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    Can AI help us speak to animals? Part one

    enSeptember 23, 2023

    Podcast Summary

    • Unlocking the Secrets of the Natural World through Expanded HearingAdvancements in technology and AI allow us to hear previously inaccessible sounds in nature, potentially leading to new discoveries and connections with animals.

      Our perception of the natural world is limited by our senses, particularly our hearing. If we could expand our hearing capabilities, we would be able to hear phenomena such as icebergs splitting, the Earth's crust pulsing, and animals communicating in the infrasound and ultrasound ranges. With advancements in technology and AI, we are beginning to unlock these sounds and potentially even understand what animals are saying. Shane Gero, a marine biologist, has dedicated his career to studying sperm whale communication, and with the help of AI, we may one day be able to speak with these awe-inspiring creatures. This opens up a whole new realm of understanding and connection with the natural world.

    • Sperm Whales Use Unique Codas for Communication and IdentificationSperm whales communicate using distinct codas, with the Eastern Caribbean clan producing '1 +1+3' and the less common EC 2 clan producing '5 r'. These codas help researchers distinguish between the clans, but the meaning or content of their conversations remains unknown.

      Sperm whales communicate using distinct patterns of clicks called codas, which function as a form of Morse code for social interaction and identification within their communities. The Eastern Caribbean clan produces a specific coda called "1 +1+3," while the less common EC 2 clan produces a longer, slower coda called "5 r." These codas help researchers distinguish between the two vocal clans even in the wild. However, despite our ability to identify the clans based on their codas, the meaning or content of their conversations remains a mystery. Sperm whales are known to be social animals, and they communicate frequently while engaging in behaviors like touching and rolling around each other. Their ability to coordinate their codas and communicate at the same time is believed to strengthen their social bonds.

    • Using AI to Understand Animal CommunicationResearchers are using AI to decipher animal languages, inspired by whale sounds and monkey vocalizations. With machine learning and transformers, previously unknown languages may be deciphered.

      Researchers are using advanced technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), to decipher the communication methods of various animal species. This was inspired by observing whales making repeated sounds while at play, leading researchers to ponder the significance of these sounds. Aza Raskin, founder of the Earth Species Project, is one such researcher who aims to "talk to animals" by understanding their language. He was inspired by a radio broadcast about a scientist studying gelada monkeys and their rich vocabulary. Raskin believes that with the current capabilities of machine learning and the introduction of transformers, it's possible to decipher previously unknown languages. The transformer, a key component of AI, is said to have uncovered an underlying structure that underpins all communication. Imagine a galaxy where words are stars, and words with similar meanings are located near each other. This structure can help us understand the relationships between words and potentially decipher new languages.

    • Understanding Communication Through Transformer TechnologyTransformer technology interprets all data as interconnected shapes, enabling translations and transformations between languages and data types, challenging the uniqueness of human communication.

      Transformer technology, the basis for AI models like ChatGPT, views all data, including languages, images, and even human faces, as interconnected geometric shapes. This allows for translations between different languages, as well as transformations of data types, like turning text into images. This technology's ability to quantify relationships between parts is what enables amazing feats, such as generating images in specific styles or creating text-to-image translations. The inspiration for this research came from the idea that if human languages can be represented in these shapes, perhaps animal communication could as well. However, it's important to consider the potential dangers of anthropomorphizing machine intelligence and assuming it's the same as human intelligence. Similarly, there's a debate about whether human communication and animal communication are fundamentally different. The transformer technology's ability to align various data types challenges the notion that human communication is unique due to our shared physiology. Ultimately, this technology opens up new possibilities for understanding and interacting with various forms of communication, both human and animal.

    • Exploring the complexities of animal communicationResearchers are discovering that animal languages may not align perfectly with human languages, but shared concepts and experiences offer potential for translation. Future research involves collecting and analyzing vast data sets and using AI to uncover communication patterns.

      As we delve deeper into the world of animal communication, we're discovering that the complexity and richness of their languages may not align perfectly with human languages. However, there are shared concepts and experiences, such as self-recognition and transcendent states of consciousness, which may provide a foundation for translation. This translation may not look like human language, but rather a combination of modalities like audio, body pose, and video. The future of this research lies in the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data, especially from animals like sperm whales that do not generate data in the same way humans do. While this field is still in its infancy, researchers like Shane Gero are making strides in using AI to uncover communication patterns in whales and challenging our assumptions about the hierarchy of language. Ultimately, this research holds the promise of a deeper understanding of the animal world and the possibility of communicating with our non-human companions in new and meaningful ways.

    • Expanding our understanding of whale communicationResearchers are collecting data beyond limited settings to reveal more about whale behavior and communication in nature, suggesting a level of consciousness overlap between species.

      Researchers like Shane are working to expand our understanding of whale communication by collecting data beyond limited settings, comparing it to studying English in a dentist office. Projects like SETI and the Dominica Sperm Whale Project aim to record continuously, revealing more about whale behavior outside of research interactions. While we currently focus on letting whales be natural, there have been instances of apparent interaction, such as can opener predicting research boat patterns. These instances suggest a level of consciousness overlap between species, and interspecies communication is already observed in nature, like killer whales and dolphins hunting together and humans and birds collaborating for honey collection.

    • Exploring interspecies communication with AIWe're developing AI to mimic animal sounds for potential two-way communication, but understanding the value of other species' experiences is crucial.

      We are on the brink of making significant strides in interspecies communication through the use of AI. Honey hunters have long relied on the help of honey guides, birds that lead them to bees' nests. Now, with advancements in AI, we may soon be able to create synthetic voices that can mimic those of whales or other animals, potentially leading to two-way communication. However, the complexity of animal communication and the vast differences between human and animal perspectives raise important questions. Is this truly interspecies communication, or just machine-animal interaction? As we continue to explore these possibilities, it's essential to remember that understanding the value and importance of other species' experiences may offer insights into the fundamentals of what matters overall. While the potential for two-way conversation with whales through AI is an exciting prospect, the larger question of bridging the gap between human and whale experiences remains. We don't yet know the answer, but the journey towards meaningful interspecies communication is an important one.

    • Expert Cautions Against Overestimating AI's Ability to Converse with AnimalsExperts suggest focusing on understanding animals better first and achieving simpler applications like improving alarm calls or interpreting sounds before aiming for complex conversations.

      While advancements in AI technology may enable us to interact with animal sounds, experts like Shane and Karen Bakker caution against overestimating our ability to have complex conversations with other species through digital means. They suggest that our focus should be on understanding animals better first, and that simple applications, such as improving alarm calls or interpreting animal sounds, may be more achievable in the near future. However, the idea of a "zoological version of Google Translate" remains a distant dream. Furthermore, questions arise about who has the right to speak for humanity in such interactions and what we would even say to animals, as they may not discuss human concepts themselves. Overall, the possibility of conversing with animals via AI is an intriguing concept, but it comes with challenges and ethical considerations that need further exploration.

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