Cool Similarity Between How Humans and Animals Communicate

While we have probably encountered a parrot at least once in our lives and have recently received news of orcas imitating their human trainers’ speech, we don’t really expect most animals to talk the way humans talk to each other. But surprisingly enough — they do!

According to a comprehensive new study, many species pause in their “conversations” to facilitate taking turns. For many years, this turn-taking has long been thought to be a solely human trait, but it has since been observed everywhere — from birds to whales to elephants.

After reviewing hundreds and hundreds of studies about mammals, amphibians, and many other classifications, the research team proposed a framework to understand how different animals communicate. Their findings imply that we might soon be able to understand how we evolutionarily began to communicate as well.

“The ultimate goal of the framework is to facilitate large-scale, systematic cross-species comparisons,” says one of the team, linguist Kobin Kendrick from the University of York in the UK.

“Such a framework will allow researchers to trace the evolutionary history of this remarkable turn-taking behaviour and address longstanding questions about the origins of human language.”

While taking turns was discovered to be common among many species, the gaps in the “conversations” vary. Songbirds take less than 50 milliseconds before they answer their fellow songbird. The gap in sperm whales can reach up to two seconds in between replies. Meanwhile, pauses in human conversations tend to be around 200 milliseconds.

Other interesting findings include what’s socially acceptable among other species. For instance, birds called European starlings avoid overlaps when they communicate. In human terms, this means that they don’t talk over each other. When that happens, it results in silence or one of the birds flying away. Fascinating, huh?

Since about 50 years ago, scientists have already been studying the ways animals communicate. But what’s different now is the large comparative scale of this analysis. Previous findings have never been compared, but now even human linguists are collaborating with the effort.

“We came together because we all believe strongly that these fields can benefit from each other, and we hope that this paper drives more cross talk between human and animal turn-taking research in the future,” says [Sonja Vernes from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands].

Who knows? One day we might not only be studying how communication happens across different species, but how it could eventually happen between different species.

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Robot Assistant Helps Elderly To Stay Fit

Robots aren’t going to take over the world. Or so we think. With existing devices that swim and perform surgery, I wouldn’t be too sure. Though much of modern technology is for the millennial generation, some cater exclusively to baby boomers. ElliQ, a companion bot, is one of those devices, helping the elderly remain in tip-top shape.

“Our goal is to leverage a combination of our proprietary technology, emotive interaction models, and gerontology insights with elegant design to empower older adults to intuitively interact with technology and easily connect with content and loved ones and pursue an active lifestyle,” explained Dor Skuler, CEO and founder of Intuition Robotics.

The robot, which resembles an uncanny lamp, narrows the gap between its older users and current apps. Basically, it’s a dystopian life coach. ElliQ caters to a client’s specific needs. It offers communication, fitness, and health services without being… too weird.

“ElliQ could never replace human interaction, but it can be an important motivating factor in keeping older adults healthy and active when living alone.”

Sure, co-habituating with a talking appliance may sound unorthodox, but maybe isn’t in this day and age.

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How Will Artificial Intelligences Shape The Future?

Day by day, doing work is made easier by various technologies such as household machines, virtual assistants, and the Internet. With people relying heavier on technology each year, we must ask ourselves how artificial intelligences will shape the future. Michael Hanuschick, Janet Baker, and James Kuffner provide their input.

Baker is skeptical about the developing AI, but concludes that proper use of technology is all about awareness:

“Powerful technologies will be used and abused… We must be aware and take active roles in advancing our capabilities and protecting ourselves from harm––including the harm from escalating prejudices we foster by isolating ourselves from differing ideas (e.g., with polarized news feeds) and productive discourse about them.”

Kuffner believes that AI exists for the better:

“AI will enhance and augment the human experience. Historically, humans have formed strong bonds — even relationships — with their automobiles (machines).”

Hanuschick thinks AIs can effectively handle small tasks, while the bigger ones must be dealt with by us:

“Jobs based on fairly simple and repetitive tasks will probably continue to disappear, but anything more complex is likely to be around for quite some time. I haven’t seen evidence that a true AI, with the ability to understand and reason, will be seen in our lifetimes.”

Many fear that AIs will eventually replace the human workforce, but others are optimistic that they will complement our vision for the future. And while AI’s customizable looks may be the least of our worries, who wouldn’t want a robot version of Brad Pitt?

Do you think AIs will benefit our community?

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