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Translator Puts Us Closer To Dolphin Communication 179

Posted by samzenpus
from the dolittle-communications dept.
LordStormes sent in a link to an article about a new device that may allow dolphins to finally thank us for all the fish. Denise Herzing, founder of the Wild Dolphin Project and Thad Starner, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, have been working on a project called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry or CHAT. The pair hope that CHAT will allow them to "co-create" a language with wild dolphins, allowing the two species to communicate. From the article: "Herzing and Starner will start testing the system on wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the middle of this year. At first, divers will play back one of eight 'words' coined by the team to mean 'seaweed' or 'bow wave ride,' for example. The software will listen to see if the dolphins mimic them. Once the system can recognize these mimicked words, the idea is to use it to crack a much harder problem: listening to natural dolphin sounds and pulling out salient features that may be the 'fundamental units' of dolphin communication."
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Translator Puts Us Closer To Dolphin Communication

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  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:54PM (#36098250) Journal

    So long, and thanks for all the fish!

  • by notgm (1069012) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:57PM (#36098292)

    if the dolphins are smart enough to understand us, they'll play dumb.

    • by Moryath (553296)

      “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.” - Calvin & Hobbes.

      • by O-Deka-K (1520371) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @06:14PM (#36099902)

        "Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much... the wheel, New York, wars and so on... while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man... for precisely the same reason." -- Douglas Adams

        Dolphins probably think we're the dumb ones because we don't understand anything they say.

    • I remember an episode of Bullshit where they dealt with the "dolphins are as smart as humans" junk and basically showed how the whole idea went back to some Timothy-Leary-esque "researcher" (John Lilly [wikipedia.org]) who spent his off days dropping acid and spouting nonsense about how the dolphins could heal us too.

      • And we all know that Penn & Teller are the epitome of unbiased, fair, objective journalism.

        Oh, wait...
        • by elrous0 (869638) *

          Are you saying that John Lilly wasn't a preeminent dolphin researcher who influence several generations of dolphin researchers afterward? Are you saying that there were researchers before him who advanced the idea that dolphins have advanced communication skills? Are you saying that he didn't hang with Timothy Leary and drop obscene amounts of acid (even giving the dolphins acid in some of his "testing")? Are you saying there aren't numerous videos of him in the 60's and 70's spouting new age horseshit abou

    • if the dolphins are smart enough to understand us, they'll play dumb.

      Agreed. I'm sure they see no advantage to meaningful communication with a bunch of bald apes. They're probably afraid we'll try to make them pay property taxes on the ocean they live in, or some other stupid idea.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:57PM (#36098298) Homepage

    We're getting another one of those aw-blah esspanyol [hubimg.com] sounds!

    • by zebs (105927)
      Never did get that particular Far Side.
      • Never got the far side full stop. Or period, if you will.
      • Never did get that particular Far Side.

        The joke is that dolphin speech is actually quite simple - it's spanish - and the scientists are over thinking the problem so much they don't recognize what should be a simple code. It's another twist on the old "time is money; look at the clock!" followed by "get that bird to shut up!" bit.

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        It's Non Sequitur, what's not to get.
        • It's not non sequitur..? It makes sense if the researchers have never heard Spanish.

          Unlikely? Yes. Non sequitur? Bananas.

  • As Stan Smith showed, he taught Steve how to communicate with dolphins and all they, the dolphins, want to talk about is mackerel.

  • I remember when I was a kid I used to watch some sci-fi series that had a dolphin with a translator device on it, all the people talked to it like another human. Can't remember what it was now.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It was seaQuest DSV. People made fun of the talking dolphin in the '90s. Looks like the producers and writers of that show had more foresight than they were given credit.

      • Or they and these researchers are smoking the same brand of ganja weed.

      • Because the talking dolphin idea was one of those obvious gimmicks to make the show appeal to a larger audience you combined that with him being friends with the local kid genius. Having random kids and/or talking animals in plots where they are supposed to be in danger is quite stupid but they do it for ratings. As for the most part the adults will just ignore them and the kids would like them.
         

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        It was seaQuest DSV. People made fun of the talking dolphin in the '90s. Looks like the producers and writers of that show had more foresight than they were given credit.

        Well, I watched some SeaQuest, and what I always made fun of was that the translator made the dolphin talk like a 1950s robot. Or Talking Moose.

