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TED2013

The interspecies internet? An idea in progress

February 28, 2013

Apes, dolphins and elephants are animals with remarkable communication skills. Could the internet be expanded to include sentient species like them? A new and developing idea from a panel of four great thinkers -- dolphin researcher Diana Reiss, musician Peter Gabriel, internet of things visionary Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet.

Vint Cerf - Computer scientist
Vint Cerf, now the chief Internet evangelist at Google, helped lay the foundations for the internet as we know it more than 30 years ago. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Diana Reiss: You may think you're looking
00:12
through a window at a dolphin spinning playfully,
00:14
but what you're actually looking through
00:18
is a two-way mirror at a dolphin
00:20
looking at itself spinning playfully.
00:23
This is a dolphin that is self-aware.
00:26
This dolphin has self-awareness.
00:28
It's a young dolphin named Bayley.
00:30
I've been very interested in understanding the nature
00:32
of the intelligence of dolphins for the past 30 years.
00:35
How do we explore intelligence in this animal
00:38
that's so different from us?
00:42
And what I've used is a very simple research tool,
00:43
a mirror, and we've gained great information,
00:46
reflections of these animal minds.
00:49
Dolphins aren't the only animals, the only non-human animals,
00:52
to show mirror self-recognition.
00:56
We used to think this was a uniquely human ability,
00:58
but we learned that the great apes, our closest relatives,
01:01
also show this ability.
01:04
Then we showed it in dolphins,
01:06
and then later in elephants.
01:08
We did this work in my lab with the dolphins and elephants,
01:10
and it's been recently shown in the magpie.
01:12
Now, it's interesting, because we've embraced
01:15
this Darwinian view of a continuity in physical evolution,
01:17
this physical continuity.
01:21
But we've been much more reticent, much slower
01:23
at recognizing this continuity in cognition,
01:26
in emotion, in consciousness in other animals.
01:30
Other animals are conscious.
01:33
They're emotional. They're aware.
01:36
There have been multitudes of studies with many species
01:39
over the years that have given us exquisite evidence
01:42
for thinking and consciousness in other animals,
01:46
other animals that are quite different than we are in form.
01:48
We are not alone.
01:52
We are not alone in these abilities.
01:55
And I hope, and one of my biggest dreams,
01:59
is that, with our growing awareness
02:02
about the consciousness of others
02:05
and our relationship with the rest of the animal world,
02:07
that we'll give them the respect and protection
02:09
that they deserve.
02:12
So that's a wish I'm throwing out here for everybody,
02:13
and I hope I can really engage you in this idea.
02:15
Now, I want to return to dolphins,
02:19
because these are the animals that I feel like
02:21
I've been working up closely and personal with
02:23
for over 30 years.
02:26
And these are real personalities.
02:27
They are not persons, but they're personalities
02:29
in every sense of the word.
02:32
And you can't get more alien than the dolphin.
02:33
They are very different from us in body form.
02:37
They're radically different. They come from a radically different environment.
02:39
In fact, we're separated by 95 million years
02:42
of divergent evolution.
02:46
Look at this body.
02:49
And in every sense of making a pun here,
02:50
these are true non-terrestrials.
02:54
I wondered how we might interface with these animals.
02:59
In the 1980s, I developed an underwater keyboard.
03:02
This was a custom-made touch-screen keyboard.
03:05
What I wanted to do was give the dolphins choice and control.
03:08
These are big brains, highly social animals,
03:10
and I thought, well, if we give them choice and control,
03:13
if they can hit a symbol on this keyboard --
03:16
and by the way, it was interfaced by fiber optic cables
03:18
from Hewlett-Packard with an Apple II computer.
03:21
This seems prehistoric now,
03:24
but this was where we were with technology.
03:25
So the dolphins could hit a key, a symbol,
03:28
they heard a computer-generated whistle,
03:30
and they got an object or activity.
03:33
Now here's a little video.
03:34
This is Delphi and Pan, and you're going to see Delphi
03:36
hitting a key, he hears a computer-generated whistle -- (Whistle) --
03:39
and gets a ball, so they can actually ask for things they want.
03:43
What was remarkable is, they explored this keyboard
03:47
on their own. There was no intervention on our part.
03:51
They explored the keyboard. They played around with it.
03:54
They figured out how it worked.
03:56
And they started to quickly imitate the sounds
03:58
they were hearing on the keyboard.
04:00
They imitated on their own.
04:03
