What if we could talk to animals?

The dream of talking to animals and plants is old. Now, however, what was previously only possible in fairy tales and myths soon seems technically feasible. A Californian NPO around the brilliant tech expert Aza Raskin is working on decoding animal communication with the help of Artificial Intelligence. What will be the consequences?
6 January, 2023 by
What if we could talk to animals?
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

The goals are ambitious. The non-profit Earth Species Project (ESP) wants to develop software that helps understand languages throughout the animal kingdom, regardless of species, from worms to whales. The goals are even higher. ESP co-founder Aza Raskin, who will speak at the GDI's Trend Day next spring, told Swiss weekly "Das Magazin" a while back: "The Earth Species Project is meant to change human culture - fast. We are running out of time. Earth Species is meant to be an accelerator for every conservation, climate and environmental issue." He continues, "I envision the outcome as judicially expanding the definition of ‘personhood’ to include non-human species, banning zoos, enabling ships to gently notify whales of their presence."

Raskin and the Earth Species Project are not the only ones studying animal communication. Researchers around the world are using cutting-edge technologies to eavesdrop on animal conversations, and Artificial Intelligence to find patterns in barking, chirping, throat clearing, humming, hissing and so on. The focus is on social animals, such as whales, dolphins and bees, where the likelihood of rich, symbolic communication is expected to be higher. 

For example, a European team of researchers has studied what the grunts and squeaks of pigs say about their emotional state. The non-profit projec CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), on the other hand, analyses the language of sperm whales, and researcher Alison Barker at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin that of naked mole rats. Two new books provide an overview of mind-blowing experiments and current findings, namely "The Sounds of Life" by Canadian professor Karen Bakker and "The Amazing Senses of Animals" by British Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yong.

The number of research papers being conducted on this topic is currently growing rapidly, and the results are promising and far-reaching. Nevertheless, we will probably have to wait a while for a Google Translate for birds, dogs or cats. But what will happen when new technologies that today often distract us from nature instead connect us more closely with it? Will we still eat animals when we can talk to them?

Learn more about this at the 19th European Trend Day. Unter dem Thema Biophilia: When Nature Becomes the New Tech zeigen ExpertInnen am 8. März 2023 am Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut, wie sich das Verständnis von Natur und die Beziehung zu ihr verändern. Wir präsentieren neue Erkenntnisse aus der Forschung und die spannendsten Startups. Jetzt anmelden!

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