A dolphin handler makes the signal for “together” with her hands, followed by “create”. The two trained dolphins disappear underwater, exchange sounds and then emerge, flip on to their backs and lift their tails. They have devised a new trick of their own and performed it in tandem, just as requested. “It doesn’t prove that there’s language,” says Aza Raskin. “But it certainly makes a lot of sense that, if they had access to a rich, symbolic way of communicating, that would make this task much easier.”
Raskin is the co-founder and president of Earth Species Project (ESP), a California non-profit group with a bold ambition: to decode non-human communication using a form of artificial intelligence (AI) called machine learning, and make all the knowhow publicly available, thereby deepening our connection with other living species and helping to protect them. A 1970 album of whale song galvanised the movement that led to commercial whaling being banned. What could a Google Translate for the animal kingdom spawn?