The prospect of animal communication has fascinated us throughout the ages. From Dr. Doolittle to Star Trek IV with whales to SeaQuest DSV with the talking dolphin Darwin, it has always remained a great mystery if other creatures can communicate more than superficial concepts. While any sort of putative animal translation capability is far off, we can analyze their communications and interpret their structure through the guide of information theory.
My name is Reginald Smith and I have just published a scientific paper on this topic in the journal Entropy. Entitled, “Complexity in Animal Communication: Estimating the Size of N-Gram Structures,” (that is a mouth full) it analyzes the calls of bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, and several bird species to try to find the hidden structure and complexity behind what deceptively appears as a sequence of random noises.
By successfully being accepted to a peer reviewed journal on this topic, I hope to decisively push forward efforts in this area to elucidate a deeper understanding of animal communication. So the research is done, why the Kickstarter campaign? In short, I conducted this research and wrote the paper on my own budget as an amateur scientist. Don’t worry, I had guidance from several professional scientists on this paper and other aspects of computational linguistics and the research was rigorous enough to pass three rounds of three peer reviewers.
Among the conclusions:
1. Certain animal species, dolphins and humpback whales in particular, have a sizable number of 2 or 3 call-length combinations in their communications. The fact that these exist, and are much lower than random chance would suggest, indicate there is likely complex structure in their communications.
2. We can estimate the number of these combinations, for example humpback whales seem to have 18 2-call sequences from a base of 6 calls (random chance would indicate 36) while dolphins have at least 5 structures of both 2 whistles and 3 whistles, off of a base of 27 whistles. A more constrained "vocabulary" size but nonetheless radically different from what random chance predicts (27^2=729 or 27^3=19,683).
I want my paper to be open access, meaning anyone can download it without a pay wall. To do this, I need to raise an open access fee of about $1350 (1200 Swiss Francs to be exact). This sounds expensive, but is in line with other journals including the PLoS series of journals which are the standards of open access at this time. Please see the video and consider contributing! Below are links to the paper, one of the gifts (a book on creativity in scientific research I helped edit), and my personal research page with my other published papers. Thanks for any help!
Finally, please note though I discuss SETI in the video and credits, I
am not affiliated with them, directly or indirectly, in any manner.
SETI talks related to animal communication:
Animal communication and SETI
Dolphin communication in particular
Book (Scientific Work and Creativity): Amazon link
Google Books Preview Link
My Research Page
Risks and challenges
Fortunately for contributors, there are no risks subsequent to funding of this project.
1. The research is complete and the paper has been accepted by the journal Entropy
2. This publication is already available open-access so only the fee needs to be paid
If the campaign is successful, the paper fee will be paid and the paper will remain open access in perpetuity.
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