt to shoo away a hawk that is already in the middle of a battle with a rabbit, but even more so that the deer would continue long after the initial disruptive action had succeeded. The myriad of posted comments reinforces that incredulous notion.

What’s up with that?

We think of deer as herbivores. They love to munch on leaves and plants. We see them idly grazing around in pastures and forests. Perhaps that’s what adds to our beloved adorability of deer. I dare say that nearly all of those Saturday morning cartoons and ongoing animated portrayals of deer seem to stridently abide by that preordained script.

Before you read the next paragraph, I will warn you that it isn’t going to proffer pleasant news. You might want to skip around it.

Scientists emphasize that deer are considered omnivorous, and thus they will indeed eat meat (whoa, exalted gasp!). This is somewhat rare for deer to do. Usually, the deer would have to be quite hungry. Furthermore, the situation would typically need to present itself on a silver platter, such as if the deer came upon a ground-based bird’s nest and realized there were defenseless hatchlings to be had. Generally, whatever meat might be eaten has to be easily made into munchable morsels since deer do not have the usual natural equipment for the arduous ordeal of eating raw meat.

Sorry if that ruins your dreamy imagery of deer.

We are now ready to take a running leap at how to interpret the video.

Some argue that the deer was aggressively hungry. It saw that the hawk was vulnerable and distracted. The deer calculated that this was the perfect moment to get a nearly free meal. All it had to do was a sneak attack on the hawk, thus the basis for going around at the first encounter, and the rest would be glorious history.

Maybe so, some concede.

But the hawk was still active, alive, and proving demonstrably that it could put up a fight. That’s not at all like going after an animal that might be a hatchling or perhaps already injured and possibly feeble. Trying to go at a hawk that was amid battle status would seem poorly calculated and doesn’t provide a convincing case, they counterargue. Plus, the grassy area and surrounding forest appeared to be replete with tons of food for the deer, unlike if it were the dead of winter and food sources were covered in deep snow.

Here’s another take.

The deer heard the cries of the rabbit. It is conceivable that those cries are similar sounding to those of a fawn. The deer rushed to save what was believed to be a fellow deer. Running past the two, the deer realized it was simply a hawk and a rabbit. Nonetheless, now that the deer was close enough and judged that the upper hand was now at play, the deer decided to pounce on the hawk.

There are multiple variations of that version. Perhaps the deer and the rabbit were already friendly toward each other and had earlier bonded. If that wasn’t the case, it could be a natural instinct that the deer and a rabbit would have toward each other, regardless if they had ever met before. And so on.

Hang onto your hat, there are more interpretations to be considered.

Maybe this particular deer was ticked off at hawks, either this specific one or at hawks in general. It could be that a hawk had previously attacked a fawn and this deer was either the one attacked or that it saw a fellow deer that got attacked. In any case, this deer has had a festering hatred for hawks. Hawks were on the list of creatures to be excised if possible.

Under that scenario, the deer ostensibly had come upon a situation of incredibly good luck. Finally, a hawk was in the right place at the wrong time. This deer, harboring for perhaps a long time the burning desire to someday right the wrongs of this planet by trouncing a hawk, finally got its wished-for chance. That’s why this hawk was not ever going to escape from this now superhero deer. This was payback time, aplenty.

You can go on and on about the underlying rationale for the actions that transpired.

Before I get into the overarching theme that I want to explore herein, it is probably prudent to include another viewpoint about that video of the deer. Some lamented that the deer ever got into the fray. They pointed out that the hawk was merely seeking to survive and that part of the cycle of nature is that hawks will grab up rabbits. Life is tough that way. Making the hawk into the baddie is unfair, some would assert. The deer should not be made into a hero. It interfered. In addition, you ought to cast the deer in the same sour light as that of the hawk, in the sense that if the deer was trying to eat the hawk, this could be construed as equivalent to the hawk trying to eat the rabbit.

Just wanted to include that further perspective on the matter at hand.

What can we glean from all of these disparate interpretations?

