50 Shades of Green

Castor looked around him at the wilderness he was helping to rebuild. There was a long way to go - but it was starting to look better. What had been a barren wasteland with a stagnant lake fed by a miserable network of anorexic streams was slowly blossoming into green wilderness. Indeed, the rewilding project had got to the point where further species were being reintroduced. Among the first species reintroduced was the beaver, and this was where he came in.

Castor padded towards one of the strong, juvenile trees that were sprouting up in the area. For a while he contemplated it, appreciating the tree’s shape, and the branches that splayed out from its main trunk and reached up to support its inchoate canopy. Then he raised himself on his hind legs and sniffed the air. “Artie,” he called out, “where are you now?”


A second, slightly smaller beaver appeared. Hesitantly, the newcomer also reared up on his hind legs and the two woodland creatures regarded each other solemnly.

“Now we come to the lesson of the day,” Castor told the second beaver, “are you ready to learn Artie?”

The beaver Castor addressed made an approximation of what a human might call a frown. “Why do you call me Artie?” it asked.

“Because it’s easier than having to call you ‘A.I.I.W. dash B.I. v0.7a’”, Castor replied curtly, “Now do you have any further questions or can I begin?”

As Castor spoke these words his mind flashed back to the conversation he’d had with his human engagement manager at the outset of this assignment.


“The Grimorsham Common Rewilding Project has got to the stage where we need the specific skills of your good self,” the engagement manager, a slightly built middle aged man with an enthusiastic expression and a speckled bow tie, was explaining.

Castor received these words in the translation booth within which he currently resided. As the engagement manager - who insisted he be called Professor Doolittle and always seemed to be amused for some reason when he was addressed as such - was speaking, what Castor heard in his booth were the distinctive grunts, grumbles, and barks of his own language as Doolittle’s words were translated for him.

The engagement manager continued: “What we need to create now is a series of wetlands to facilitate an increase in wildlife. We want to attract otters and water vole, waterfowl, great crested newts, turtle doves, kingfishers and other insects, fish and plants.

Doolittle’s words gained a triumphal edge. “So that’s why we need you, my tetrapod friend!” he boomed, “We’re calling in the keystone cops!”

The human paused for a moment to allow Castor to respond, but the beaver did not react. Doolittle gazed at the creature thoughtfully for a moment. “I don’t suppose…” he began hesitantly, “you watch any cop shows on TV do you?”

Castor glared at him from the translation booth, before replying in a dead tone. “I’m a beaver.”

Doolittle heard Castor’s words translated to human language and nodded vigorously, “Yes, yes of course you are, silly of me to ask…” He took a deep breath, “What I was trying to say was, well, in these cop shows you don’t watch, sometimes the main character is forced to take a partner. And he’s all, you know ‘I work alone’ and then the police commissioner gets all impatient,” he chuckled at his own allegory while Castor waited for him to continue. “Well, I suppose you could say beavers are like that cop,” Doolittle explained eventually, “you work alone and you don’t like other beavers interfering in your territory. Well, like that reluctant cop, we’d like you to consider a change of circumstance Castor. We’d like you to take on a partner, or a trainee, however you’d like to think of it. Call it an investment in the future.”

Castor wrinkled his nose (the beaver equivalent of rolling his eyes). “May I ask who this new partner or trainee is going to be?”

“You certainly may!” Dr Doolittle answered brightly, his mood appearing to be one of happiness and relief in equal measure at that moment, “His full name is ‘Artificial Intelligence in Wildlife - Beaver Iteration Version 0.7a’, but you may call him ‘A.I.I.W. dash B.I. v0.7a’”.

Castor wrinkled his nose again. “Catchy,” he observed.

Doolittle’s beam was fixed in place. “Yes, well one of the things you will have to teach him is that wonderful sense of sarcasm you have,” he smiled, “Who knew beavers were gifted with it?”

AIIW-BI v0.7a, or Artie, gave a brief nod to indicate that he was ready to learn. And Castor, his mind back in the moment, turned and contemplated the tree again. “This tree,” he said to Artie, “Can you see its shade of green?”

