We all remember the movie about a man who could uniquely talk to animals. Reports tell us that portable sensors and artificial intelligence may make a form of human-animal communication possible. Unlike that movie and the work of Penny Patterson using sign language to communicate with Koko the gorilla, the research goal is understanding animal communication instead of expecting them to use human language. Researchers use digital bioacoustics to record the animals and artificial intelligence to interpret what they say.
So far, scientists have studied the communication of bats and bees. Using tiny digital bioacoustic recorders, researchers at Tel Aviv University have gathered bat communication at frequencies above the limit of human hearing, over 20,000 hertz. Computers lower the frequency and slow it down to make it audible to humans, and artificial intelligence compiles the data to make it intelligible. Gerry Carter at Ohio State University has determined that bats have individual names, or “signature calls.” They argue over food, and mother bats communicate with their babies.
Understanding animal communication can involve more than sounds. Dr. Tim Landgraf at Freie Universitat in Berlin has deciphered bee communication, which involves both sounds and body movement. He has decoded the signals which tell other bees where to find nectar or warn of danger. Landgraf even built a robot name RoboBee that can enter a hive and control what the bees do. For example, when he put nectar in a place where no honeybee had visited and then told the bees where the nectar was, they went there.
Helping animals avoid pollution and directing them to safe food sources are potential applications of this technology. It is essential to understand the big difference between communication and language. These examples and future research with animals involve communication. Language is far more than communication and deals with culture, morals, and symbolism. As this field of understanding grows, its uses will also increase, and ethical concerns will become apparent.
One has to wonder how Adam and Eve communicated in the garden. They certainly did not speak English. Bat communication is obviously different from bee communication. Understanding animal communication is challenging since every animal is different, but that shows another level of design that science is just now beginning to understand. The more we learn about the creation, the more we have to be amazed at the wisdom of the Creator.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
Reference: “How Scientists are Using AI to Talk to Animals” in Scientific American for May 2023, pages 26-27.