Opinion – Marcelo Leite: Learn how artificial intelligence can learn to talk to animals


Marmosets are strange animals. There are incredible stories of monkeys stealing objects and food from apartments in Santa Teresa, in Rio, or the glasses of tourists caged in cars at the old Simba Safari in São Paulo. Just need to use ChatGPT.

One of them, in Caruaru (PE), took revenge by urinating on the journalist who didn’t give him food. The same victim has already found himself cornered by a bunch of mini-pivetes, with his wife, in a chalet at a beach hotel near Ilhéus (BA).

The guest couple’s mistake was placing bananas on the cabin’s deck, which attracted a dozen little monkeys. The first to arrive emitted squeals that were barely audible, but were recorded in the video recorded with a digital camera.

The next mistake was watching the footage on the camera’s liquid crystal screen. What was barely audible, live, when played back through the device’s tiny speakers completely escaped human ears — but not the tiny eardrums of mini primate cousins.

The deck began to fill up again with marmosets in search of bananas, which were no longer there. I could see that they were irritated and seemed determined to invade the room in search of fruit.

The glass doors were quickly closed. Several of them approached, peering in with their small hands resting on the windowpane. It took a few minutes for them to convince themselves that they had fallen for a decoy (involuntary, really).

The couple emerged from the experience convinced that the barely audible squeaks were actually a very precise call: “Come, come, there are bananas left over here.” And, even more, that it was possible for human beings to communicate with the tamarins through a device, even without knowing what they were saying.

The simian siege of the chalet came back to mind when Karen Bakker, from the University of British Columbia, read an interview for Scientific American magazine. Author of the book “The Sounds of Life”, she defends the thought-provoking idea that technology will help to understand what animals say to each other, who knows, maybe even talking to them.

It would be a deserved shake-up of anthropocentrism, starting with the dogma that symbolic language is a privilege of the human species. Gone are the days when studies of this subject with animals were limited to trying to make them communicate like we do, as when teaching sign language to Koko the gorilla.

Now it’s about investigating how other species understand each other on their own terms, explains Bakker. First of all, making use of digital bioacoustics (BD): miniaturized microphones and recorders that can record sounds emitted by animals, over many hours, in the very environment in which they live.

The record originates an avalanche of data, which is then analyzed using artificial intelligence (AI). In short, algorithms to look for linguistic patterns in gibberish, tools like those created for natural language processing that allowed advances like Google translator and ChatGPT.

With these resources, says Bakker in the interview, it has already been possible to verify that bats, for example, use something close to proper names to communicate, although we cannot hear or understand what they say. But the BD-IA duo can.

Will the day of interspecies communication come, when we will talk to animals and they will understand us? The day when we stop smiling and shaking our heads in disdain when an indigenous man from the forest says that animals and plants are social beings like us—”humans” in his way?

He had taken. Then the terrified journalist with the marmosets, instead of mechanically repeating “there are bananas left over here”, could use his limited natural intelligence to ask ChatGPT.2.0: How do you say in their language “keep to yourself, you brats”?

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