Scientists Tested the First Dolphin-to-English Translator. Here’s What Happened.
Dolphins are considered the second-most intelligent beings on the planet. Their brains are incredibly complex, they posses incredible problem solving skills, and they exist in social structures very similar to our own. Many scientists believe they experience emotion and pain in a fashion very similar to humans.
For 25 years, Denise Herzing of the Wild Dolphin Project has played with and studied the same dolphin pod, trying to understand how they think and communicate. Last August, her hard work was rewarded in an unbelievable way.
“While wearing a prototype Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) device in the Caribbean, a member of the dolphin pod she had been tracking for 25 years whistled. And CHAT translated it into “sargassum,” a genus of seaweed,” explains IFLScience.com. Much like the first words relayed over a telephone wire, the simple statement represents a turning point both for marine biologists and technology.
CHAT was built for Herzing’s research by Thad Starner of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The device uses pattern-discovery algorithms to analyze dolphin whistles, extracting features that we wouldn’t know to look for even if we could hear them (dolphin vocalizations happen at frequencies up to 10 times higher than the highest pitch detectable by the human ear). IFLScience explains how it works:
The software analyzes these whistles by sifting through data and labeling features that deviate from an assumed average state. It then groups similar types of deviations — distinct sets of clicks or whistles — until all potentially interesting patterns are extracted. The secret is repetition. If dolphins are exchanging information, then their behavior wouldn’t be random – there’d be discoverable patterns. Information-processin
Image via Esparta Palma