Interspecies Interface

WITHIN the last 50 years, humans have created interfaces to connect with one another online, mainly (but not exclusively) utilizing keyboards. But keyboards require various degrees of training before they can be used, and moreover are specific to discrete letters or symbols. Diana Reiss has trained dolphins to use an underwater keyboard, and at least some great apes- notably Kanzi, a famous bonobo in his mid-thirties- can be taught to use lexigrams (essentially, keyboards populated with symbols representing various concepts). In addition to communication by visual symbology, some apes can use piano keyboards. Peter Gabriel has had magnificent and extraordinary experiences playing music with bonobos.

But what if we could connect and interface with animals in new and profound modes without a need for humanistic peripherals (like keyboards) and possibly without a need for specific training? Could animals interface intuitively with each other and with humans in novel, scalable ways?

Could we interact through the very medium that often separates us- a glass panel? (Illustration by Sky Milner).

Through gestures or touch, humans and other animals (here, orangutans) could interact through shared visualizations and sounds. Content of the display could be highly symmetric, colorful imagery as in the graphics here (from the amazing Silk by Yuri Vishnevsky.

One can imagine many other types of content as well, including musical experiences, spatial memory games, or entirely unique concepts developed openly by members of the public, scientists, or students.

HEARING THROUGH AN ELEPHANT'S FOOT - As another proposal, I hope to create a device that would allow you to 'hear' low frequency vibrations through your feet as an elephant does. Could you eavesdrop on elephants communicating? Could you listen in on conversations to understand and empathize? Could you communicate with friends across a field? I would like to build a sensory foot that monitors ground vibration and transduces those signals into ones our bodies can sense.