Dolphin translator chirps out first word

by Rachel Baker on April 3, 2014

Ladies and Gents, this may be the first prototype of a universal translator as imagined by Star Trek.

As the story stated, the first word isn’t conclusive, but its interesting and fun to imagine none-the-less. Maybe one day, we’ll look back on this and say, its because of the dolphin project that we are now able to make first contact with alien species.

Scientists at the Wild Dolphin Project (WDP) who have been developing a dolphin translator may have succeeded in getting their software to work.

In August 2013, WDP director Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean with a pod of dolphins she has been tracking for 25 years, wearing a prototype of a dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT), developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Thad Starner, when one of the dolphin’s whistles was translated as the word “sargassum” — a type of seaweed.

Humans have for some time been communicating with dolphins on a rudimentary level. The animals are capable of responding appropriately to commands and learning to recognise symbols, but how much of that is rote learning and how much the dolphins actually comprehend is difficult to ascertain.

The whistle picked up by CHAT, translated into human speech, was not a whistle from the dolphins’ natural repertoire. Dolphins can produce sounds in frequencies inaudible to the human ear, and project sound in various directions without moving their heads, which can make it difficult to figure out which visual cues they are responding to.

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