Did you know that there is a 98 percent genetic similarity between apes and humans? Watching primates use tools and care for one another, it’s hard not to feel the pull of this shared ancestry. Unfortunately, the one thing that keeps us from truly knowing what apes are thinking and feeling is the inability to communicate in a common language. But that’s about to change.
Now, researchers at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, have developed a tablet app that allows apes and humans to communicate through simple lexigrams.
Currently the bonobos at the Iowa sanctuary have a vocabulary of about 400 words. They use these words by touching symbols that represent the words’ meaning on their tablets. Because the apes have been so successful using this medium, the Sanctuary now wants to expand the app into a two-way communication technology.
The app, called Bonobo Chat, is gathering much-needed funding on Kickstarter. If successful, researchers will augment the technology so it can act as an instant human-ape translator. “People could simply speak into their device in English, at which point the app would select lexigrams corresponding to their words, and display those on the screen of the selected bonobo’s device,” Gizmag points out. “Conversely, once an ape had poked out a series of lexigrams on their screen, a corresponding spoken message would be played back by the human’s device.”
The app’s creators would also like the bonobos to be able to use the Bonobo Chat app to control their environment using simple lexigram commands - to operate vending machines, open doors, watch movies and, hopefully, to control robots. ”We believe that controlling robots might be a good way for the bonobos to interact with guests and visitors outside their caged areas,” write the researchers.
To learn more, or to support the project, check out Bonobo Chat on Kickstarter.
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