March 1, 2013 at 12:12 PM ET
We humans are a well wired species. But people who invented the Internet think there are connections we've yet to forge--with other intelligent animals on this planet, and unknown species on others
Vint Cerf, who helped build the early Internet (and now sits at Google as their chief Internet evangelist) and three other Internet and animal communication experts recently explained how we could connect with animals and help animals talk to each other. They call it the "Interspecies Internet" or I2I project, and introduced the audience at TED 2013 to the concept in a panel at Long Beach, CA on Thursday (Feb. 28).
"Although it will clearly be used by beings of the same species for communication a special emphasis will be made on communications between species, including our own," Peter Gabriel, the project's founder writes on the project's Facebook page. "It will also allow us and our children many insights into the nature of the other species , or sentient beings, with whom we share the planet."
The idea of an Internet for animals started out when Gabriel began doing jam sessions with bonobos and was struck by how similar they were to human musicians. He tracked down researchers who have been observing and animal communication, and convinced them to get on board.
Given the project's goals, it makes sense that Neil Gershenfeld is involved. Gershenfeld has been a fixture at MIT for a decade (now director of the Center for Bits and Atoms) and has a long history of studying the way the Internet connects us, as well as the things we own.
Gershenfeld and Cerf first announced the project at the World Science Festival last year in October. "They draw they play games. They're smart, they interact, they're social," Gershenfeld said then, describing interactions that dolphins and apes have had with iPads, which researchers have been studying for some time. "There isn't a firewall between us and them."
"If we are ever going to have first contact with aliens, the first thing we need to understand is how to interact with species on our own planet," Cerf added.
Even if Cerf did seem to be half-joking, animal communications experts seem to agree that he has a point.
“You can’t get more alien than the dolphin. We’re separated by 95 million years of divergent evolution. These are true non-terrestrials,” animal communications researcher Diana Reisstold the audience at TED. Reiss did pioneering work on dolphin communication and intelligence, and her early work with dolphins and mirrors helped researchers understand how smart the ocean mammals are.
The way the researchers see it now, the network will have many similarities to the regular Internet today. "Many of the phenomena of the net, universal communication, open access to information and education, group behavior and social networks will have their parallels in the Interspecies Internet," Gabriel writes.
NBC News has reached out to I2I and we will update this story when we hear back.