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New effort to decode whale language launched

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Over the a period of 13 years, Gero, a National Geographic Explorer, would record and get to know hundreds of sperm whales. But he kept coming back to a revelation that struck him as he’d listened to Drop and Doublebend: If humans were ever to decode the language of whales, or even determine if whales possessed something we might truly call language, we’d need to pair their clicks with the context. 

 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.

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.

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.

The 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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Wow such a cool human advancement, Im amazed at how much humans have evolved that now we are trying to understand what other animals are speaking. 

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