Communicating with Animals through Digital Bioacoustics and AI

September 16, 2023
September 16, 2023 Hal Jordan

Communicating with Animals through Digital Bioacoustics and AI

In the ever-expanding realm of artificial intelligence, its applications seem boundless, reaching into realms we might not have fathomed. While most of us are familiar with AI like ChatGPT, have you ever considered its potential to bridge the gap between humans and the animal kingdom? Enter the exciting field of digital bioacoustics, where machine learning is being employed to decipher the intricate languages of various creatures, from honeybee toots to bird chirps. 

Have you ever pondered the meanings concealed within the melodious songs of songbirds or wondered about the early morning yowls of your feline companion? Recent technological advancements are providing researchers with the tools to unravel the mysteries of animal communication and, remarkably, even communicate back with non-human species. With the aid of advanced sensors and artificial intelligence, we stand on the precipice of forging connections across species boundaries.

Today, we delve into the fascinating world of scientists communicating with animals such as bats and honeybees, and how these dialogues are reshaping our perception of the animal kingdom.

Karen Bakker authored the groundbreaking book titled “The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology is Bridging the Gap Between Humans and the Natural World.” Karen, a distinguished professor at the University of British Columbia and a fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, explores the innovative ways researchers are harnessing technology to comprehend animal communication, particularly within the burgeoning field of digital bioacoustics.

While attempts to communicate with animals date back to the 1970s and 1980s, where scientists sought to teach animals human language, contemporary researchers have veered away from this anthropocentric approach. Instead, they are driven to understand animal communication on its own terms. Rather than endeavoring to teach birds to converse in English, scientists are embarking on the mission to decipher the rich tapestry of avian languages known as “birdish” or “birdese.” In this exciting new realm of digital bioacoustics, researchers employ portable field recorders, akin to miniature microphones, that can be discreetly positioned almost anywhere—be it on trees, mountaintops, or even the backs of whales and birds. These recorders tirelessly capture sounds round the clock, generating copious volumes of data—a realm where artificial intelligence becomes indispensable. Researchers harness natural language processing algorithms akin to those used by Google Translate to discern patterns in these recordings, thereby commencing the intricate process of decoding what animals might be conveying to one another.

One fascinating illustration of the revelations attained through the integration of science and technology centers around Egyptian fruit bats. Enter Yossi Yovel, a diligent researcher who embarked on a journey of nearly two and a half months to record both audio and video of nearly two dozen bats. In a remarkable feat, his team adapted a voice recognition program to meticulously scrutinize a staggering 15,000 bat sounds. Subsequently, their algorithm adeptly correlated specific sounds with corresponding social interactions witnessed in the recorded videos, such as disputes over food or the subtle contest for sleeping positions. Consequently, this groundbreaking research, complemented by related studies, unveiled the depth of complexity within bat communication.

Intriguingly, it was discovered that bats possess what are referred to as “signature calls,” akin to individual names. Furthermore, they exhibit the ability to discern between sexes when engaging in communication, akin to dialects that set them apart. They engage in spirited disputes over sustenance and coveted sleeping spots. Astonishingly, they even practice a form of social distancing when illness strikes their ranks. In some aspects, bats prove to be more adept at these nuanced social interactions than humans. An enchanting discovery pertains to bat mothers who employ their unique version of “motherese” when communicating with their offspring. While humans elevate their pitch and exclaim, “Oh, what a cute little sweet potato,” bats, conversely, lower their pitch to achieve a similar effect. This special tone stimulates bat offspring to engage in their own vocalizations, potentially aiding them in the acquisition of specific words or referential sounds, much like how “motherese” assists human babies in language development.

This remarkable scientific work is stirring profound philosophical and ethical debates. For the longest time, philosophers held that ascertaining whether animals possess language, let alone deciphering or speaking it, was an unattainable feat. Yet, the advent of these pioneering technologies has irrevocably transformed the landscape. We, as humans, may be unable to communicate directly with bats, but our computers can bridge that divide. The rapid, high-pitched communication of bats remains elusive to our auditory senses, and we lack the capability to engage in such exchanges ourselves. However, electronic sensors and speakers fill this gap, allowing us to utilize artificial intelligence to discern intricate patterns in animal communication, an accomplishment hitherto unattainable. While the debate rages on concerning whether we can genuinely label it as “animal language,” it is indisputable that animals possess far more intricate modes of communication than previously conceived.

Shifting focus to the realm of bee research, Tim Landgraf and his dedicated team adopted a combination of natural language processing, akin to the bat study, and computer vision, which scrutinizes imagery, to dissect both the sounds and movements of bee conversations. Their groundbreaking work has enabled the tracking of individual bees and even predicting the implications of one bee’s communication on others. They have bestowed peculiar names upon various bee signals, including “toots” and “quacks,” a “whooping” sound to denote danger, “piping” signals associated with swarming, and a “hush” or “stop” signal to enforce silence within the hive. Landgraf’s audacious next step involved encoding these findings into a robotic bee, aptly christened “Robobee.” Following seven or eight prototypes, they achieved a robobee capable of infiltrating a hive and issuing commands, such as the “stop” signal, which the bees obediently followed.

Karen Bakker aptly likens the emergence of digital bioacoustics to the advent of the microscope. Just as the microscope unveiled an entirely new world, laying the foundation for countless scientific breakthroughs through visual exploration, digital bioacoustics is poised to do the same for our understanding of animal communication through sound. Bakker astutely characterizes it as a “planetary scale hearing aid,” bestowing us with prosthetically enhanced ears and an augmented imagination. It will undoubtedly be enthralling to witness the trajectory of research in this field and how it reshapes our conception of the perceived chasm between humans and the broader spectrum of non-human life forms.


Scientists Are Beginning to Learn the Language of Bats and Bees Using AI – Scientific American


Your Delta Communicator – Fall 2023 – Star Trek Day Edition
Reminders – UF Starfleet Membership
Survey Responses Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |


16 September
1925Morgan Woodward is born.
1949Ed Begley, Jr. is born.
1960Jayne Brook is born.
2002James Gregory dies.

17 September
1965Bryan Singer is born.
1968 – Seventh and final day of filming on TOS: “Plato’s Stepchildren“. Kirk and Uhura‘s famous interracial kiss is filmed today.
1976NASA names the first space shuttle orbiter Enterprise.
1996Ella Purnell is born.
1999 – The Star Trek US postage stamp is released.

18 September
1914Harry Townes is born.
1952Jeffrey Chernov is born.
1963Christopher Heyerdahl is born.
1964Adam Buckner is born.
1983Christina Chong is born.
1984Babs Olusanmokun is born.
1987 – Promotional spots for TNG begin airing on affiliate stations in the US, proclaiming “In 10 days, the 24th century begins.”

19 September
1930Kathie Browne is born.
1934Lloyd Haynes is born.
1940Paul Williams is born.
1959Carolyn McCormick is born.
2019John Winston dies.

21 September
1935Henry Gibson is born.
2010John Crawford dies.
2019Jack Donner, Aron Eisenberg, and Sid Haig die.

22 September
1917Samuel A. Peeples is born.
1928Eugene Roche is born.
1946Dan Curry is born.
1981Dan Jeannotte is born.


The United Federation Starfleet Blog is written by Fleet Captain Hal Jordan and is published every Friday. Join in the discussion! Engage with us on Discord at:


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply