Despite our serious concerns about the pace of deployment of generative artificial intelligence, we are not anti-AI. There are uses that can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. Your Undivided Attention co-host Aza Raskin is also co-founder of Earth Species Project, a nonprofit dedicated to using AI to decode non-human communication. ESP is developing this technology both to shift the way that we relate to the rest of nature, and to accelerate conservation research.
Significant recent breakthroughs in machine learning have opened ways to encode both human languages and map out patterns of animal communication. The research, while slow and incredibly complex, is very exciting. Picture being able to tell a whale to dive to avoid ship strikes, or to forge cooperation in conservation areas.
These advances come with their own complex ethical issues. But understanding non-human languages could transform our relationship with the rest of nature and promote a duty of care for the natural world.
In a time of such deep division, it’s comforting to know that hidden underlying languages may potentially unite us. When we study the patterns of the universe, we’ll see that humanity isn’t at the center of it.
Aza refers to the founding of Earth Species Project (ESP) in 2017. The organization was established in 2018.
When offering examples of self-awareness in animals, Aza mentions lemurs that get high on centipedes. They actually get high on millipedes.
Aza Raskin was trained as a mathematician and dark matter physicist. He took 3 companies from founding to acquisition before co-founding the Center for Humane Technology with Tristan and Randima Fernando. Aza is also a co-founder of the Earth Species Project, an open-source collaborative non-profit dedicated to decoding animal communication. Aza’s father, Jef Raskin, created the Macintosh project at Apple — with the vision that humane technology should help, not harm, humans.
1. In the next 12-36 months, Earth Species Project will be able to imitate animal communication in high fidelity. Thanks to recent AI advances, ESP will soon be able to communicate with animals using synthetic versions of species that won’t be discernible from the real thing.
2. New machine learning techniques reveal that words and sounds that share connotations can also share shapes. When we solve a massive multi-dimensional puzzle by matching concepts and relationships, a shape emerges. This allows for human - and soon animal - languages to be translated without dictionaries by matching their shapes.
3. We need to consider who might gain power from using this technology. The ecotourism industry and poachers, for example, will want to attract animals for their customers, starting a race that could end in tragedy.
An interactive panel discussion hosted at the World Economic Forum in San Francisco on October 25, 2022. Featuring ESP President and Cofounder Aza Raskin; Dr. Karen Bakker, Professor at UBC and Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellow; and Dr. Ari Friedlaender, Professor at UC Santa Cruz
The gelada monkey makes a gurgling sound that scientists say is close to human speech
Red-fronted lemurs appear to use plants and other animals to treat their afflictions
Two biologists set out on an undertaking as colossal as their subjects – deciphering the complex communication of whales
ESP is looking for a thought leader in artificial intelligence with a track record of managing a team of researchers