Here’s a startup pitch you don’t see every day: An “Interspecies Internet” to facilitate communication between humans and animals. Sounds far-fetched, but when the founders are musician Peter Gabriel, MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld, cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss, and co-creator of the Internet Vint Cerf, then you just might stop to reconsider.
Those four figures took the stage at the TED conference to announce the new platform, which has yet to go live on the web but does have a Facebook Page (filed under “Animal Communication”). At root, it’s a networked streaming video platform to “connect pioneering researchers in the field and their non-human subjects and help to explore and develop appropriate tools and apps,” Gabriel writes in the description of the non-profit project, which received seed funding earlier today.
We hope to link up the captive species who already have demonstrated a cognitive and linguistic understanding of interspecies communication from facility to facility (especially the families that have been separated), and additionally to their species in their native lands. Schoolchildren in the native regions where these animals are in danger, would be able to communicate with the animals via tablet and learn that these animals are intelligent and friendly.
In a video showing the inspiration for the platform, a bonobo played a song about grooming on the piano in tune with Gabriel’s own music. That made him wonder: “What if we could find new interfaces, visual audio interfaces to allow sentient beings to access?”
To illustrate the project, a set of live streamed videos showing dolphins, elephants, and an orangutan working with researchers around the world was projected on the stage.
Another presentation earlier in the day, by marine researcher Denise Herzing, showed a soundboard being used to play games with Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Other similar programs, such as the New York-based non-profit Apps For Apes, are also working to improve the way we talk with animals. The aim of the Interspecies Internet is to connect all of these projects and give them a way to communicate and share knowledge.
There’s already been some forays into the Interplanetary Internet as well. And one of the goals of this project, according to Cerf, is to prepare us to one day communicate with an alien species.
“This will teach us how we might interact with an alien from another world,” Cerf said. “I can hardly wait.”
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