        Why on earth would you do that? I mean if you were building an actual dolphin translator, not making a TV show. It's not like you just take dolphin noises, pass them through some analog filters like they're an electric guitar, and what comes out is English but with a "dolphin accent". You'd use a dictionary of dolphin 'words'. And it's not like Talking Moose or

    • by perpenso (1613749)

      I remember when I was a kid I used to watch some sci-fi series that had a dolphin with a translator device on it, all the people talked to it like another human. Can't remember what it was now.

      I'm sure it was not the first to do so but SeaQuest seems likely.
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106126/ [imdb.com]

      Now a closer theatrical match to this research may be Day of the Dolphin.
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069946/ [imdb.com]

    • The above are wrong... it was Sealab 2021 [adultswim.com]... see: Dolphin Boy.
    • Timmy's in the well?

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:59PM (#36098330)
    My inner historian is sad that no one mentioned the Rosetta Stone as inspiraton.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone [wikipedia.org]
  • "We were all for communicating with you land-dwelling monkeys, but then we saw that Ralph Macchio was put on Dancing With The Stars, and we decided our time would be better spent rubbing our genitals against each other. Now please do fuck off."

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      I don't know about the quote (what dolphins have cable TV?), but if you think about it, the general premise is probably right.

      Why would any wild animals want to be more like us? We build and grow, leaving massive destruction in the path. We toil away constantly at some goal of wealth and happiness, which drives us from birth to death.

      Dolphins live happily in the ocean. They are free to eat, sleep, and reproduce. Occasionally, they take advantage of humans by riding on the

      • In all seriousness, I'm wondering what we're supposed to do if we find out that dolphins are sentient creatures. We have, whether we always honor it or not, created an array of international accords on human rights. Do we open that up to them? Does that mean that we would have to demand Japan and other nations that have killed them pay compensation? What kind of compensation would a dolphin want? What about territorial issues?

        • In all seriousness, I'm wondering what we're supposed to do if we find out that dolphins are sentient creatures. We have, whether we always honor it or not, created an array of international accords on human rights. Do we open that up to them? Does that mean that we would have to demand Japan and other nations that have killed them pay compensation? What kind of compensation would a dolphin want? What about territorial issues?

          They probably ARE sentient (depends on your definition). This issue has been a problem for mankind for a long time. The more we know about biology, the more we realize that we're not all that different from Everything Else. The big problem, IMHO, is that treating dolphins or whales (or dogs, cats, politicians) like humans doesn't get them all that far. We're pretty ill behaved critters towards everything and everybody, sentience be damned.

      • > they'd likely want to get their revenge.
        And what better way than to have our military-industrial complex spend us to deat? All they'd have to do is feed the CIA false intelligence about terrorists having sharks with frickin' lasers.

      • Chimpanzees want to be more like us. "Retired" chimpanzees given the choice between a "wild" setting and a apartment setting chose to split thier time between the two. They like laying on a sofa and watching TV. Tarzan's Chimp like to lay around and watch reruns of himself. or, as Mencken said "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” This may well be true for the rest of the animal kindgom.

      • by jeff4747 (256583)

        We are the most successful species on this planet. We have so much food we have an obesity problem. We have more sex than most other creatures on the planet. We are so successful that we can spend time worrying about concepts like "wealth" and it's relationship to happiness, or how our activities are affecting the planet....or we can sit on the couch and watch TV.

        OTOH, dolphins live relatively short lives and have to spend a lot of time hunting for food. They have no concept of "medical care", so an inj

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          I think you're a bit confused.. The most "successful" under what terms?

          The most abundant creatures on earth are copepods or prokaryote SAR11. I'll leave it to a zoologist to give the correct answer.

          The healthiest are sharks, with no known illnesses.

          Humans aren't the most prolific. That would probably go to one of the first category. We're only fertile less than 25% of the time, and not every attempt causes reproduction. Even once we do manage

          • by ppanon (16583)

            I think it's more fair to say that it's not a good idea to plan on doing your reproducing after 35 because a) fertility goes down (for both men and women), b) the odds of birth defects go up (although that risk increases most seriously after 40), c) the stress of pregnancy and childbirth is harder on older mothers that aren't in good physical condition (cardio, body mass, and nutrition), and d) there may be some implications regarding breast and uterine cancer from having those organs go through typical pr

            • by JWSmythe (446288)

              I was always told by doctors that having a baby after over 35 was dangerous to the mother. That's from several American doctors, who were our OB/GYN's for my 3 children. My mother also said she was told the same concerns when she was carrying my sister and I. They won't say "no, go abort it", but they strongly suggest against it, if you are planning to have a child. I don't believe it had anything to do with religious beliefs, but these days I wouldn't doubt it. None expressed religiou

