On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog as the saying goes. But the next time you come online, there’s a chance your chat buddy could be a chimpanzee. Musician Peter Gabriel has always been keen on sharing the internet with other species. He’s joining forces with Vint Cerf and Neil Gershenfeld to bring our primate cousins online.
If the experiment goes ahead – a spokesperson for Monkey World said the plans were still at a very early stage and wouldn’t comment further – the hope is to see if chimpanzees could learn to use videoconferencing to communicate with each other. “The idea is to extend a big video network that already exists in labs at [MIT] so that different species including our own have a chance to communicate,” said Gabriel. “I am also interested in how they would use the internet to communicate.” After that, he would be looking at how they could communicate with us.
Of particular interest is if this will encourage chimps to ask existential questions. Apes taught human sign language know words like “who”, “what”, and “where” but, from Joseph Jordania’s Who Asked The First Question?:
Nevertheless, according to the accounts of the experiment authors, apes do not ask questions. Wonderful examples of conversations with their human teachers have been recorded and published (Terrace, 1980; Gardner & Gardner 1975, 1984; Premack, 1976; Rumbaugh, 1977; Rumbaugh & Gill, 1977; Patterson & Linden, 1981). Analysis of their conversations shows that in human-primate conversations questions are asked by the humans only. The same can be said about the question words: apes understand them and give appropriate responses, but amazingly they themselves do not use question words in conversations with their human teachers.
On the bright side, the internet’s love of cats crosses species boundaries evinced by Koko the Gorilla and her pets. Monkeys also love selfies. Our times get exponentially more interesting with each passing moment.
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