Beyond that, though, they started learning
04:05
associations between the symbols, the sounds
04:07
and the objects.
04:10
What we saw was self-organized learning,
04:12
and now I'm imagining, what can we do
04:16
with new technologies?
04:19
How can we create interfaces, new windows into
04:21
the minds of animals, with the technologies that exist today?
04:24
So I was thinking about this, and then, one day,
04:29
I got a call from Peter.
04:32
Peter Gabriel: I make noises for a living.
04:38
On a good day, it's music,
04:40
and I want to talk a little bit about
04:42
the most amazing music-making experience I ever had.
04:44
I'm a farm boy. I grew up surrounded by animals,
04:48
and I would look in these eyes and wonder
04:51
what was going on there?
04:53
So as an adult, when I started to read about
04:55
the amazing breakthroughs with Penny Patterson and Koko,
04:57
with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi, Panbanisha,
05:00
Irene Pepperberg, Alex the parrot,
05:03
I got all excited.
05:06
What was amazing to me also
05:08
was they seemed a lot more adept
05:10
at getting a handle on our language
05:14
than we were on getting a handle on theirs.
05:17
I work with a lot of musicians from around the world,
05:21
and often we don't have any common language at all,
05:25
but we sit down behind our instruments,
05:28
and suddenly there's a way for us to connect and emote.
05:31
So I started cold-calling, and eventually got through
05:35
to Sue Savage-Rumbaugh,
05:37
and she invited me down.
05:40
I went down, and the bonobos
05:42
had had access to percussion instruments,
05:46
musical toys, but never before to a keyboard.
05:49
At first they did what infants do,
05:52
just bashed it with their fists,
05:54
and then I asked, through Sue,
05:56
if Panbanisha could try with one finger only.
05:58
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh: Can you play a grooming song?
06:02
I want to hear a grooming song.
06:08
Play a real quiet grooming song.
06:10
PG: So groom was the subject of the piece.
06:16
(Music)
06:20
So I'm just behind, jamming,
06:37
yeah, this is what we started with.
06:41
Sue's encouraging her to continue a little more.
06:46
(Music)
06:49
She discovers a note she likes,
07:38
finds the octave.
07:43
She'd never sat at a keyboard before.
07:47
Nice triplets.
07:57
SSR: You did good. That was very good.
08:12
PG: She hit good.
08:15
(Applause)
08:17
So that night, we began to dream,
08:22
and we thought, perhaps the most amazing tool
08:27
that man's created is the Internet,
08:29
and what would happen if we could somehow
08:31
find new interfaces,
08:35
visual-audio interfaces that would allow
08:37
these remarkable sentient beings
08:41
that we share the planet with access?
08:43
And Sue Savage-Rumbaugh got excited about that,
08:46
called her friend Steve Woodruff,
08:50
and we began hustling all sorts of people
08:52
whose work related or was inspiring,
08:55
which led us to Diana,
08:58
and led us to Neil.
09:00
Neil Gershenfeld: Thanks, Peter.
PG: Thank you.
09:03
(Applause)
09:05
NG: So Peter approached me.
09:09
I lost it when I saw that clip.
09:11
He approached me with a vision of doing these things
09:13
not for people, for animals.
09:16
And then I was struck in the history of the Internet.
09:18
This is what the Internet looked like when it was born
09:21
and you can call that the Internet
09:25
of middle-aged white men,
09:27
mostly middle-aged white men.
09:29
Vint Cerf: (Laughs)
09:30
(Laughter)
09:32
NG: Speaking as one.
09:35
Then, when I first came to TED,
09:37
which was where I met Peter, I showed this.
09:40
This is a $1 web server,
09:42
and at the time that was radical.
09:44
And the possibility of making a web server for a dollar
09:47
grew into what became known as the Internet of Things,
09:50
which is literally an industry now with tremendous implications
09:54
for health care, energy efficiency.
09:57
And we were happy with ourselves.
10:00
And then when Peter showed me that,
10:01
I realized we had missed something,
10:02
which is the rest of the planet.
10:04
So we started up this interspecies Internet project.
10:06
Now we started talking with TED
10:09
about how you bring dolphins and great apes and elephants
10:11
to TED, and we realized that wouldn't work.
10:13
So we're going to bring you to them.
10:16
So if we could switch to the audio from this computer,
10:18
we've been video conferencing with cognitive animals,
10:20
and we're going to have each of them
10:24
just briefly introduce them.
10:25
And so if we could also have this up, great.
10:27
So the first site we're going to meet
10:29
is Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, with orangutans.
10:31
In the daytime they live outside. It's nighttime there now.
10:34
So can you please go ahead?
10:36
Terri Cox: Hi, I'm Terri Cox
10:40
with the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas,
10:42
and with me I have KeraJaan and Mei,
10:45
