Interspecies Conversations


July 17, 2020

The Interspecies workshop brought together a multidisciplinary group of researchers in the fields of animal cognition and communication, neuroscience, anthropology, AI and computer sciences, philosophers, artists and musicians. Each presented their current research and ideas about interspecies communication and approaches to deciphering the signals of non-human animals. The day included short 5-minute presentations during the morning, with ‘curated conversations’ in the afternoon, opening the debate to the broader community. The goal was to inspire and encourage new collaborative efforts and strengthen existing partnerships in these important areas of research. Invitees included previous attendees from the initial Interspecies Internet meeting held at MIT in July 2019, along with new participants.

Press Release


Lightning Talks

Hardware & Software Discussion

Internal & External Resources Discussion


Dr. Vinton G. Cerf
Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google

At Google, Vint Cerf contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Widely known as one of the "Fathers of the Internet," Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He has served in executive positions at the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University. Vint Cerf sits on US National Science Board and is a Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Cerf is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering, Fellow of the IEEE, ACM, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, British Computer Society, Worshipful Companies of Information Technologists and Stationers and is a member of the National Academies of Engineering and Science. Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees.

Jeremy Coller
CIO and Chairman, Coller Capital

A pioneer of the private equity secondaries market, Jeremy is Chief Investment Officer and Executive Chairman of Coller Capital, the firm he founded in 1990. Establishing the Coller Foundation in 2002 to enable him to pursue his philanthropic goals, Jeremy is an advocate for impact-driven philanthropy, with the Foundation achieving this through both grant-making and in-house strategic initiatives. Jeremy has been awarded numerous accolades for both his professional and philanthropic achievements. He was voted one of the most influential people in private equity by Financial News, with the publication also naming him ‘Personality of the Decade’ in Europe in 2013, in recognition of his role industrialising the secondary market. In 2011, Jeremy was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the London Business School and in 2013, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Tel Aviv University.

Laurance R. Doyle
Director, Quantum Astrophysics Group, Principal Investigator, Whale-SETI Project, Carl Sagan Center, SETI Institute

Animal Communications and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

If Antarctica can be used as a proxy for Mars, then intelligent non-human global communicators (like whales) might be a useful proxy for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We introduce this idea in this short talk.

Dr. Doyle was raised along the California coast in the small town of Cambria. He attended San Diego State University and after receiving his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in astronomy, he worked as an engineer with the Voyager spacecrafts in the Space Image Processing Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He thereafter received his PhD from the University of Heidelberg in Germany in 1987 on radiative transfer modeling of Saturn’s rings using Voyager spacecraft imaging data. Since 1987 he has been a Principal Investigator with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California where his main projects have been the photometric detection of extrasolar planets, and the application of information theory to animal communications. He has been a visiting Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz teaching classes on Life in the Universe, and Light & Optics, and has over one hundred refereed papers in the scientific literature. He was a Member of the NASA Kepler Mission Science Team with responsibility for detection of extrasolar planets around double star systems and made the first direct detection of a circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b. He has taught quantum physics, thermodynamics, introductory astronomy, history of science and Native American history at Principia College in Illinois. He is former Director of the Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics at Principia College, and is currently working with colleagues to start a new field - quantum astronomy. He is currently also Principal Investigator of the Humpback Whale/SETI Project funded by the Templeton Foundation.

Peter Gabriel
Musician and activist

Peter Gabriel is best known as a musician making albums, videos and film scores. In 1980 he brought a team together to create - the World of Music, Arts and Dance, to bring the culture of the world to the world; festivals presented in over 40 countries. In 1992, Peter co-founded, bringing video and new technology into Human Rights campaigning. In 1999, he co-founded, with Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson, bringing together a group of highly respected international elders to encourage global and ethical leadership as well as long-term thinking, peace-making and human rights. It was launched by Mandela in July 2007.

