When they said we’d one day talk to animals, they weren’t ...

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When they said we’d one day talk to animals, they weren’t barking mad

Research teams have begun deploying technology to understand animal communication

Henry Hymas



The fantasy of man talking to the animals has been a staple of Hollywood ever since Doctor Dolittle made his debut 50 years ago.
Now two of the original architects of social media believe they may be on the brink of turning it into reality by using artificial intelligence (AI) to create a translation system that will understand what animals are saying and what they think of us.
They have analysed 70 human languages to establish that all have a universal “shape”, such that a computer can translate one into the other without any prior understanding or knowledge.
Aza Raskin, designer of tech features and software used worldwide, and Britt Selvitelle, founder engineer of Twitter, are now creating a similar database for animal communications including whales, monkeys and elephants.
In December, they will add to their 50,000 hours of humpback whale recordings by setting up a huge array of microphones in the Congo to log elephants’ communications at one of the animals’ most populous meeting points in Africa.
It will enable them to compare the architecture of animals’ communications with human language, from which they aim to create a modern-day AI Rosetta Stone to decode and translate what animals are saying.
“Imagine if we could translate an elephant or an orca to say anything like: ‘Stop’ or ‘You are hurting us’,” said Raskin, a computer-human interface expert who invented the endless scroll, a model for geolocation and a language-based software used across the tech industry. “It would have profound implications for our judiciary system and the way we pursue our role as stewards of this tiny, pale blue marble that we call home.”
Raskin hoped the system would be a “cultural awakening moment” for humankind. “We need empathy incredibly quickly [with animals], otherwise we are going to live in a world post nature,” said Raskin, a co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, a group of leading tech insiders campaigning for a more responsible industry to protect people from online harms.
“Every time there’s a major advance in rights, whether civil rights, human rights or LGBT rights, it comes from a group that didn’t have a voice being given voice.”
Raskin, who led design at Mozilla Firefox and multiple startups, said the breakthrough came last October with the discovery of a method for translating one language into another without the need to “know either language or have any examples of how to translate between the two”.
Linguistics experts have previously predicted that human-animal translation could be cracked within a decade as research teams, from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology to Northern Arizona University, began deploying the AI technology to understand animal communication.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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