Peter Gabriel's 'Interspecies Internet'16:02
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Panbanisha, a female bonobo, plays a computerized keyboard in a duet with musician Peter Gabriel. (Screenshot from video)
Panbanisha, a female bonobo, plays a computerized keyboard in a duet with musician Peter Gabriel. (Screenshot from video)

The internet helps to connects people all over the world, but what if the internet could also connect dolphins, apes, elephants and other species with one another — and also with us?

That's the goal of computer scientist Neil Gershenfeld. Gershenfeld — who runs the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT — is partnering with Vince Cerf, one of the founders of the internet, cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss and musician Peter Gabriel to create an interspecies internet.

"If you think about these animals as self-aware, interspecies internet covers the same range we use the internet for."

Neil Gershenfeld

The goal is to further develop knowledge of animal cognition, provide enrichment for captive animals and facilitate communication between species.

Reiss has trained dolphins to use underwater keyboards to talk to humans. Gabriel has worked with primates to play remote duets on electronic keyboards. (See videos below)

Gabriel remembers a particular bonobo with whom he improvised.

“I found that when I just played some simple chords and just sang whatever melody came to my mind, she would sort of get into the mood, in the groove, and respond,” Gabriel said. “She’s still finding patterns within in the keyboard, which would indicate some intelligence.”

Gershenfeld says the idea that humans are the only species with consciousness is “a human vanity.” Researchers have found that animals have self-awareness and cognitive abilities.

“If you think about these animals as self-aware, interspecies internet covers the same range we use the internet for,” Gershenfeld said.

Gabriel says the work is only scratching the surface of what's possible. In the near future, Gabriel sees the architects of the interspecies internet developing “interfaces that allow other cognitive species to show exactly who they are and how smart they are.”

Gershenfeld says perhaps one day, the interspecies internet may lead to an intergalactic internet — a way for humans to communicate with aliens.


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This segment aired on July 9, 2013.

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