Dr. Neil Gershenfeld
Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms

Prof. Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, where his unique laboratory is breaking down boundaries between the digital and physical worlds, from pioneering quantum computing to digital fabrication to the Internet of Things. Technology from his lab has been seen and used in settings including New York's Museum of Modern Art and rural Indian villages, the White House and the World Economic Forum, inner-city community centers and automobile safety systems, Las Vegas shows and Sami herds. He is the author of numerous technical publications, patents, and books including Designing Reality, Fab, When Things Start To Think, The Nature of Mathematical Modeling, and The Physics of Information Technology, and has been featured in media such as The New York Times, The Economist, NPR, CNN, and PBS. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, has been named one of Scientific American's 50 leaders in science and technology, as one of 40 Modern-Day Leonardos by the Museum of Science and Industry, one of Popular Mechanic's 25 Makers, has been selected as a CNN/Time/Fortune Principal Voice, and by Prospect/Foreign Policy as one of the top 100 public intellectuals. He's been called the intellectual father of the maker movement, founding a growing global network of over one thousand fab labs that provide widespread access to prototype tools for personal fabrication, directing the Fab Academy for distributed research and education in the principles and practices of digital fabrication, and chairing the Fab Foundation. Dr. Gershenfeld has a BA in Physics with High Honors from Swarthmore College, a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Cornell University, honorary doctorates from Swarthmore College, Strathclyde University and the University of Antwerp, was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard University Society of Fellows, and a member of the research staff at Bell Labs.

Mark Graham
Director, the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive

Resources for an Interspecies Toolkit: fostering community with archives, open educational resources and outreach

Mark Graham is Director of the Wayback Machine at the non-profit Internet Archive where he is responsible for archiving much of the public Web. He also leads the Internet Archive’s efforts to weave books into the Web. Before that he was a SVP with NBC News Digital, where he managed several of their digital properties, including a start-up live/mobile/video service for citizen reporting. He has managed many of the worlds largest online communities in the domains of peace/environment (, gardening (GardenWeb), women (iVillage), and general conversations (The WELL). He developed AOL’s “Internet Center” which introduced the first few million people to the Internet. He co-founded Rojo Networks, an early RSS aggregation and reputation enhanced news service and lead the development of WELL Engaged, the first web-based interface for online forums. Graham’s volunteer activities include technical consulting to, an education non-profit, which has built an open education discovery and authoring platform, OER Commons and, a network of innovators committed to ending the nuclear threat.

Twitter: @markgraham
Facebook: markgraham
Linkedin: markjohngraham
Instagram: markjgraham

David Gruber
Professor of Biology, Baruch College, City University of New York

Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative)

This talk will describe Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), a newly-formed nonprofit organization and interdisciplinary research initiative. Advances in engineering, artificial intelligence, and linguistics have made it possible to understand the language of animals. Our team, comprised of scientists from MIT, Harvard, Imperial College London, University of Haifa, City University of New York, National Geographic Society, the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, Earth Species and more, have come together under the shared goal of making interspecies communication a reality.

David Gruber is Presidential Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Baruch College, City University of New York and serves on the faculty of the Ph.D. Program in Biology at the CUNY Graduate Center and the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. He is also an Explorer for National Geographic and a Research Associate in Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. His interdisciplinary research pertains to marine biology, microbiology, deep-sea ecology, polar biology, photosynthesis, biofluorescence, bioluminescence and animal communication. He completed a PhD in biological oceanography from the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Brown University Division of Biology and Medicine, working to develop fluorescent proteins into probes with neurobiological and medical applications. Prof. Gruber’s deep-diving scientific diving teams have discovered scores of unique biofluorescent compounds, some of which have been developed into tools to find better cancer drugs. A former tropical forester for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Gruber’s research utilizes Remote Operated Vehicles, extended-range SCUBA and soft robotics (in collaboration with the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory) to investigate corals, sponges and delicate forms of marine fauna. Gruber is passionate about utilizing modern technology to view the underwater world from marine creatures’ perspectives. In this vein, his group developed a “shark-eye” camera to gain a shark’s perspective of their marine environment. He is currently working on a project that applies advanced machine learning and non-invasive robotics to better understand sperm whales. Gruber was awarded the 2019 Lagrange Prize for his research “focused on the conservation of biodiversity, protection of resources and the safeguarding of ecosystems.”

Stav Hertz
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Decoding mouse vocalizations

The talk will discuss the use of computational models to improve our understanding of mouse courtship vocalizations

PhD student at the London Lab, interested in the neural mechanism underlying temporal sequence generation.

Dr. Rebecca Kleinberger
Postdoctoral Researcher - Voice, McGovern Institute / MIT Media Lab

Importance of Rapport Building and Relationship in Vocal Interactions Interspecies

How would you react if a stranger came near you and started talking to you? Even if you had an accurate interspecies translator, what makes you think that this bird/cow/fish would want to talk with you? Communication requires some level of shared experience. But conversations also rely on mutual attention and imply a certain level of relationship, respect, and trust. To achieve interspecies conversation, we need to consider the role of rapport-building and our place in animals' social spheres. Let us not assume that animals would want to engage in conversation with us on the only basis that we speak their language.

