Hog wild

PETA calls for Punxsutawney Phil to be replaced by an AI-powered robot groundhog

The groundhog’s owners are assured he’s plenty comfortable.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

PETA, the world’s most infamous animal rights’ activist group, is calling for the Groundhog Day tradition to be upended. The organization wants to replace living groundhog Punxsutawney Phil (not the one Bill De Blasio might have killed) with an AI-powered, animatronic groundhog. PETA's president, Ingrid Newkirk, sent a letter to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club — a group with one of the U.S.’s longest Groundhog Day traditions — pleading for the organization to swap out its leading animal.

“Being relegated to a library ‘habitat’ for the other days of the year doesn’t allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow, or forage,” Newkirk stated in the letter. “It’s no kind of life for these animals.”

It isn’t a horrible idea – Groundhog Day, a time-honored (read: just over a hundred years old) tradition where a small animal’s shadow somehow predicts weather patterns, is growing stale. PETA’s letter speaks to the likely hype that would be generated by an artificially intelligent groundhog, and the fact that an AI would allow the animal to actually predict the weather. Though having an accurate prediction does kind of take the mystery out of the whole thing.

Classic radical activism — PETA has always been controversial. The organization is known for bringing attention to the animal rights movement with extreme measures, like the time it used the Holocaust as a public metaphor for animal cruelty.

PETA’s reputation alone could keep it from making actual progress with this Groundhog Day initiative.

The Groundhog Club doesn’t agree — The Groundhog Club’s president, Bill Deeley, told The Washington Post that Punxsutawney Phil is fed a healthy diet and lives in a lovely, temperature-controlled habitat throughout the year. “If he’s so fearful of the cameras, if he’s so fearful of us and the crowds, why doesn’t he make an attempt to run away?” he asked, apparently in a completely serious manner.

Punxsutawney Phil is supposedly over 130 years old and makes mistakes something like 70 percent of the time. An AI groundhog might be able to live literally forever and be 100 percent accurate. Doesn't seem like there's much competition when you put it that way.