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?
- 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