The Sentient AI Whisperer: Exploring the Realm of AI in Decoding Animal Communication

21 Jun 2024

I love animals! Something tells me that the person reading this now also loves or owns a pet.

Suppose you’re a pet owner, veterinarian, or animal conservator. In that case, your worst experience might be sensing that the animal needs or is troubled by something, but you can’t spot it.

My Pomeranian dog, Frizzy (don’t ask how I came up with that, my daughter did lol), once became so reserved and turned off. Every effort to get her in her jumpy, energetic mood failed.

Pomeranians are not the breed of dogs to stay on their sleeping cot for over an hour while fully alert, especially mine. We finally had to take her to the vet and still found no issue. The only way to get her off the foul mood was to take her to a playpen, and she shook it off soon after.

However, the fact remains that we would never know what was wrong with her that day, and we would still never know when more of these moods would come. This is enough to make us wish earnestly for some sort of technology to communicate what she feels to us because, no matter how close we are to our pets, we can never know the entirety of these vulnerable creatures.

They are trained to respond to us in many situations, adapting to our vocal and physical cues. However, they can’t speak, and their body language is the only way to interpret how they feel.

Sadly, there are only too few—or perhaps too many—feelings the movement of any creature’s body can communicate compared to words. The Sentient AI Whisperer may be our likely source of hope.

For instance, Barret Williams is an AI enthusiast for animal communication. He lets us know the secrets of the beehive in his book about Communication with Nature enabled by sentient artificial intelligence.

We Might Finally Understand Animal Language!

Credit: Hepper

Over the past few years, we have witnessed people harness the potential of machine learning to dig into human languages and crack ancient codes and writings. Recently, scientists have been innovative in leveraging the magic of artificial intelligence (AI) to decipher animal languages, bringing us closer than ever to chatting with our pets.

Two key techniques form the basis for developing technologies for human-animal communication, or at least understanding animal communication. They include the use of body language and bioacoustics. Animals with specialized neural circuitry can adapt to or learn to produce and respond to new sounds as they rely on sounds to communicate; however, animals without this biological makeup rely solely on body language.

Understanding animal body language is the key to establishing a communication link with animals. Using these body languages, models are trained to predict and respond to these languages effectively. Researchers at Cambridge University are on the frontier of this stride as they are currently using the Sheep Pain Facial Expression Scale (SPFES) as a basis for training AI models to recognize facial expressions in sheep. Early test results had an 80% accuracy and are expected to increase significantly in the presence of robust datasets.

Bioacoustics, which is the study of animal sounds, employs several techniques based on sounds to understand the animal life cycle. With the current infusion of AI, bioacoustics is poised to analyze animal communication signals via AI analysis mechanisms. This field has experienced tremendous progress as it champions ecological research and conservation efforts, from tricky spots like deep in the ocean or up in the mountains.

This technology area has proven to be transformative as new species of blue whale were discovered via audio recording techniques out in the Indian Ocean between late 2020 and early 2021.

Researchers at Colorado State University discovered that elephants can create new sounds rather than barely mimicking them, indicating a sophisticated communication system. The lead researcher, Mickey Pardo, and his team studying elephants in Kenya found evidence of specific calls that act like names, suggesting complex social interactions. For instance, certain calls prompted group responses, while others addressed individual elephants.

Pardo gathered around 470 distinct calls and, together with his teammate, Kurt Fristrup, developed a machine learning model -Random Forest, to train these calls to detect subtle differences in call structure based only on its bioacoustic features. After identifying the call structure based on its acoustic features, these calls were played back to the elephants, and they reacted positively to prove the validity of the research hypotheses.

This groundbreaking study hints at an advanced level of elephants’ cognition, potentially offering insights into the evolution of human speech and emphasizing the need for elephant conservation.

In the future, we might even have an AI tool similar to—but more versatile and powerful than—ChatGPT for animals, aiding biologists in examining their moves, recognizing their signals, and improving our coexistence with them.

What does Sentient AI Whisperer mean?

Being sentient means you’re tuned in with your senses, aware and conscious.

AI whisperers are technicians who serve as translators for those who do not understand the language of artificial intelligence. Also known as prompt engineers, they are experts in understanding, chatting with, and steering sentient AI systems. Their major role involves figuring out what AI is up to, pinpointing what it is good at (including what it’s not), and nudging its growth to hit certain goals. Plus, they team up with experts in different fields to ensure AI abides by the preset ethical rule and has a smooth cohesion with human values.

