Dr. Doolittling your food choices…

Linkedin Wasn’t playing nice so here’s the article I tried to link to:

In the pandemic, plant-based food sales surged as consumers sought healthy options / food security. Brands like Huel - offering long shelf life, ambient nutritionally complete food and home delivery, gained popularity while retail access to staples wasn’t guaranteed. Tens of thousands of new products were registered with vegan certifications yearly.

Post-pandemic, the outlook shifted - brands like Beyond saw declines in value & growth estimates, with rationalised product lines & outlets. Some brands adapted and continue to grow, as many consumers reverted to pre-pandemic habits (often driven by economic necessity) resulting in growth slowdown and leading many to wonder if the consumer base for plant-based foods has plateaued.

A little left of field, AI could offer a lifeline for the sector, not just a temporary bounce back, but for permanently transforming the way we eat and buy food. An enduring desire of humanity, is the enchanting notion that we might one day converse with other species and now, interspecies communication could become a reality with AI.

Collecting massive amounts of bio-acoustic data with autonomous & semi-autonomous devices, the Cetacean Translation Initiative (partnered with institutions & tech giants like Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Amazon, Google & Microsoft) aims to decode the communication of sperm whales using natural language processing. Sperm whale vocalization (among the world’s loudest animal sounds) uses discrete sequences of codas. Its Morse code-like structure resembles a highly evolved language, used and refined since the early Miocene some 20 million years ago.

Understanding the vocalisations may lead to meaningful interaction with other species. Machine translation uses deep learning models that require human supervision and can’t translate unknown languages. Unsupervised translation is now possible - calculating statistical properties of words, allowing for translation between languages without the need for a Rosetta Stone moment.

The implications of AI enabling interspecies communication extend beyond the plant-based food industry to various aspects of human-animal interaction and ethical considerations related to eating meat, animal testing, welfare, farming, pet ownership, pollution, land usage etc.

If animals can communicate with humans and express their desires or concerns, it will significantly impact human behaviour and societal norms. How do opposing ethical views stack up in the face of the possibility that the animal you want to eat asks you not to? or asks you not to dump your waste in their home?

Can we as a species rise to the challenge and learn to live with equity - the essential ethic of a sustainable future. Interspecies equity, considering non-human animals based on their inherent self-interests, is the embodiment and ultimate test of a truly sustainable civilisation.

So, for the non-vegans of you out there, how would such a development (where an animal could express itself and ask not to be eaten or abused) change the way you eat and buy food?

How would interspecies communication impact your food choices?
  • It wouldn’t change my eating habits
  • I would change my food choices immediately
  • This is a total Pandora’s Box and scares me
  • Ignorance is bliss
0 voters

Are you willing/able to make your LinkedIn post public, Phil? (I don’t really know how LinkedIn works. It wants me to sign in to read the relevant post, but some of your other posts are visible).

Until I read it, I’ll fall back on “if a lion could speak, we could not understand him”.

Hi David - not sure why you cant see it - according to the post and profile settings they are all public and anyone should be able to see and comment on them?

Might be a restriction for mobile users. A lot of social media sites are more restrictive when they see you’re on a phone. I’ll try later on desktop.

maybe - its definitely set to open

9 minutes later… it works fine on a computer.

edit: actually no it doesn’t. I was signed in on the computer! I forgot I even had an account. Signed out and the nag screen comes back. So I can read it but people without LinkedIn maybe can’t.

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I’m getting told I have to sign in to read it. Could you post it up here?

Done and edited

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An animal telling you to not eat it or not dump waste in its environment will have the same effect as those ads in TV of people from 3rd world countries asking you to not buy products made with slave labor. Vast majority of people just won’t care, because it’s not their problem.

Thanks Phil that’s very interesting.

I expect those sperm whales will have a few issues they’d like to discuss.

Harsh, but (probably) fair

or…they have the mother of all sulks, choosing not to talk to us at the same time crushing our fragile egos :slight_smile:

I’m vegetarian. The thought of animals communicating with us would scare the s**t out of me and make me question many things. It would also make me stop eating anything animal related.

I chose option 1 (Pandoras box) but would have also liked to have chosen option 2.

It would matter to an immeasurably small number of people.
Pictures of dead lungs on the packet don’t stop people smoking.
Images of featherless chickens shaking like crazy don’t stop people buying eggs from caged hens.

I actually had another thought on this after having posted this. It occurred to me that it could lead to some very negative consequences for the other species. Should we be successful in developing the ability to both understand and communicate interspecies – we would be ready for it, but they wouldn’t. This could (would) be incredibly alarming for them and they could react in a very negative way.

If there’s one thing we know to be true with humans – they care very little in general about animal welfare until that is, they are hurt by one while they invading that animals space. This usually results in a disproportionate retaliatory response - even though it was not the animals fault.

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So AI would interpret the other animal’s actions and sounds & translate into a human language… so we’d ‘understand’ them. But they still wouldn’t be able to understand us. ?

Or is AI going to be able to turn human language into the sounds of other species, so we can really communicate both ways?

Could we trust that AI would translate accurately? :face_with_raised_eyebrow: I’d love to talk to a gorilla but I wouldn’t want to be misquoted.

We can’t help ourselves – pretty sure as soon as the AI system cracks the cetacean to human translation – the opposite will follow shortly thereafter

no :slight_smile:

As if the whales haven’t already suffered enough, next they’re going to have to listen to us.

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I believe that consciousness is a universal property, just like matter - it is just a matter of degree. Animals do have self awareness, and the ability to suffer. So I would never eat a cadaver. Even thinking about it is weird - I stopped it when I was little.

You may ask, though, how one defines consciousness - opinions on that are different, even among scientists. Maybe we will never get the wright answers as long as we ask the wrong questions.

The impact on the environment is another concern - which affects both humans and animals.

But currently those discussions seem to be too abstract to really change the behaviour of the majority.