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Could we use computers to translate animal communication into human language? If so, what would we learn? And might it unlock a new understanding of existence and our place in the cosmos?
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Transcript - Hassa: Hey Bill. I’m a big fan of your work. This is Hassa from Tunisia. I’m at the University of Freiburg in Germany. My question for you today is how can it be that human beings still can’t communicate with animals? I mean we have powerful computers by now. Isn’t it just easier to just record a lot of data, let the computers look for a pattern and play them back and it allows the responses. Imagine all the implications. Animals can become better tools for us or even closer friends. And can even ask them what their perspective of life is. I hope you answer my question. Have a nice day.
Bill Nye: Hello, hello. Hassick? Did I pronounce it correctly? I’m doing my best. I only heard it once and the sound is not too good. Hassick, greetings. Thank you for your question. Can we communicate with animals better than we do now. Well I’ve spent a lot of time with dogs and I really have a sense of what they’re thinking. I certainly have a sense of when they’re happy and when they’re sad. I’ve spent a little bit of time with gorillas. Now I’m talking about a tiny amount of time. But you can certainly tell when a gorilla is happy, when a gorilla is angry and you can also tell when gorillas are communicating with each other. Now this is one of the things I wonder about all the time. Is there a gradient, is there an increasing stair step of intelligence, of language skill between let’s say a gibbon, a bonobo, a gorilla, a chimpanzee, a human. Is there a gradient of intelligence from cow to horse to zebra to giraffe. I don’t know but these animals certainly the mammals anyway certainly have emotions that we can detect and interact with. But I’m very skeptical so far that animals really ponder the universe and our place within it. And I’m very skeptical that bonobos or chimpanzees have developed something like the periodic table of the elements.