New AI technology lets humans talk to animals

Not so long ago, the scientific community scoffed at the idea that animals could have their own language. Today, researchers around the world are using cutting-edge technology to listen to animals’ “conversations” and even communicate with them.

A field scientist uses audio equipment to record animal communications in a dense forest.

A field scientist uses audio equipment to record animal communications in a dense forest.

In his new book The sounds of life: how digital technology brings us closer to the animal and plant worldsprofessor at the University of British Columbia Karen Bakker describes some of the most revolutionary experiments in animal and plant communication.

“Digital technologies, so often associated with our alienation from nature, offer us the opportunity to listen to nonhumans in powerful ways, rekindling our connection to the natural world,” writes Bakker, director of the Institute of Resources, of the environment and the environment of UBC. Sustainability.

She points out that digital listening posts are now being used to continuously record sounds from the planet’s ecosystems, from rainforests to the ocean floor. Developments in miniaturization have even allowed scientists to place microphones on tiny animals like bees.

A robotic bee lands on a flower.A robotic bee lands on a flower.

A robotic bee lands on a flower.

“Combined, these digital devices work like a hearing aid on a planetary scale: allowing humans to observe and study the sounds of nature beyond the limits of our sensory abilities,” Bakker writes. The next step for many scientists is to harness the power of artificial intelligence to sift through those sounds and allow the robots to “speak animal languages ​​and essentially jump the interspecies communication barrier.”

She cites a team of researchers in Germany who taught tiny robots how to do the wriggling bee dance. Using these dancing machines, scientists were able to command bees to stop moving and communicate where to fly to collect specific nectar. The researchers plan to experiment with the implantation of robots in the hives so that the bees accept them as members of their community.

A herd of African elephants uses infrasonic signals to communicate with each other. A herd of African elephants uses infrasonic signals to communicate with each other.

A herd of African elephants uses infrasonic signals to communicate with each other.

Bakker also writes about bioacoustics scientist Katie Payne and her findings regarding elephant communication. Payne was the first to discover that elephants emit infrasonic signals, sounds below the range of human hearing. The vibrations of these signals allow elephants to send messages over long distances through soil and stones. Scientists have since discovered that elephants have different cues for “bee” and “human,” as well as distinct cues for “threatening human” versus “non-threatening human.” If the power of AI could be harnessed to send messages to herds of elephants, we might be able to help protect their dwindling populations without removing them from their natural habitats.

Coral reefs also attract attention in Bakker’s book. “A healthy coral reef is a bit like an underwater symphony,” she explains. “There are cracks and buzzes and hisses and clicks of the reef and its inhabitants and even whales tens of kilometers away. If you could hear in the ultrasound, you could hear the coral itself. With the use of AI, scientists may eventually be able to obtain coral to repopulate certain areas by playing “healthy coral reef” sounds to coral larvae.

Karen Bakker, professor at the University of British Columbia and author of Karen Bakker, professor at the University of British Columbia and author of

Karen Bakker, professor at the University of British Columbia and author of

While the idea of ​​one day having “a zoological version of Google Translate” sounds overwhelmingly positive, there are fears that unscrupulous humans will use the technology to control animal populations for their own benefit. Bakker warns that the possibility of exploiting animals “raises a lot of alarm bells” and that our “new powers” should never be used “to assert our dominance over animals and plants”.

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