First of all, there is something natively and intrinsically fascinating about having a situation involving a prey caught by a predator (the rabbit getting caught by the hawk), which then is summarily overturned when a different “predator” of a predator enters into the matter and takes out the initial attacker.

That being said, this is more than just fascinating when an unexpected overtaking occurs, such as by a deer that attacks a hawk. This is breathtaking since we would not expect a deer to take this stance and seeing this happen makes you stop in your tracks and think mindfully about the world around us.

Some of our most basic assumptions about how things work can suddenly become topsy-turvy.

This provides a handy lesson for us that we might find useful to employ in other contexts.  Are you ready to shift gears and yet simultaneously apply the lessons learned from this endearing saga?

I hope so.

Let’s talk about self-driving cars.

The future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars. There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How might the saga of the deer and the hawk and the rabbit provide insights into the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars?

I’d like to first further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Car

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3

Self-Driving Cars And Unexpected Aspect

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

I brazenly might begin by saying that a deer, a hawk, and a rabbit walk into a bar. Zing! That’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek levity and I’ll leave the rest of the curveball to your imagination.

Moving on to some serious considerations, one aspect that I just mentioned moments ago concerns the desire that we ought to not anthropomorphize AI. In that same vein, many scholars worry that we oftentimes anthropomorphize animals too.

There is an ongoing debate about how much thinking we can ascribe to animals.

Years ago, some argued vehemently that humans were thinkers while animals were not. This for example was claimed to be proven by the aspect that humans made use of tools, while (presumably) animals did not. Such a difference was held forward as a basis for asserting that humans think but that animals don’t. Since then, the tools matter has been debunked in the sense that there are animals that indeed do make use of tools. Etc.

Anyway, the reason that I bring this up is that the viral video of the deer is an immediate kneejerk reacting possibility to ascribe all kinds of thinking processes to the animals involved in the intriguing struggle. Was the deer “angry” at hawks and thought mindfully about attacking the hawk, or did the deer simply react in some inherently preprogrammed way to the situation at hand? Will the rabbit possibly someday seek to save the life of the deer, doing so because it has contemplated the lifesaving efforts of the deer and therefore aims to intentionally repay that debt in the future?

I’m not going to dig more deeply into that philosophical debate here, though you might find of interest my discussion on such topics at the link here.

Also, you might find of further potential interest that there had been attempts at getting dogs to drive a car. Yes, you read that correctly. The question was whether a dog has sufficient intelligence to be able to drive a car. We all pretty much seem to accept that dogs do some amount of thinking, and if so, perhaps this could be directed toward driving a car. Here is my coverage at the link here.

That’s enough on those side tangents. I’d like to focus for now on the earlier highlighted theme that sometimes the things that we think that we know are not entirely apt.

Here’s how this applies to the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars.

One of the biggest and loudest debates about having self-driving cars doing tryouts on public roadways is that this should not be happening at this time. Some vehemently oppose those tryouts. They argue that until self-driving cars have been shown to be safe for our streets, they ought to not be on our highways, byways, and avenues.

The use of computer-based simulations is argued as being the right way to proceed, and only after the simulations are essentially completed would actual autonomous vehicles be deployed onto our roadways. Do the simulations first. If the simulations showcase that self-driving cars are safe to be on the roads, so be it. If the simulated self-driving cars are unsafe in the simulation, they aren’t ready for being around us and nearby to us all.

When you drive your car and come upon a self-driving car, the thing is that you don’t know what that self-driving car is going to do. Is the AI driving system up to snuff? Will it react in the proper way to all variants of driving settings?

Even if you aren’t driving near a self-driving car, you might be a passenger in a human-driven vehicle that comes across a self-driving car, thus endangering you. You might be a passenger inside a self-driving car, and therefore endangered by what it will or might not do. Pedestrians are likewise in danger.

It would seem obvious that simulations ought to be undertaken.

And, they are, which is something that by and large the automakers and self-driving tech firms are glad to tout. They relish emphasizing the number of millions of miles that they have done in their simulations for their self-driving cars.

