Groundbreaking Effort Launched To Decode Whale Language
In what may be the largest interspecies communication effort in history, scientists plan to use machine learning to try to decode what Sperm whales say to one another. National Geographic reports: [Sperm whales “speak” in clicks, which they make in rhythmic series called codas. Shane Gero, a Canadian biologist, had been tracking sperm whales off the Caribbean island nation of Dominica for over thirteen years, using underwater recorders to capture codas from hundreds of whales.] On Monday, a team of scientists announced that they have embarked on a five-year odyssey to build on Gero’s work with a cutting-edge research project to try to decipher what sperm whales are saying to one another. Such an attempt would have seemed folly even just a few years ago. But this effort won’t rely solely on Gero. The team includes experts in linguistics, robotics, machine learning, and camera engineering. They will lean heavily on advances in artificial intelligence, which can now translate one human language to another without help from a Rosetta Stone, or key. The quest, dubbed Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), is likely the largest interspecies communication effort in history.

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Already, these scientists have been at work building specialized video and audio recording devices. They aim to capture millions of whale codas and analyze them. The hope is to expose the underlying architecture of whale chatter: What units make up whale communication? Is there grammar, syntax, or anything analogous to words and sentences? These experts will track how whales behave when making, or hearing, clicks. And using breakthroughs in natural language processing — the branch of artificial intelligence that helps Alexa and Siri respond to voice commands — researchers will attempt to interpret this information. Nothing like this has ever been attempted. [T]he goal isn’t to get whales to understand humans. It’s to understand what sperm whales say to one another as they go about their lives in the wild.

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