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  • You may not want to admit it, but at one time in your life, you've talked to an animal.

  • Maybe it was letting a dog know it was a good dog or asking a cat where it's been.

  • Maybe you gave words of encouragement to an elephant or scolded a sheep.

  • Whichever animal it was you talked to, one thing is for sure; it probably didn't talk

  • back.

  • But what if it could?

  • Scientists are working on ways to not only understand what animals are saying, but to

  • one day talk back, forever changing the way we think about them.

  • So, how close are we to talking with animals?

  • Okay, I know what you're all saying, animals dotalk”, just not with words.

  • They make noises, they have facial expressions and body language.

  • But, this isn't exactly what we're talking about.

  • I think it's important to distinguish between what we call communication and language.

  • Communication is the more general term and it really refers to this exchanging of signals,

  • sharing and exchanging messages or signals in a meaningful way.

  • Language is a word that is fraught with interpretations and involved in many debates, whether other

  • animals have language or they're communicating.

  • Well the truth is that we suppose that animals have language, but in a lot of cases, we have

  • to actually prove this experimentally.

  • But a lot of people are enchanted with the idea of animals having language.

  • No one has yet proven that an animal or a species has language, partly because the idea

  • of what constitutes a language hasn't really been established.

  • But in the broad sense, language should be a distinct and organized pattern of communication,

  • with a near infinite number of combinations, that has been learned and used voluntarily,

  • not in a reactionary or instinctual manner.

  • When your dog barks when a squirrel runs past, this is a predictable and instinctual response,

  • so we don't consider it language.

  • But there have been studies that have shown some do communicate in a very complex manner

  • that show traits of language.

  • Now we just have to figure out how to decipher what they're saying.

  • I think the possibility of us having a Rosetta Stone with an animal is very real.

  • What we have to do is we have to do the experiments to determine the context in which animal signals

  • are given.

  • That context is going to give us the Rosetta Stone.

  • And that's exactly what's happening.

  • Dr Con Slobodchikoff has been studying prairie dog calls because within those high-pitched

  • chirps, they actually are saying a lot.

  • They are able to tell each other what the species of predator is, and the alarm calls

  • are given in response to a predator.

  • The prairie dogs tell each other whether the predator is a red-tailed hawk, is a coyote,

  • is a domestic dog, or is a human.

  • They can describe the physical features of the predator.

  • With humans, they can tell each other about the color of clothes that the person is wearing,

  • about the general size and shape of the person, something about the speed of travel of the

  • person.

  • Combining years of recorded prairie dog alarms with AI technology, he may one day be able

  • to create a prairie dog to English translator.

  • Unfortunately, determining that animals have language is a difficult process.

  • It's not an easy one.

  • It takes a lot of effort and time, and it takes a certain amount of money.

  • One of the main obstacles that slows us down from communicating with other species is that

  • we don't have a shared code.

  • While Dr Slobodchikoff is trying to use prairie dog language as the shared code, others are

  • looking to create a new code, one that can hopefully bridge the gap between humans and

  • animals.

  • We've now created a four by eight foot touchscreen, an interactive underwater touchscreen for

  • dolphins that will allow them again choice and control and it will allow us to try to

  • understand what the kinds of signals they're using and their own interests, more about

  • their cognitive abilities.

  • Dr. Reiss and her team will observe the dolphin's choices and compare that to their vocalizations

  • and mannerisms with the hope of decoding some parts of the dolphin's speech.

  • Again, to create a Rosetta Stone to help translate and hopefully one day talk to dolphins using

  • their language.

  • In our lab, we try to give the dolphins a means of communication using a keyboard so

  • that they could request and identify different objects and that's what we're working on now

  • so that they can produce a code themselves.

  • Again, it's such a challenge though to come up with a shared language.

  • Well, if it's so hard to learn their language, can't we just teach them ours?

  • Isn't that an easier way to have an interspecies conversation?

  • Well, maybe.

  •  For decades scientists have been working with apes to teach them American Sign Language

  • in order to learn more about both the species and the origin of human language.

  • 8:00 - “So the first Chimp was Washoe, she was wild caught by the Air Force.

  • They were collecting chimps for the space program...instead of going into space she

  • joined this sign language project.

  • She was raised like a human child...all over her caregivers used American sign language…”

  • Washoe was able to learn over 200 signs, talk to scientists and even taught another chimp

  • how to sign.

  • More studies popped up, most famously with Koko the Gorilla, and for a moment the lines

  • between human and animals blurred ever so slightly.

  • Some were still skeptical, arguing that these apes were just mimicking signs for a reward

  • instead of voluntarily conversing.

  • But other studies were done that showed apes talking amongst themselves with signs and

  • having private conversations with each other.

  • They seemed to be using language voluntarily.

  • Now, even though great progress has been made, some in this field feel uncomfortable with

  • the idea of bringing in new apes, or any animal, into captivity.

  • As someone that's been doing this for a long time, I feel that this research should

  • never be repeated...but the chimps that do have sign language, i feel it's important

  • for us to continue to document it, study it…i feel that it's important work because it helps

  • us understand more about chimps and see the continuity between our species and other species

  • on the planet and i feel that if we understand them better we're more likely to treat them,

  • and the rest of other beings on the planet in a better way.

  • And that is what may be at stake here.

  • That's why scientists are interested in studying interspecies communication and closing

  • that gap between us and them.

  • I think if we could talk to animals, it would really change our relationship with them because

  • people would realize that they are much more like us in many respects.

  • They have emotions.

  • They have thoughts...It becomes much more difficult than to treat these animals as property,

  • as disposable creatures

  • MJWe are taught with our culture...that we're so special and superior to other beings...when

  • people see the chimps signing, it's like the chimps are reaching across that imaginary

  • boundary that our culture has put up...for a lot of people that helps them widen their

  • circle of compassion

  • .it's going to really perhaps end what Loren Eiseley has called The Long Loneliness of

  • us being the only species that can communicate with each other.

  • That would be very exciting to be able to communicate with other species on this planet.

  • If we were ever able to have a conversation with an animal, we first need to decode every

  • sound and movement they make when communicating.

  • This would be our Rosetta Stone, the groundwork for being able to talk back, a scenario that

  • might change how we think, govern, work, innovate and of course, eat.

  • So, how close are we to talking to animals?

  • We really have to abandon our arrogance, and it's our arrogance that keeps us from communicating

  • with other humans in other cultures...and it's our arrogance that has probably slowed

  • our progress in understanding what non-humans are talking about.

  • We're already communicating with animals in simple ways.

  • If we then ask the question how close are we to having a more sophisticated dialogue

  • or exchange with other animals using a shared set of symbols in sophisticated ways, I would

  • say, we still have a long way to go and we're just in the infancy of understanding how to

  • do it.

  • I think it really requires decoding more of what they're doing in their own natural systems

  • and finding ways of incorporating that into what we want to create as a shared code.

  • It's complicated but it's intriguing.

  • Thanks for watching How Close Are We, let us know in the comments what topics you want

  • to cover in future episodes.

  • If you want more How Close Are We, click here to watch our playlist.

  • And don't forget to like share and subscribe.

You may not want to admit it, but at one time in your life, you've talked to an animal.

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B1 US language prairie communicating rosetta stone rosetta sign language

How Close Are We to Talking With Animals?

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    joey joey posted on 2021/04/16
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