Talking to Whales

by | December 20, 2023, 12:15 PM | Technology

Credit: Jodi Frediani; NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Research Permit 19703

The kinds of life many of us hope to find within our solar system likely won’t be all that intellectual. Those possible microbes on Mars might be able to respond to food or pain, but that’s not speech. There just might be life as dynamic as the shrimp we see at hydrothermal vents lurking in the depths of icy ocean moons, but shrimp also aren’t known for their speeches.

And as much as we may joke about space whales – it is hard to imagine social animals evolving in the cold darkness of those moons – but let’s just imagine it is possible for a moment, Could we talk to space whales? 

It seems like a good starting point is to ask, “Can we talk to our whales?”

According to new research published in PeerJ and led by Brenda McCowan, researchers recorded conversations between humpback whales and have been able to replicate a conversation using these recordings. Specifically, they put out a standard contact call and a nearby whale called Twain responded in a standard way. They responded with a canned response, a lot like a chatbot might do when you call your credit card company, and the whale initially responded, but did lose interest — again, kind of like you might when you realize you’re talking to a bot and not a human.

While researchers – like chatbots – are responding by following a pattern rather than by knowing exactly what they are saying, this is still a start to communication and implies that maybe someday, we’ll be able to communicate at least as well as ChatGPT.

I’m still not sure if that is for good or for evil, but this is where we are I guess being a chatbot is better than nothing.