Artie stepped forwards slightly on his hind legs and peered at the tree for a long moment. “Yes…” he intoned, “I can see something. The bark seems to shimmer with it, and in my sight it is a kind of green…”

“Good,” Castor nodded, “you see with our eyes.

“Now,” he continued, his voice gaining a measure of gravitas, “it is important to note that there are 50 Shades of Green, but only one shade that we know is suitable for our purposes here today. Fortunately this tree has the correct shade so mark it well.”

Artie tilted his head when he heard this, his demeanor one of confusion. “But surely there is an entire spectrum of green,” he pointed out, “so therefore there are far more shades than fifty”.

“No,” Castor responded firmly, “that is not relevant. I am telling you the lore of our genus that has been handed down through the generations. Now harken: there are 50 Shades of Green, but only the shade you see here,” - he gestured towards the young tree - ”means it is suitable for the purposes we have today. So please mark it well.”

“And the other 49 shades?” Artie inquired.

“Some of the other shades do have their uses to us”, Castor replied, “which I shall introduce you to in due course. But now it is time for us to act.” With this statement Castor gestured towards the edge of the lake, the shore of which lapped against the tree they had assessed. “If we dam this part of the lake,” Castor told Artie, “it will create a new pool which will in turn overspill onto the land that adjoins it, creating a wetland that in turn will afford us an opportunity to build a new lodge. In this new lodge we can accommodate ourselves and some of our beaver brothers and sisters.”

“So we live with our beaver kin, yet we do not work with them,” Artie observed.

“We need to design our own workspaces as we see fit, on an individual level,” Castor told him. It felt strange for Castor to be explaining to another beaver how his own species thought and behaved. “Two differing visions of how this space should be arranged within one beaver territory is not easy to accommodate. Now, shall we begin our work?”

Again Artie nodded his ascent.

“But first a moment of quiet,” Castor instructed, “Now close your eyes.”

They both closed their eyes. Silence fell, and they both became aware of the sounds of nature and the feel of the climate that surrounded them.

“We think of those who may be put in danger by our activities,” breathed Castor, “We think of those who may lose their homes, as a result of our actions today. For in the web of life, nothing is insignificant. But it is said that for a beaver to create, they must first destroy. May the light of our creation be greater than the darkness of our destruction.”

Castor opened his eyes and turned towards the young tree. “Now, what I want you to do,” he instructed Artie, “Is to gnaw at the base of that tree so it topples perpendicular to this isolated inlet. This will be the first step in creating the wetland.”

“Do it now?” asked Artie, a note of uncertainty in his question.

“Do it now,” Castor confirmed.


Artie approached the tree, sizing it up in a series of precise glances. He noted its height and its distance from the body of water he intended to dam. He aligned his approach towards the point where he intended to gnaw into the base of the vegetation that would cause it to collapse at the exact point where it would have the desired effect. Eyes locked on his selected incision point, Artie advanced on it with singular focus. Then he opened his mouth, ready to work before sinking his teeth -


Artie froze. “You’re not doing it right, I’m sorry.” announced Castor gloomily.

The AI driven creature looked back and forth between the tree he was going to cut into and his instructor, confusion saturating his demeanor. “I don’t understand,” he concluded with a shake of his head, “I made several thousand calculations to triangulate a precise incision point in order to fell the tree at the correct angle for our purposes.”

“Really?” Castor responded. With that he approached the tree himself.

He sized it up for a moment, and then commenced gnawing into its base. It was not long before the young tree toppled, falling at the exact position and angle to isolate the inlet of the lake from the rest of the body of water, just as the beavers desired.

“I didn’t think at all,” Castor told Artie, “I just acted on instinct.”

Artie hung his head, and his demeanor radiated dejection.

“Well,” Castor said quietly. For a while silence again fell.


They could now see the general shape of the mini-lake that was to be constructed. This mini-lake was also fed by its own stream, so when completely dammed it would cause an overflow that would spread the perimeter of the resulting wetland.