A sentient AI is an artificial intelligence system that can feel and think like humans or generally like the way living things do. This system, just as humans, possesses consciousness, self-awareness, empirical knowledge, and subjective experiences.

Now, a Sentient AI whisperer is a person who bridges the communication and relationship gap between humans and sentient AI robots. He/she is adequately trained and equipped with an awesome mix of tech smarts, psychological insight, and killer communication skills, acting as the go-between for us as humans and the digital metaverse.

Are Sentient Whispers Real?

Sentient whispers are the findings that emanate from artificial intelligence. For instance, an AI tool reads the emotions of your pet cat. The reading is a sentient AI whisper that a translator uses to know what those emotions are and how to go about them.

As mentioned earlier, there have been cases of research carried out to decode communication with our furry friends. One such effort resulted in the detection of social “D-calls” (some kind of dialect) spoken by blue whales as far south as feeding grounds in the Antarctic.

D-calls are unpredictable sounds made by blue whales. They are quite different from the ‘songs’ they sing in unison, as heard on the most popular nature recording and largest single pressing in recording history, Songs of the Humpback Whale, a multi-platinum best-selling album by a professional bioacoustician.

Another case study took place in 2016, where animal conservatory scientists in Tel Aviv found out that bats don’t just squeal and utter gibberish when they are jam-packed together. They have a language with a structure best known to them, including tones/intonations for when they are angry or not, happy or not, friendly or not. The subject of this research was Egyptian bats, so less is known about whether these species have dialects in other parts of the world. That is very much possible.

In the 1970s, a gorilla named Koko was born and taught human sign language alongside her fellow gorilla, Michael. However, it was not enough to create a bridge in communication for those who were excited to meet the new hot global sensation.

Credit: ABC News

Instead of making primates such as chimpanzees and monkeys learn human languages, sentient AI experts are focused on gaining information about these apes’ communication methods to know more about their worldviews and hence make it easy for humans to understand and communicate with them via artificially intelligent outtakes. The same goes for our domesticated pets.

Ethical Implications of Sentient AI in Researching Animal Comms

While sentient artificial intelligence does play a role in bridging the communication gap between animals and us humans, it could lead to fame-hungry projects that could endanger non-human species, one after another. The exploration of the realm of AI in decoding animal communication could result in the exploitation of animals that could be our pets in the future in the name of “conserving” them.

Although we center ethics concerning artificial intelligence around humans, non-human beings are also affected by AI. It would interest you to know that hundreds of thousands of species are affected by AI systems each year. Thus, large language models (LLMs) will increase the effects if used for animal communication observations.

There have been legislations passed in various regions of the globe, such as the restriction of whaling. Lobsters and crabs are protected in some places because it is believed that, like whales, they feel emotions the way humans do.

The forceful enforcement of AI on domesticated animals is a breach of their rights. Connecting the way animals communicate to human language requires caution. Hence, the sentient AI whisperer must ensure that such communication respects the autonomy of tested animals.

The outputs of LLMs should be based on honesty. Animal ethics are therefore integrated into AI research and development to open pathways for the applications that relate to human-animal communication.

Advantages of Sentient AI in Bridging the Communication Gap Between Us and Our Pets

In addition to understanding what your pet wants to eat or not, the following are benefits that come with sentient artificial intelligence technology in decoding animal communication:

  • Identification of subtle animal communication patterns for a better understanding of the lives around our ecosystem.

  • Protection of biodiversity via the knowledge of signals unique to species of certain habitats.

  • Swift, real-time analyses of sounds voiced by animals.

  • Deployment of sensors in human-inaccessible areas.

  • Elimination of bias against certain species.

  • Management of large, complex data across various recording sensors to produce the best research results.

For the Love of Animals, These Are My Final Thoughts

Sentient AI technology is crucial in conserving endangered species and helps us safeguard their habitats. Ethically utilizing it would benefit animals, the environment, and us all.

If you can, close your eyes and picture what it would be like to smile with a smile on your pet’s face, knowing that you are mutually satisfied with each other. Imagine being able to understand the harmonies you hear dolphins sing while surfing at sea.

This is a call for action for every human, to be curious and dedicated to conserving our environment and the habitats on it. Together, we can all achieve this and many more. Joining research institutions at universities goes a long way in establishing AI-driven animal communication and conservation analyses.

You could start an initiative with your pet as the first VIP or collaborate with international conservation organizations or online forums like the Earth Species Project as a researcher, developer, or advocate whilst engaging in hackathons related to the cause.

All for the love of animals.