National Geographic : 2015 May
Dolphin intelligence 53 works on Glass, the heads-up display that al- lows wearers to access the Internet as they go about their day. Starner, 45, is boyish, with curly blond hair, wide eyes, and bushy sideburns. He wears Glass pretty much all the time and takes notes with a lemon-shaped keyboard that’s strapped to his left hand and fits in his palm. Starner’s lab team fabricated the CHAT box, and he’s come aboard the boat for ten days of technical testing and data collection. If the mysteries of dolphin communication are ever to be cracked, it may have less to do with the two-way CHAT boxes than with the data-analysis tools Starner and his students have begun applying to Herzing’s dolphin re- cordings. They’re designing an algorithm that systematically searches through heaps of un- categorized data to find the fundamental units hiding inside. Feed in videos of people using sign language, and the algorithm pulls the meaningful gestures out of the jumble of hand movements. Feed in audio of people reading off phone numbers, and it figures out that there are An orca, the largest dolphin, thrusts itself onto the beach at Punta Norte, Argentina, to grab a sea lion pup. This risky behavior—orcas occasionally become stranded—is passed down from mothers to calves and is found in just a few locations. 11 fundamental digits. (It’s not smart enough to realize that “zero” and “O” are the same num- ber.) The algorithm uncovers recurring motifs that might not be obvious and that a human might not know how to look for. As an early test of the algorithm, Herzing sent Starner a set of vocalizations she’d recorded un- derwater without telling him that he was listen- ing to signature whistles sent between mothers and calves. The algorithm pulled five fundamen- tal units from the data, which suggested that signature whistles were made up of individual components that were repeated and consistent between mothers and calves and that might be recombined in interesting ways. “At some point we want to have a CHAT box with all the fundamental units of dolphin sound in it,” says Starner. “The box will translate whatever the system is hearing into a string of symbols and allow Denise to send back some string of fundamental units. Can we discover Fieldwork was partially funded by Hussain Aga Khan and his organization, Focused on Nature.