They still haven’t recreated the works of Shakespeare on typewriters, but a number of apes in the U.K. are about to undergo a new intelligence challenge which aims test their ability to communicate via video conferencing technology. The experiment is part of the Interspecies Internet Project, run by four pioneering individuals including former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel.
Launched in early 2013, the project aims to tap into the full potential of the Internet by using it not only to connect people with one another, but with members of other species too – although it's not clear what monkeys will take part in the study. The first stage of this endeavour will see apes at the chimpanzee rescue center Monkey World, based in Dorset in the U.K., given access to video conferencing equipment in the hope that they will use it to interact. “I am absolutely certain the monkeys will use the video cameras in Monkey World to communicate with each other,” Gabriel told the Sunday Times.
The musician’s confidence in the apes’ intelligence can be traced back to a separate experiment in which bonobos at a research center in Atlanta were given keyboards to play around with, before taking part in a jam session with Gabriel himself – with successful results. Meanwhile, a number of apes at zoos and sanctuaries around the world are learning to interact with humans via technological interfaces as part of the Apps for Apes initiative.
However, while the Monkey World experiment is expected to take place next year, there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it can be given the go-ahead, with some experts raising concerns about the idea. For instance, Dr. Bridget Waller of the Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Portsmouth told the Guardian that the virtual presence of other primates in their enclosure may provoke an aggressive reaction from some apes, since they are highly territorial animals.
The ultimate goal of the proposed experiment is not only to enable animals to communicate amongst themselves over the Internet, but to find ways for humans to interact with these other species via technological means. Vint Cerf, who helped develop the Internet’s original set of communications protocols over 30 years ago and is among the leaders of the Interspecies Internet Project, says he hopes this could one day be used as a model to help humans communicate with extra-terrestrial life forms.