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The Internet: a venue for animal-human communication?
Nov. 11, 2013
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by Mark Ollig

An idea was presented to the public recently during a TED talks forum.

TED stands for: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is a nonprofit organization which holds frequent conferences with speakers discussing new ideas and concepts before an audience.

We know dolphins, chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, and other living creatures have incredible communication and learning abilities.

The question being discussed during the evening’s TED talk: is it possible for the Internet to become a venue for interaction with these sentient beings?

One guest speaker acknowledged coming up with smart interfaces is crucial.

It was disclosed how an interactive touch screen for dolphins is already under development.

For me, the evening’s highlight was a presentation given by Vinton Cerf, who co-designed the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) communication language which made possible today’s Internet.

I was very attentive to his comments and observations as he spoke to the audience.

“When Bob [Robert Khan] and I did this design [TCP/IP], we thought we were building a system to connect computers together. What we very quickly discovered is this was a system for connecting people together,” Cerf explained.

He then showed the audience a picture of the Internet, as designed by a computer program.

The picture resembled one of those detailed deep-space photographs the Hubble telescope might have taken of some far- away galaxy full of densely packed stars and planets.

The photograph depicts the connectivity of the Internet, and how the approximately 400,000 networks are linked together.

Cerf said the only reason all of these networks are able to work, is because they share the same standard TCP/IP protocols.

He mentioned “The Internet of Things” whereby electronic devices are becoming a common part of the Internet; or, another Internet informational resource, if you will.

For some time, we have had the technological capability to remotely retrieve information, program, interact, and monitor home electronic devices connected to the Internet.

Remote access to our home devices can come in handy.

An example would be when we are at work and are alerted to motion detection at our home by means of a security app on our smart device. In my case, it might be on my iPhone. Someone is at the front door. We would be able to see on our mobile device’s screen that it is the repair technician via the front door security camera. Using our mobile device, we could talk to them over the front door speaker, and remotely unlock the door.

Practically any electronic device or appliance can be interfaced to the Internet using an IP address and be remotely accessed from an Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Droid, iPad, Kindle, MacBook ... the list goes on.

One home automation company called Belkin makes remotely-accessible electronic home devices.

You can reach its website at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-belkin.

During the evening’s TED discussion, Cerf brought up who else should be having access to the Internet.

He talked about having an interface to the Internet for the animals and marine mammals with cognitive abilities – so they could interact with us.

“What you’ve seen tonight tells you that we should not restrict this network to one species,” Cerf paused, and then added; “these other intelligent sentient species should be part of this system, too.”

He stated we share a common sensory environment, and that we are beginning to explore with something which isn’t another person.

“Well, you see what is coming next,” Cerf added with a bit of dramatic flair.

He feels, someday, all kinds of sentient beings may interact with us through the Internet. “I can’t wait to see these experiments unfold,” Cerf said.

He went on to say there are machines that need to talk to machines, and machines we need to talk to.

As time goes on, we will have to learn how to better communicate with computers, and how we can adapt computers to communicate with us in ways we are familiar with.

Cerf implied this communication will not be by using a keyboard or a mouse. We will someday easily communicate with a computer using common speech and hand gestures – just as we would talk with any individual.

He then took it one step further by bringing up the Interplanetary Internet.

The Interplanetary Internet needs to use special networking protocols because of the distances encountered between connected electronic devices in space.

Cerf noted the Interplanetary Internet is currently operating between Earth and Mars, and on the International Space Station.

Yours truly wrote a column about the Interplanetary Internet 15 years ago. Here is a link for it: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-080398.

Cerf then surprised me by disclosing a project being funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

This always-observant columnist learned from Cerf that DARPA is funding a project designed for getting a spacecraft to the nearest star in 100 years’ time.

Cerf no doubt realizes the work being done using the Internet as a two-way communication venue between computers, humans, devices, and animal species, will prepare us for how we may someday be interacting with an alien intelligence from another world.

Vinton Cerf concluded his presentation by saying, “I can hardly wait.”

You can view TED talks covering numerous topics at: http://www.ted.com.


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