Rebecca Kleinberger is a voice expert and a postdoctoral researcher at the McGovern Institute/Media Lab at MIT. In her work, Rebecca leverages the voice's hidden potential to create new experiences that span from assistive tech to interspecies experiences design. Her research connects various fields, including psychology, clinical research, neurology, HCI, ACI, ethology, design, AI, VR, sensor tech, DSP, wearable computing, and rapid prototyping. Rebecca's research aims to increase awareness of the richness the voice beyond words, and change our perspective on this familiar tool. She has collaborated with the San Diego Zoo on designing novel interventions for Sonic and Vocal Enrichment for Animals in Managed Care. She also collaborated with Microsoft Research, Google Magenta, and Google Arts and Culture and has presented her research at a host of international conferences. Rebecca's work has been featured at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MIT Media Lab, Le Laboratoire, Harvard University, SIGGRAPH art exhibition, and media channels such as TED, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Engadget, Financial Times Magazine, MIT News, and "60 Minutes". Rebecca received a Ph.D. and Masters from the MIT Media Lab, a Master of Research in Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics from University College London, and a Masters in Engineering from École National des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

Dr. Jennifer Mather
Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, AB, Canada

Does an Octopus have a Mind?

This talk looks at what a ‘mind’ might be and argues that octopuses have one. They have many forms of learning, and although they are solitary they are very exploratory. They store information for future use and use skin patterning to communicate with potential predators and prey.

Jennifer A. Mather does field work on the behaviour of cephalopod molluscs (octopus and squid) and laboratory studies on the cognitive abilities of octopus. She also studies the attitudes of people to invertebrates (99% of the animals on the planet) to see whether their welfare can be improved. More...

Julien Meyer
Linguist/bioacoustician – Ph.D, CNRS Researcher, Gipsa-Lab, Université Grenoble Alpes, France

Human whistled and drummed forms of speech

Human languages are complex systems that can be encoded and decoded by speakers and listeners with a certain adaptability/flexibility explaining the existence of different natural speech types. Spoken speech represents the most common means of expression and the reference for studies on language. However, round the world, at least 70 different rural communities are known for their complementary whistled or drummed speech types, mostly for distance communication because whistles and drummed beats propagate well in the environment. Just like whispering or shouting, they consist in natural transformations of otherwise spoken sentences, but in a more drastic way. These extreme adaptations of speech to environmental and social constraints allow us to revisit human language with original insights, and to highlight parallels with distance animal communication.

With round the world inquiries on whistled and drummed forms of languages based on first hand fieldwork documentation and study in 15 different language communities, Julien Meyer developed a unique expertise on natural human telecommunication systems encoding human language. He develops new methodologies to run production and perception experiments both in the field and in the lab. His research also deals with the music-language edge and the relations between language and natural rural environments.

Dr. Diana Reiss
Professor at Hunter College, cognitive psychologist and marine mammal scientist

Thinking Dolphin

What have we learned and what can we learn about the nature of intelligence and the communication of the highly social and highly encephalized dolphin by giving them choice and control over interactive technologies?

Dr. Diana Reiss is a cognitive psychologist, marine mammal scientist, and professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and in the Comparative and Cognitive Psychology Doctoral program at The Graduate Center, of the City University of New York. She is the Director of the Animal Behavior and Conservation Graduate program in the Psychology Department of Hunter College. Her research focuses on dolphin cognition and communication, comparative animal cognition, and the evolution of intelligence. Dr. Reiss’s professional efforts have included the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals, including the rescue operation of Humphrey, the Humpback whale that wandered into the Bay area in1985 and captured international attention. She served for many years as a member and science advisor on the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee. She applies her research in advocating for global protection for dolphins and whales–in the past, in the dolphin-tuna net issue and currently, working to bring an end to the killing of dolphins in the notorious drive hunts in Japan. Dr. Reiss’s work has been published in in numerous international and national journals, featured in science magazines, television programs, and newspaper articles. In her book The Dolphin in the Mirror, released in 2011, she shares her personal and professional experiences with what she calls “magnificent minds in the water.”

Aza Raskin
Cofounder of Earth Species Project

Aza is the cofounder of Earth Species Project, an open-source collaborative nonprofit dedicated to decoding animal communication. He is also the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and is the co-host for the popular podcast Your Undivided Attention. Trained as a mathematician and dark matter physicist, he has taken three companies from founding to acquisition, is a co-chairing member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Counsel, helped found Mozilla Labs, in addition to being named FastCompany’s Master of Design, and listed on Forbes and Inc Magazines 30-under-30.