That would seem to shut the case closed on those decrying that simulations need to be undertaken.

Not so, the retort quickly arises.

Here’s the rub.

The simulations are taking place and meanwhile, the self-driving cars are on our public streets. That’s not the way things are supposed to work, say the simulation proponents. You do all of the simulations, and then, maybe you put self-driving cars on the roads. In essence, once all of the simulations are done, you look at what it showcases. If the results are demonstrable that self-driving cars are cleared to be on our roadways, sure, go ahead and ergo proceed.

Doing public roadway trials while simulations are ongoing is likened to building a skyscraper before you have figured out all of the architectural rigors. It’s a bad idea to take a chance on something that has not yet properly been sounded out via simulations.

The cart has been placed in front of the horse, as it were.

The next aspect of the simulations-first argument is that the existing simulations also tend not to be fully realistic. A concern raised is that the simulations are computer-based mockups of what cars do and what happens on our streets. Some of the simulations have no direct bearing on the physics of the real world, and they are more akin to those fun playing video games about driving cars. Some simulations are much more robust and rigorous than the game-playing kind, but many of those are even still said to be a dollar short at fully portraying the realities of real-world driving.

There are various counterarguments to this simulations-first precondition.

One is that simulations are handy but cannot replace on-the-road driving and the consequent vital feedback that will be had from the real world. It is argued that only via having actual self-driving cars on actual roadways can you glean what you need to know to make self-driving cars viable.

Some would then say that you can get that real-world driving experience by using special closed tracks, also known as proving grounds. Take your self-driving cars there. Try them out to your heart's content. They are typically on private lands and completely fenced off from the public roadways (not always, some exceptions exist).

In that manner, you can use simulations and use real-world driving, though the real-world driving is being done separate and apart from the public, which protects the public from any endangerment while the self-driving cars are being put through their paces

Now that I’ve dragged you through all of that, you might be curious about how that deer, hawk, and rabbit fit into this picture.

Remember that viewers of the viral video seemed to be quite surprised that a deer would opt to attack a hawk and continue the attack unabated and seemingly unashamedly so (well, let’s not veer into anthropomorphic territory there).

An issue that is front and center about the use of simulations and likewise the use of closed tracks is that those are devised by mankind and are presumably and potentially constrained by what mankind thinks is worthy of including. In short, those that insist on public roadways tryouts are quick to emphasize that the real-world of open-ended driving will reveal various edge cases and unusual driving settings that by conventional thinking would not have been set up or tested in any simulation or proving ground settings (for my coverage of edge cases in the making of self-driving cars, see the link here).

What are edge cases? The wild and shall we say unpredictable nature of the public roadways bring forth driving scenarios that nobody would have prior thought to include. For example, see my discussion of the woman and the mountain lion, at this link here and others mentioned frequently in my columns.

What we think that we know can be a blinder to what we need to know.

Those that advocate stridently for the public tryouts assert that encountering real-world “unpredictable” situations via the public roadways is the most sensible path toward discovering what we don’t know and what we do need to know.

Of course, that’s a debatable contention and one that doesn’t sit well with the ardent simulationists.

Conclusion

That whole topic about whether to be doing public roadway tryouts is a hornet’s nest of contention. On that, we can likely all agree.

I’ve discussed additional twists and turns in my columns and won’t cover those again herein.

The handy aspect of the deer story is that it reminds us that we at times might have preconceived notions that are not correct. There is that old line about making assumptions is a slippery slope and you need to be cautious when doing so (since it makes one into the butt of the matter).

Another takeaway is that the next time you are wandering in the woods and see what seems like the cutest of Bambi deer, do not let your conditioning by cartoons and movie portrayals mislead you. Those deer can do one heck of an eye-opening awe-inspiring smackdown, so be dutifully be wary and give them some proper street cred.

I’d bet that any hawk reading this column and worth its salt is going to think twice the next time they see a rabbit that has a grazing deer nearby. Hawks, you’ve been forewarned.


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