“What could possibly go wrong?”

A phrase that truly encapsulates my anxiety as a member of the human species as we begin to use artificial intelligence to translate the language of another species on this planet, one whose habitat we use as a toilet.

Biding their time?

Swedish start-up technology company Gavagai and Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology are joining forces to develop an artificial intelligence system that would make it possible to translate dolphin sounds. Working in Southern Sweden for four years, the research teams plan to use AI to learn the meanings behind various dolphin squeaks and sounds.

According to Lars Hamburg, Gavagai’s CEO, in an interview with The Local,

The technology models meaning instead of structure… It is unsupervised, and it continuously learns meaning by itself, by observing every language’s usage — much like a human. The technology is based on many years of world-leading research.

Hamburg and his team believe that cross-species communication does not have to end with dolphins. Hamburg said during that same interview,

Members of the project group have done extensive research on cats, bird and other animals.

Dolphins are one thing, but knowing what my cat thinks of me will lead to some serious problems. I don’t need any more judgement in my life. Now the cat is giving me grief?

That being said, scientists have had long interest in interpreting the languages of animals. Last year, a study proposed that dolphins have a simple language that functions via whistles and clicks. Apparently, similar to humans, dolphins will whistle or click at another dolphin and wait for the other dolphin to “speak” before adding more to the conversation.

The Swedish team plans to use an AI system that listens to the dolphins as they communicate. The dolphins exist in the wild, away from human interference, so the sounds collected will be relatively natural. More importantly, we’ll be able to hear what they are saying about us behind our backs. Wait, does it make a difference that they are Swedish dolphins?