It looks like virtual reality (VR) for humans is about to take off in a big way: recently, for example, VR headset company Oculus Rift was sold to Facebook for billions of dollars. So what's the next logical target market? Chickens, obviously.

At least that's what Austin Stewart, assistant professor of design at Iowa State University, has suggested. Using an Oculus Rift headset and an omnidirectional treadmill, he's designed an apparatus (a Cockulus Rift, if you will) which could allow caged, stressed-out battery hens to be duped into believing they're roaming free in a virtual "Second Livestock" world.

Wait, what? Is this some kind of joke?

Yes, and no. The technology does really exist (and has been tried out on humans!). But Stewart developed the concept not so much for it to be implemented on actual chickens, but rather to foment discussion about the future of farming, animal welfare, and technology.

And to be fair, Austin's slightly tongue-in-cheek project certainly has made me reflect on the ethics of farming - especially the cruelty of battery farming.

Matrix-style duping of chickens somehow seems infinitely more sinister and cruel than just providing them with genuinely better living conditions. Then again – the end result for the chickens is the same, and maybe it’s better than nothing? Maybe the Second Livestock world could genuinely be more enjoyable and less stressful than even free-range living? And if this technology is acceptable in the case of animals, might it ever be acceptable for humans...? Eek! Give me the blue pill, Morpheus!