We may be about to talk to a whale for the first time

The study, called CETI, has been going on since March 2020 with an interdisciplinary team of scholars. What it consists of and how it wants us to communicate with whales.

Michael Bronstein has never seen a whale in his life. Yet he could be one of the people responsible for a study whose consequences would be so revolutionary as to allow us to talk to the giant aquatic mammals.

In the interdisciplinary group that has set itself this ambitious goal, there are, along with the Israeli computer scientist and machine learning expert, other experts and researchers who have set themselves the goal of talking to a whale. A goal that has been traversed, now, for more than a year.

What is the experiment to be able to talk to a whale for the first time

In March 2020 moves the first steps the project to communicate to whales after encoding their language thanks to artificial intelligence. The study is called CETI (for Cetacean Translation Initiative). If we can really understand what whales say to each other, and how they do it, we will also be able to reproduce the key sounds and have a conversation with one of these giant animals. The issue of language in animals is definitely controversial. Some scientists are convinced that animal creatures don't "talk," but "communicate."

Do animals really know how to "talk" to each other?"

"First of all, language has semantics. This means that certain vocalizations have a fixed meaning that doesn't change," explains marine biologist Karsten Brensing, author of several books on animal communication. Brensing believes we still haven't looked closely enough at the question of how animals exchange messages. Siberian jays, for example, are birds that use a vocabulary of 25 or so calls, some of which always mean the same thing. But beyond semantics, there must be, in animal language, a grammar. They don't count expressions with an emotional note only: verses that correspond to happiness or sleep.

The sperm whales are particularly useful to orient themselves in this gray area of language. In fact, their "clicks" are easily transposed into a sequence of 1s and 0s, so they can be easily encoded and communicated to a machine. Bronstein is confident of the experiment's success. And aware of the risk that, in the early difficult stages of communicating with a whale, a likely response might simply be, "Stop talking nonsense."

Balene aside, there are those who imagine we'll be able to talk to dogs and cats within 10 years. Google, on the other hand, has launched an app that lets you talk with your eyes.

Giuseppe Giordano