How To Speak Whale
Talk of Artificial Intelligence and how it will “take over the world” has terrified us. And it should make us think. Do we really want this?
However, that horse is already out of the barn. And, according to some, it can be used to enhance our knowledge in ways we cannot imagine.
How to Speak Whale, by Tom Mustill, is a fascinating foray into the world of animals and their emotions. A great companion to a book reviewed previously, Ed Yong’s An Immense World.
That book explores how animals, fish, reptiles, and insects perceive their environment.
Mustill is a biologist, and the essence of biology is observing how living things work. As scientists have gathered more and more data about their chosen subject, its analysis has to be left to the computer, so vast is our inventory of observations. He describes in this book how AI has analyzed images of the brains of mice to show that they have “six basic emotions”.
When it comes to trying to interpret the sounds made by whales and dolphins, we humans can only guess that they sound like language. By analyzing patterns in thousands and thousands of recordings, using the speed offered by artificial intelligence, we might unlock their meaning. Already it’s been discovered that whales use rhyme and what could be called music.
What’s the larger point here? It’s recognition: If we see and accept similarities in creatures other than ourselves, we’ll be more likely to protect them, Mustill argues.
How ironic is it, that with a man-made computerized system, artificial intelligence, we will gain insight into the natural intelligence of creatures we used to think did not experience pain, fear, friendship or love.
I say, bring it on.