  • they must be one step closer to translating ponies! Very exciting times we live in! Oh my!!
  • Somehow fitting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cryolithic (563545) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:08PM (#36098470)
    On the 10th anniversary of Douglas Adam's death.
  • Some forms of communication are designed to transfer information; but others are designed to obscure or refract it. Phony terms like "co-create" do nothing to generate confidence in the legitimacy of this project.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      What they're getting at is basically a feedback loop, introduce a few 'words' to the Dolphins so that we have something to start with, then try to learn a few 'words' that the Dolphins already use amongst themselves and then use those words to 'speak' back to the dolphins, maybe adding a few more of our own invention to help with structure.

      Honestly though, research has shown that Dolphins can keep track of at least 100 different words... compare that to a great ape which is capable of up to a couple thousan

      • by Syncerus (213609)

        A very nice and thoughtful comment. Sometimes I come across more negative than I prefer, but a pet peeve of mine is speech designed to fold, spindle and mutilate the simple truth. Had the authors of the study chosen to use terms similar to your own, I would cheer them onward. Jokes about "dolphin sausage" aside, who can help but smile when around the animals?

        Perhaps I mean to say that I like dolphins but dislike bunny huggers? Especially academic bunny huggers out to exploit public affection for the animals

        • by agrif (960591)

          A very nice and thoughtful comment. Sometimes I come across more negative than I prefer, but a pet peeve of mine is speech designed to fold, spindle and mutilate the simple truth.

          You might like this, then. From Neal Stephenson's Anathem:

          Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said.

      • Honestly though, research has shown that Dolphins can keep track of at least 100 different words... compare that to a great ape which is capable of up to a couple thousand... then compare that to a human which is capable of tens of thousands.

        Humans raised in society are capable of keeping track of tens of thousands of words. Humans raised in linguistic isolation (google "feral children") are pretty comparable to the apes or dolphins.

  • Awesome! Now we can tell them that if we take the awesome jackets we're putting on them to boats of interest, they get free fish.

    Let's see who gets the reference.

    • by hiryuu (125210)

      72 fish, to be exact?

    • by hiryuu (125210)

      D'oh! I lose. In my effort to be funny, I completely missed the subject line and the reference therein (until memory was jogged by a comment further down). Oops. :)

    • by hldn (1085833)

      day of the dolphin. i just watched it the other day!

  • Do a version for sharks and you'll start a quantum leap in laser warfare.

    • by lennier (44736)

      Do a version for sharks and you'll start a quantum leap in laser warfare.

      "Theorising that oneshark could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Bloodfin Dolphinbane stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator... and vanished! He finds himself leaping from lifeocean to lifeocean, striving to put right what once accursed dolphinkind had put wrong, and hoping each time that the next leap... will destroy those chittering seatraitors forever!"

  • With any luck, the dolphin words we'll "make up" will already have the meaning of "your mother is a goat", and they will simply be offended.

  • by FriendlyPrimate (461389) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:27PM (#36098746)
    If dolphins are so smart, how come they haven't built a translator to communicate with us yet?
    • Because they don't have fingers and opposable thumbs.
    • by xero314 (722674)

      If dolphins are so smart, how come they haven't built a translator to communicate with us yet?

      For the same reason we aren't trying this with Dogs. You only attempt to communicate with beings that are smarter than you.

    • Oblg.:

      "For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so muchâ"the wheel, New York, wars and so onâ"whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than manâ"for precisely the same reasons."

      --
      You can either view life as: A series of [old] problems, or as [new] opportunities. The _circumstances_

  • This may be the beginning of the Star Trek universal translator. But, only if it actually works.
  • Don't put in curse words! Just what we don't want to listen to, how we "f**king humans" f**ked up their waters ... blah,blah,blah.
  • ... Seaquest has finally launched?

  • "Freee Meeee!"

  • by viking80 (697716) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:53PM (#36099076) Journal

    dolphins use sonar to geolocate and find food. The sonar pattern used also depends on whether they are navigating, searching for prey or attacking. When a dolphin "tells" where to go to find fish, it will play back a stylised summary of the sonar imagery from navigating past the steep cliff, to "seeing" the school of 1kg macrel, to the successful attack.

    This 3D communication is efficient and fast, and connects directly to the visual part of the brain. Powerful and emotional imagery can be communicated well.

    Humans 1D voice communication compared is inefficient, indirect and lack precision and descriptive elements.

