Decoding Whale Language

With artificial intelligence and painstaking study of sperm whales, scientists hope to understand what these aliens of the deep are talking about.

One of humanity’s most enduring desires is the enchanting notion that we might one day converse with other species. In the years since Gero’s insight, and partly because of it, the potential to bridge this communications gap has grown less fanciful. On Monday, a team of scientists announced that they have embarked on a five-year odyssey to build on Gero’s work with a cutting-edge research project to try to decipher what sperm whales are saying to one another.

Such an attempt would have seemed folly even just a few years ago. But this effort won’t rely solely on Gero. The team includes experts in linguistics, robotics, machine learning, and camera engineering. They will lean heavily on advances in artificial intelligence, which can now translate one human language to another without help from a Rosetta Stone, or key. The quest, dubbed Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), is likely the largest interspecies communication effort in history.

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