If I could talk to the animals

Will we be able to talk with our animals? Credit: Pixabay: Seaq68

The Jeremy Coller Foundation and Tel Aviv University have challenged scientists to create real conversations with animals.

The prize for anyone who delivers is a whopping $10 million (€9.2 million) in equity investment.

While the use of AI is not mandatory, the team is confident that it presents the most promising avenue to conquer the challenge, aptly named ‘The Coller Dolittle Challenge for Interspecies two-way Communication’.

Jeremy Coller, chair of the foundation, envisions, “Just as the Rosetta Stone deciphered the hieroglyphics,  I firmly believe that AI can unlock interspecies conversation”.

Significant strides have already been made in AI, such as translating bat squeaks, interpreting pig grunts to understand their emotions, and analysing rodent squeaks to gauge stress levels.

The Earth Species Project, a California-based non-profit organisation, is spearheading further research to deepen our understanding of all species.

Coller Dolittle prize winners

While the main prize is for achieving the ultimate goal, a secondary annual prize of $100,000 (€92,200) will also be offered to incentivise researchers to develop AI models that can further advance animal communication.  The goal is to develop a system similar to the Turing test, whereby animals are unaware that they are conversing with humans.

The organisers hope to announce the specific criteria for the grand prize after two or three years of small prizes have been awarded.

Some are particularly excited about AI’s potential in this field, including Peter Gabriel, musician and co-founder of Interspecies Internet. So much so that he was involved in the prize concept.

He said, “When I played music with bonobo apes, I was stunned by their intelligence and musicality… I am delighted that there are serious scientists now engaged both with understanding their communication and ways through which might begin meaningful interspecies communication.”

Dr Katherine Herborn, an animal behaviour researcher at the University of Plymouth, is also optimistic about the possibilities and feels that this could be particularly useful in understanding what farm animals might need to improve their upkeep.

However, some experts are more sceptical about AI programming’s true ability. As Robert Seyfarth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, explained, “I think no amount of AI programming can substitute for long-term, detailed knowledge of the society in which animals communicate.”

The jury seems to be out on what is achievable, but maybe the day will come when we can use AI to understand what our pets and other animals that we come into contact with are saying to us.

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Written by

Donna Williams

Marketer, copywriter, storyteller and President of Samaritans in Spain. They say variety is the spice of life and I am definitely loving life!