Robert E. Remez
Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University

Sine-wave Speech

Spoken communication uses shared resources — words and phoneme contrasts — and resources that are unique to each individual — the infinitely varied speech sounds that compose each utterance. Our studies of sine-wave speech show that perceivers accommodate the acoustic variety in spoken expression by sensitivity to patterns of modulation. This ability is arguably a general perceptual resource exploited by spoken language.

Robert E. Remez is Professor of Psychology at Barnard College, Columbia University, where he has taught since 1980. A native New Yorker, Robert was a Predoctoral Research Trainee at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, and received the doctorate in 1978 from the University of Connecticut. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971 from Brandeis University. At Barnard, he has held an Ann Whitney Olin Chair, has been Chair of the Departments of Psychology and Sociology, and is presently Chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Language & Cognition. He is co-editor (with David Pisoni) of the Handbook of Speech Perception, and was Associate Editor of the journals Perception & Psychophysics and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. In service to the research community, he was a member of the Committee of Visitors for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, and was a sitting member of the Communication Sciences Study Section of the Division of Research Grants and the Language and Communication Study Section of the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health. He has been elected a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Psychonomic Society. Research of the Speech Perception Lab has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Britt Selvitell
Cofounder (President), Earth Species

Computer scientist, animal rights activist, and philanthropist, Britt Selvitelle was part of the founding team at Twitter, growing the company from birth to thousands of employees. His work has led to major social change from drug policy reform to increased animal rights. Britt is focused on how humans can become better listeners.

Professor Y. Yovel
Head of the lab of NeuroEcology, School of Zoology and the Sagol School of Neuroscience - Tel-Aviv University

From Chaos to Information - Communication in a Crowd of Bats

Bats are extremely social mammals often roosting in colonies of thousands to millions of individuals. They can live up to dozens of years and form long-term bonds using social vocalizations to communicate with each other. In my talk, I will examine how much information their vocalizations contain and are they learned or innate?

Prof. Yossi Yovel is an associate Professor in the School of Zoology and in the School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, and the head of the lab of NeuroEcology. He received a B.Sc. degree in Biology and another one in physics both from Tel Aviv University, an M.Sc. in Neuroscience from Tel-Aviv University and a Ph.D. in Biology and Machine Learning from the University of Tuebingen, Germany. He then completed two post-docs in the Weizmann Institute and in the University of Chicago before joining Tel-Aviv University Faculty in 2011.

Prof. Yovel has authored more than 40 journal papers and presented dozens of invited talks. His high impact papers in the past five years include six papers in Current Biology, two in PLoS Biology, two in Science Advances, one in PNAS, one in Nature Ecology and Evolution, one in Nature Reviews Neuroscience and two in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Among other awards, in 2012 he received the Alon scholarship awarded by the higher Council for Academic Studies in Israel and in 2016 he received the Krill prize for young scientists awarded by the Wolf foundation. In 2012 he was selected as one of Israel’s most influential people by the ‘The Marker’ Magazine. In the past 7 years he raised more than 23M NIS from different grant agencies including the prestigious European Research Committee (ERC) starter grant.

Yovel is also engaged in various public activities including chairing the Biology committee of the Ministry of Education. This committee is in charge of developing the high school curriculum in biology in Israel.

Prof. Yovel’s research combines biology with technology. His work on bats’ use of sound (bio-sonar) to map the environment and navigate through it has driven the development of a bat-like autonomous robot that navigates using sound only, as well as several other bio-mimetic applications in precision agriculture (two of which were recently patentized). His work on bats drove the development of miniature GPS sensors that allow tracking the smallest animals ever tracked before while recording their sound emission using miniature microphones. Yovel has recently started working on use of sound by visually impaired subjects for spatial orientation. In another recent study, the lab has shown that flowers can ‘hear’ their pollinators and respond to them (by increasing nectar sugar concentration).

Professor Klaus Zuberbühler
Institute of Biology, University of Neuchatel

Primate Grammars

Field research on natural communication in primates has revealed a range of grammatical systems, but are they related to how humans represent events hierarchically in linguistic structures?

1998 PhD university of Pennsylvania, 1998-01: postdoc Max Planck Institute for evolutionary anthropology, 2001-12: professor of psychology, university of St. Andrews, 2012-present: Professor of Biology, University of Neuchatel, fellow of the royal society of Edinburgh, fellow of the wissenschaftskolleg Berlin