two of our Bornean orangutans.
10:49
During the day, they have a beautiful, large outdoor habitat,
10:51
and at night, they come into this habitat,
10:56
into their night quarters,
10:58
where they can have a climate-controlled
11:00
and secure environment to sleep in.
11:02
We participate in the Apps for Apes program
11:04
Orangutan Outreach, and we use iPads
11:08
to help stimulate and enrich the animals,
11:12
and also help raise awareness
11:14
for these critically endangered animals.
11:16
And they share 97 percent of our DNA
11:18
and are incredibly intelligent,
11:22
so it's so exciting to think of all the opportunities
11:24
that we have via technology and the Internet
11:28
to really enrich their lives and open up their world.
11:31
We're really excited about the possibility
11:35
of an interspecies Internet,
11:37
and K.J. has been enjoying the conference very much.
11:38
NG: That's great. When we were rehearsing last night,
11:43
he had fun watching the elephants.
11:45
Next user group are the dolphins at the National Aquarium.
11:47
Please go ahead.
11:50
Allison Ginsburg: Good evening.
11:53
Well, my name is Allison Ginsburg,
11:54
and we're live in Baltimore at the National Aquarium.
11:55
Joining me are three of our eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins:
11:58
20-year-old Chesapeake, who was our first dolphin born here,
12:02
her four-year-old daughter Bayley,
12:05
and her half sister, 11-year-old Maya.
12:08
Now, here at the National Aquarium
12:11
we are committed to excellence in animal care,
12:13
to research, and to conservation.
12:16
The dolphins are pretty intrigued as to what's going on here tonight.
12:19
They're not really used to having cameras here
12:22
at 8 o'clock at night.
12:24
In addition, we are very committed to doing
12:26
different types of research.
12:28
As Diana mentioned, our animals are involved
12:30
in many different research studies.
12:32
NG: Those are for you.
12:46
Okay, that's great, thank you.
12:50
And the third user group, in Thailand,
12:51
is Think Elephants. Go ahead, Josh.
12:55
Josh Plotnik: Hi, my name is Josh Plotnik,
12:59
and I'm with Think Elephants International,
13:01
and we're here in the Golden Triangle of Thailand
13:04
with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation elephants.
13:06
And we have 26 elephants here,
13:09
and our research is focused on the evolution of intelligence with elephants,
13:11
but our foundation Think Elephants is focused
13:16
on bringing elephants into classrooms around the world
13:18
virtually like this and showing people
13:21
how incredible these animals are.
13:23
So we're able to bring the camera right up to the elephant,
13:25
put food into the elephant's mouth,
13:27
show people what's going on inside their mouths,
13:30
and show everyone around the world
13:32
how incredible these animals really are.
13:34
NG: Okay, that's great. Thanks Josh.
13:37
And once again, we've been building great relationships
13:40
among them just since we've been rehearsing.
13:42
So at that point, if we can go back to the other computer,
13:44
we were starting to think about how you integrate
13:47
the rest of the biomass of the planet into the Internet,
13:49
and we went to the best possible person
13:52
I can think of, which is Vint Cerf,
13:55
who is one of the founders who gave us the Internet. Vint?
13:57
VC: Thank you, Neil.
14:00
(Applause)
14:03
A long time ago in a galaxy — oops, wrong script.
14:06
Forty years ago, Bob Kahn and I
14:11
did the design of the Internet.
14:14
Thirty years ago, we turned it on.
14:15
Just last year, we turned on the production Internet.
14:18
You've been using the experimental version
14:21
for the last 30 years.
14:23
The production version, it uses IP version 6.
14:25
It has 3.4 times 10 to the 38th possible terminations.
14:28
That's a number only that Congress can appreciate.
14:33
But it leads to what is coming next.
14:36
When Bob and I did this design,
14:41
we thought we were building a system to connect computers together.
14:43
What we very quickly discovered
14:47
is that this was a system for connecting people together.
14:49
And what you've seen tonight
14:52
tells you that we should not restrict this network
14:54
to one species,
14:58
that these other intelligent, sentient species
15:00
should be part of the system too.
15:04
This is the system as it looks today, by the way.
15:07
This is what the Internet looks like to a computer
15:09
that's trying to figure out where the traffic
15:12
is supposed to go.
15:14
This is generated by a program
15:16
that's looking at the connectivity of the Internet,
15:19
and how all the various networks are connected together.
15:21
There are about 400,000 networks, interconnected,
15:24
run independently by 400,000 different operating agencies,
15:28
and the only reason this works
15:33
is that they all use the same standard TCP/IP protocols.
15:34
Well, you know where this is headed.
