Questions for ‘How artificial intelligence could help us talk to animals’ 

a photo of a sperm whale mother and calf swimming just below the surface of the water

Sperm whales have the largest brains of any animal on Earth. They make clicks to communicate and socialize. Using artificial intelligence, researchers are working to learn how to translate what these clicks mean.

Amanda Cotton

To accompany How artificial intelligence could help us talk to animals


Before Reading:

  1. What does it mean to “communicate”? Besides humans, what is another species that you believe can communicate? How do you think their communication works? To what extent would you call this form of communication a “language”? Explain why you would or would not consider this a language.
  2. What is your favorite animal? Imagine that you are one of these animals for a day. You are not just a human mind inhabiting this animal’s body. You perceive the world just like this animal. Consider the things that you would notice during a typical day. What might you detect (such as see, hear, taste or feel) during a typical day that a human probably would not notice?

During Reading:

  1. Why do the scientists of Project CETI listen to sperm whales? What is “CETI” short for?
  2. What does machine learning AI search for when sifting through data?
  3. Give an example of an animal that uses scent to communicate. Give an example of an animal that uses dance to communicate. 
  4. List three important features of human language.
  5. List three things for which prairie dogs have unique “words.” What are some types of information that prairie dog calls may convey about things in their environment?
  6. Why did prairie dogs in this study use the same alarm calls for yellow- and green-wearing human intruders?
  7. How does echolocation work?
  8. With what species do Denise Herzing and her team communicate using their CHAT box? How does it work?
  9. What evidence do scientists have that suggests naked mole rat colonies have their own distinct dialects?
  10.  What are two ways AI has affected the study of animal sounds?

After Reading:

  1. Consider the important features of human language you listed for Question 4 in During Reading. Which species discussed in this story do you think comes closest to meeting these criteria? Explain your answer, using evidence from the story to support your choice.
  2. In general, what does it mean to be biased? According to this story, how might human bias interfere with our attempts to understand animal languages? Now refer back to your response to Question 2 in Before Reading. If this animal had a language, how might human bias make it hard for us to understand this language? Come up with a “word” that this animal might have in its language that human languages would not.