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Will the iPad help us communicate with dolphins?

A dolphin researcher is using an iPad to interact with a 2-year-old dolphin in an attempt to create a symbolic language that will allow humans and dolphins to interact more easily, and possibly lead to a universal human-dolphin translator.

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The ability to communicate with dolphins — a long sought after goal among scientists – could be on the verge of a breakthrough thanks to the iPad.

Dolphin researcher Jack Kassewitz is using an iPad loaded with apps, some custom built, to interact with a 2-year-old dolphin named Merlin – the first steps toward creating what Kassewitz calls a symbolic language, one that will not only allow humans and dolphins to interact more easily but also potentially lead to a universal translator for humans.

“For several years, we’ve recognized that part of the problem in creating an artificial language between humans and dolphins has been the speed of acquisition of the human brain; it’s just not up to competing [with that of the dolphin],” said Kassewitz, president of Global Heart, a non-profit firm heading up the dolphin research.

The dolphin’s “acoustic range is so broad and ours is so limited, and our speed to react to their sound is so slow, I think we were just plain boring,” Kassewitz said.

Kassewitz turned to computer hardware, which can process information much faster than the human brain, special software for recording real-time data, and underwater microphones.

Over the past two years, Kassewitz has whittled down potential human-dolphin interfaces to the iPad and the Panasonic Toughbook 19. The face-off is on. Trials with the iPad are underway, and results are encouraging, while those with the Toughbook will begin in July. The trials are being conducted in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, at Dolphin Discovery, which has facilities for swimming with dolphins.


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