15:38
The Internet of Things tell us
15:40
that a lot of computer-enabled appliances and devices
15:43
are going to become part of this system too:
15:47
appliances that you use around the house,
15:50
that you use in your office,
15:52
that you carry around with yourself or in the car.
15:54
That's the Internet of Things that's coming.
15:56
Now, what's important about what these people are doing
15:59
is that they're beginning to learn
16:01
how to communicate with species
16:04
that are not us
16:07
but share a common sensory environment.
16:08
We're beginning to explore what it means
16:12
to communicate with something
16:14
that isn't just another person.
16:15
Well, you can see what's coming next.
16:18
All kinds of possible sentient beings
16:20
may be interconnected through this system,
16:23
and I can't wait to see these experiments unfold.
16:25
What happens after that?
16:28
Well, let's see.
16:31
There are machines that need to talk to machines
16:33
and that we need to talk to, and so as time goes on,
16:36
we're going to have to learn
16:40
how to communicate with computers
16:41
and how to get computers to communicate with us
16:43
in the way that we're accustomed to,
16:46
not with keyboards, not with mice,
16:48
but with speech and gestures
16:50
and all the natural human language that we're accustomed to.
16:53
So we'll need something like C3PO
16:55
to become a translator between ourselves
16:58
and some of the other machines we live with.
17:01
Now, there is a project that's underway
17:03
called the interplanetary Internet.
17:06
It's in operation between Earth and Mars.
17:07
It's operating on the International Space Station.
17:10
It's part of the spacecraft that's in orbit around the Sun
17:13
that's rendezvoused with two planets.
17:17
So the interplanetary system is on its way,
17:19
but there's a last project,
17:21
which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,
17:23
which funded the original ARPANET,
17:25
funded the Internet, funded the interplanetary architecture,
17:27
is now funding a project to design a spacecraft
17:31
to get to the nearest star in 100 years' time.
17:34
What that means is that what we're learning
17:38
with these interactions with other species
17:41
will teach us, ultimately,
17:43
how we might interact with an alien from another world.
17:45
I can hardly wait.
17:49
(Applause)
17:52
June Cohen: So first of all, thank you,
17:59
and I would like to acknowledge that four people
18:00
who could talk to us for full four days
18:03
actually managed to stay to four minutes each,
18:05
and we thank you for that.
18:07
I have so many questions,
18:08
but maybe a few practical things that the audience might want to know.
18:09
You're launching this idea here at TED —
PG: Today.
18:12
JC: Today. This is the first time you're talking about it.
18:15
Tell me a little bit about where you're going to take the idea.
18:17
What's next?
18:19
PG: I think we want to engage as many people
18:21
here as possible in helping us
18:24
think of smart interfaces that will make all this possible.
18:26
NG: And just mechanically,
18:30
there's a 501(c)(3) and web infrastructure
18:32
and all of that, but it's not quite ready to turn on,
18:34
so we'll roll that out, and contact us
18:36
if you want the information on it.
18:38
The idea is this will be -- much like the Internet functions
18:40
as a network of networks,
18:43
which is Vint's core contribution,
18:44
this will be a wrapper around all of these initiatives,
18:45
that are wonderful individually, to link them globally.
18:48
JC: Right, and do you have a web address
18:51
that we might look for yet?
18:52
NG: Shortly.
JC: Shortly. We will come back to you on that.
18:53
And very quickly, just to clarify.
18:56
Some people might have looked at the video that you showed
18:59
and thought, well, that's just a webcam.
19:02
What's special about it?
19:03
If you could talk for just a moment
19:04
about how you want to go past that?
19:06
NG: So this is scalable video infrastructure,
19:08
not for a few to a few but many to many,
19:11
so that it scales to symmetrical video sharing
19:14
and content sharing across these sites around the planet.
19:17
So there's a lot of back-end signal processing,
19:20
not for one to many, but for many to many.
19:22
JC: Right, and then on a practical level,
19:25
which technologies are you looking at first?
19:27
I know you mentioned that a keyboard is a really key part of this.
19:28
DR: We're trying to develop an interactive touch screen for dolphins.
19:32
This is sort of a continuation of some of the earlier work,
19:35
and we just got our first seed money today towards that,
19:37
so it's our first project.
19:40
JC: Before the talk, even.
DR: Yeah.
19:42
JC: Wow. Well done.
19:43
All right, well thank you all so much for joining us.
19:45
It's such a delight to have you on the stage.
19:47
DR: Thank you.
VC: Thank you.
19:49
(Applause)
19:51