    "Riding a bow wave" is a 1D sequence of sound that has very little info or precision compared to the sonar echo of actually riding the wave.

    Humans should probably try to speak sonar, rather than try to dumb down a dolphin to speak human

    • Interesting proposition. Got a source for that?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Humans should probably try to speak sonar, rather than try to dumb down a dolphin to speak human

      We do speak 2D and even 3D. They're called movies, holograms, etc. We have far more ways of communicating than just 1D sequences of sounds. This is where the term "A picture is worth a thousand words" comes from. However, if Dolphins are limited to only speaking sonar by recalling past experiences, one wonders if they are able to invent experiences. How would you say "Go over there" unless you've been there if all you can do is say "Go where I've been". It will be interesting to see if they can commun

    • by jeff4747 (256583) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @06:05PM (#36099804)

      The idea is to get some to "speak human" so we can ask them to explain how to "speak dolphin".

    • by khallow (566160)

      This 3D communication is efficient and fast, and connects directly to the visual part of the brain. Powerful and emotional imagery can be communicated well.

      Humans 1D voice communication compared is inefficient, indirect and lack precision and descriptive elements.

      "Riding a bow wave" is a 1D sequence of sound that has very little info or precision compared to the sonar echo of actually riding the wave.

      And if the "1D" communication is any good, we'll probably see it spread in the wild. Human language, while it has considerable flexibility in the spoken form, is still very powerful as written language, which has stripped virtually all opportunity for nuance away. And a simple but useful "1-dimensional" language, which isn't dependent on stirring powerful and emotional imagery directly in a fellow sapient with incompatible sonar systems (who knows how the "accents" from being of different species affects ho

    • "Powerful and emotional imagery can be communicated well."

      Huh? How the hell did you figured this out? Did you talked to the dolphins yourself? The human language had allowed us to advance from cave dwellers all the way to the moon. It conveys knowledge, information, wisdom, horror, comedy, tragedy, drama etc. well. Your argument sounds fishy to me (hah!). It is like you are saying birds are superior to man because they have wings.

    • Humans 1D voice communication compared is inefficient, indirect and lack precision and descriptive elements.

      Human *language* is inefficient, indirect, and generally lacks precision when used. Human *voice*, however, contains an amazing smorgasbord of information that you process in far more ways than you may be aware of. Every subconscious adjustment in pitch, timbre, and rhythm lets us communicate our feelings about the situation at hand without having to pick the perfect word. It's just there. We are still "discovering" all the meanings that we otherwise automatically interpret from these voices.

      • by ghostdoc (1235612)

        which is where I think we'll always fail at communicating with another species. So much of our communication is non-verbal and based on shared experiences of being human that I doubt we can ever get that across to another species.

        Human-dog or human-horse communication is about as good as it can get, I think. If the dog could talk, a lot of what it would say would be meaningless to us because we're not dogs.

  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @05:05PM (#36099186) Journal
    Are we really even sure there's a language at use here? A computer can either search for system, syntax and grammar, or just do a frequency analysis on soundbites. If dolphins are using the former then they might have a chance, but if it's the latter the best they can hope for is a dictionary - which sounds much the same, but it's the comparison is akin to a well written program versus a two element CSV file.
    • by PRMan (959735)
      My dog (an extremely smart basset hound) seriously understood about 100 words and even said 3 with some degree of regularity: "hungry", "outside" and "walk". Despite us being able to communicate very well (as compared to most human/dog relationships), there is absolutely no way that I could have asked my dog what she was thinking or had any sort of abstract communications with her, like they think they are going to get with the dolphins. At best, she could communicate about a single topic that affected b
  • Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong.
  • Suckee dick fiee doraah!

  • by BlueCoder (223005) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @08:19PM (#36101164)

    In the least I'm sure they communicate through caressing each other with sonar but that is a very subtle and private communication. You have to actually be being caressed with the sonar to get the full meaning of it; it might not lend well to listening in. For instance I'm sure they would have a way to do the equivalent of tapping each other on the shoulder and pointing in a direction to look. It would lend itself more readily to a communication of emotion.

    It will be interesting if they can learn a human language and grammar adapted to their vocal abilities. It would be the equivalent of teaching great apes sign language but much more natural.

  • So you want to introduce new human-created words into dolphin language and then see how much they talk about it? Why not introduce the new words for new things, like a ball or a hamburger? You're just poisoning the minds of the dolphin youth!
  • Eek = Yes, Ook = No

    Yes, Dolphins are nature's most indecisive creatures.

  • It's gonna be the future soon. Next up, end world hunger.

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