Eventually the teacher stirred. “Well,” he said again, “we have much work to do: the dam has been marked out but now we need to begin construction in earnest. So we will do surgery on this fallen tree and pile up its branches to cut the inlet off completely. Then we need to knit the materials together with mud to create structural integrity. Let’s go.”


Over the next few hours great progress was made on the specifications that Castor had set out. Better progress, in fact, than he had ever made on a task like this. And it wasn’t only because there were two beavers constructing this dam instead of the usual one. He paused and watched his trainee work.

Castor could not avoid admitting that Artie’s performance was impressive. The AI driven creature was tireless, exacting and conscientious.

“Artie,” called out the supervisor.

Artie paused in his work, head slanted with his ear pointed towards his trainer. “You’re doing well,” was the comment he received. Artie considered the compliment briefly before responding. “Thank you.” He went back to work.

“I’m glad I can do something right,” he muttered, half to himself.

Castor approximated a frown upon hearing this. “What happened earlier, don’t let it bring you down,” he advised, “we all make mistakes while we’re learning. That’s what you’re here to do isn’t it? Learn?”

Artie stopped to consider this counsel, but at that moment a movement caught Castor’s eye, which made him forget all else.

The fear that he had spoken of during their earlier meditation had come true.


Out on the newly developing body of water a raft constructed of stuck together leaves was floating. On top of these leaves a large stag beetle glared balefully through its antlers at Castor.

The two creatures exchanged stares, one animal accusing, the other expressing silent regret, until the beetle’s raft bumped up against the dam. Slowly, the beetle climbed to the summit of the new edifice before turning towards its builders.

“Homeless, but at least I didn’t drown,” it declared. With that it turned and commenced walking towards where the dam met the shore of the transforming lakes. “Stupid beavers and their stupid projects,” complained the beetle as a parting shot.

Castor and Artie watched the big insect’s unhurried departure. Then they exchanged glances, and without a spoken word, returned to the task at hand.


“So, apart from increased work rate and lack of fatigue, what else can AI wildlife offer the world?” Castor inquired later on as the beavers surveyed their completed dam.

“Risk management,” Artie replied, “In other words, we can do tasks that for organic life may present a danger of injury or death.”

“I see,” Castor acknowledged. It didn’t surprise him to hear these words, but they still made him feel strange. “So, you mean the work that is dangerous for us,” he reflected, “but wouldn’t it be dangerous for your kind?”

“No and yes,” Artie answered him, “I mean sometimes there may be no danger to us, though there would be to you. But at other times we would bear the risk so organic life can be protected.”

“So your lives are worth less,” Castor suggested.

At this Artie hesitated.

“I…” he began. He hesitated again. “I, I admit I had not fully considered that aspect -”

“Then perhaps you should consider it, and consider it very carefully,” Castor interrupted him with finality.

Artie opened his mouth to reply, but he realised there was nothing to say - at least for now. He closed it again.

And he hung his head, as he had done after his aborted attempt at tree felling, and he mulled things over. How much is a life worth?

How much is an artificial life worth?

These are not easy questions.


When Artie finally spoke, he changed the subject.

“I believe we could make improvements to our practices to help those who are our inadvertent victims,” he proposed to Castor, “a warning system we could put in place, to tell animals in the vicinity they need to clear the area. It won’t fix everything but it may cushion the blow?”

Castor regarded Artie with a searching glance and turned the suggestion over in his mind. “That would be a considerable help,” he decided, “We will discuss this further when I return.”

With this Castor’s tone became more morose. “But now I must leave you for a while,” he informed his AI understudy, “I have a meeting with Professor Doolittle, to report on our progress. It is my pleasure to have been informed the meeting is two hours long.”

Artie wrinkled his nose, “then that will be a truly joyful prospect for you,” was his equally morose verdict.

Castor did a double take at Artie’s tone. Where had he picked that up from? “You really are learning!” he noted with approval.

This had been a day of surprises, and the journey of discovery had just begun.