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Diana Reiss - Cognitive psychologist
Diana Reiss studies animal cognition, and has found that bottlenose dolphins (and Asian elephants) can recognize themselves in the mirror.

Why you should listen

Diana Reiss’s research focuses on the cognition and communication of marine animals, with an emphasis on comparative animal cognition. Essentially, she studies the evolution of intelligence. Reiss pioneered the use of underwater keyboards with dolphins to investigate their communicative abilities and provide them with more degrees of choice and control. Reiss and her colleagues demonstrated that bottlenose dolphins and an Asian elephants possess the rare ability for mirror self-recognition previously thought to be restricted to humans and great apes. She wrote about this work in her recent book, The Dolphin in the Mirror.

Reiss' efforts also involve the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals, including the successful rescue of Humphrey, the humpback whale, from San Francisco Bay waters. Her advocacy work in conservation and animal welfare includes the protection of dolphins in the tuna-fishing industry and efforts to bring an end to the killing of dolphins in the drive hunts in Japan. 

Reiss is a cognitive psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience subprogram at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She directs a dolphin cognitive research program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and is a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in DC, where she investigates elephant cognition.

Peter Gabriel - Musician, activist
Peter Gabriel writes incredible songs but, as the co-founder of WITNESS and TheElders.org, is also a powerful human rights advocate.

Why you should listen

Peter Gabriel was a founding member of the extraordinarily successful progressive rock band Genesis. He left the band in 1975 to go solo and, in 1980, set up the international arts festival WOMAD (which stands for World of Music, Arts and Dance) and the record label Real World, both to champion music and artistic innovation from all over the world. Gabriel's stop motion video for "Sledgehammer" has been named the most-played music video in the history of MTV.  

Gabriel is also very interested in human rights. In 1992, he co-founded WITNESS.org, an organization that helps human rights activists and citizen witnesses worldwide make change happen through the use of video. The organization not only distributes digital cameras to empower people to document human-rights abuses, but provides a platform for the spread of video that reveals what is really going on in places all over the globe.

In 2007, Gabriel also co-founded theElders.org with Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights.

Neil Gershenfeld - Physicist, personal fab pioneer
As Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, Neil Gershenfeld explores the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds.

Why you should listen

MIT's Neil Gershenfeld is redefining the boundaries between the digital and analog worlds. The digital revolution is over, Gershenfeld says. We won. What comes next? His Center for Bits and Atoms has developed quite a few answers, including Internet 0, a tiny web server that fits into lightbulbs and doorknobs, networking the physical world in previously unimaginable ways.

But Gershenfeld is best known as a pioneer in personal fabrication -- small-scale manufacturing enabled by digital technologies, which gives people the tools to build literally anything they can imagine. His famous Fab Lab is immensely popular among students at MIT, who crowd Gershenfeld's classes. But the concept is potentially life-altering in the developing world, where a Fab Lab with just $20,000 worth of laser cutters, milling machines and soldering irons can transform a community, helping people harness their creativity to build tools, replacement parts and essential products unavailable in the local market. Read more in Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop.

Vint Cerf - Computer scientist
Vint Cerf, now the chief Internet evangelist at Google, helped lay the foundations for the internet as we know it more than 30 years ago.

Why you should listen

TCP/IP. You may not know what it stands for, but you probably use it every day -- it's the set of communications protocols that allows data to flow from computer to computer across the internet. More than 30 years ago, while working at DARPA, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn developed TCP/IP, and in so doing, they gave rise to the modern Internet. In 2004, Cerf was the recipient of the ACM Alan M. Turing award (sometimes called the “Nobel Prize of Computer Science”), and in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Cerf is a vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, and chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization he helped form; he was also recently elected president of the ACM Council. He served as founding president of the Internet Society from 1992 to 1995. He's an advocate for a truly free internet, speaking out in the face of increasing government demands to limit free speech and connection.

The original video is available on TED.com
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