How artificial intelligence could help us talk to animals

app: Short for application, or a computer program designed for a specific task.

artificial intelligence: A type of knowledge-based decision-making exhibited by machines or computers. The term also refers to the field of study in which scientists try to create machines or computer software capable of intelligent behavior.

Atlantic: One of the world’s five oceans, it is second in size only to the Pacific. It separates Europe and Africa to the east from North and South America to the west.

audio: Having to do with sound.

bat: A type of winged mammal comprising more than 1,400 separate species — or one in every four known species of mammal. (in sports) The usually wooden piece of athletic equipment that a player uses to forcefully swat at a ball. (v.) Or the act of swinging a machine-tooled stick or flat bat with hopes of hitting a ball.

behavior: The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.

biologist: A scientist involved in the study of living things.

calf: (plural: calves) The name of young animals in a range of mammalian species, from cattle to walruses.

Caribbean: The name of a sea that runs from the Atlantic Ocean in the East to Mexico and Central American nations in the West, and from the southern coasts of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico down to the northern coasts of Venezuela and Brazil. The term is also used to refer to the culture of nations that border on or are islands in the sea.

climate change: Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.

conservation: The act of preserving or protecting something. The focus of this work can range from art objects to endangered species and other aspects of the natural environment.

context: The setting or circumstances that help explain an event, some statement or some conclusion.

coyote: This relatively long-legged member of the dog family (Canis latrans) is sometimes referred to as the prairie wolf. It is, however, notably smaller and its build more scrawny than a true wolf. Found from Alaska down into Central America, coyotes have lately expanded their range into all 50 U.S. states. Many now hang out in urban areas where they have no predators and can easily dine on rodents and scavenge trashed food.

decode: To convert a hidden or secret message into a language that can be understood.

dolphins: A highly intelligent group of marine mammals that belong to the toothed-whale family. Members of this group include orcas (killer whales), pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.

drone: A remote-controlled, pilotless aircraft or missile.

echo: To bounce back. For example, sound bouncing off walls of a tunnel, and returning to their source. Radio waves emitted above the surface can also bounce off the bedrock underneath an ice sheet — then return to the surface.  Or ideas or events that seem to reflect one or more others, as a reverberating sound might.

echolocation: (in animals) A behavior in which animals emit calls and then listen to the echoes that bounce back off of solid things in the environment. This behavior can be used to navigate and to find food or mates. It is the biological analog of the sonar used by submarines.

extinct: An adjective that describes a species for which there are no living members.

feedback: A response or assessment that follows some a particular act or decision. Or a process or combination of processes that propel or exaggerate a change in some direction. For instance, as the cover of Arctic ice disappears with global warming, less of the sun’s warming energy will be reflected back into space. This will serve to increase the rate of Earth’s warming. That warming might trigger some feedback (like sea-ice melting) that fosters additional warming.

habitat: The area or natural environment in which an animal or plant normally lives, such as a desert, coral reef or freshwater lake. A habitat can be home to thousands of different species.

intelligence: The ability to collect and apply knowledge and skills.

machine learning: A technique in computer science that allows computers to learn from examples or experience. Machine learning is the basis of some forms of artificial intelligence (AI). For instance, a machine-learning system might compare X-rays of lung tissue in people with cancer and then compare these to whether and how long a patient survived after being given a particular treatment. In the future, that AI system might be able to look at a new patient’s lung scans and predict how well they will respond to a treatment.

marine biologist: A scientist who studies creatures that live in ocean water, from bacteria and shellfish to kelp and whales.

model: A simulation of a real-world event (usually using a computer) that has been developed to predict one or more likely outcomes. Or an individual that is meant to display how something would work in or look on others.

orca: The largest species of dolphin. The name of this black-and-white marine mammal, Orcinus orca, means killer whale.

philosophy: (adj. philosophical) A field of research where people investigate the nature of basic truths, knowledge and codes of social behavior. A philosopher might, for instance, search for “the meaning of life,” “what is truth” or “how people should select between two good or equally bad options that are offered to them.” People who perform research in this field are known as philosophers.

physicist: A scientist who studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

prairie dog: A social animal (Mustela nigripes) about the size of a large squirrel that lives in burrows that form large colonies — known as prairie-dog towns. Each “town” may extend across many hectares (acres). The animals have a bark-like call, short legs and sharp claws. They can live for up to 8 or 10 years.

predator: (adjective: predatory) A creature that preys on other animals for most or all of its food.

random: Something that occurs haphazardly or without reason, based on no intention or purpose. Or an adjective that describes some thing that found itself selected for no particular reason, or even chaotically.

robot: A machine that can sense its environment, process information and respond with specific actions. Some robots can act without any human input, while others are guided by a human.

roboticist: Someone who designs or builds robots.

rodent: A mammal of the order Rodentia, a group that includes mice, rats, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters and porcupines.

Sargassum: A genus of large brown marine algae, a type of seaweed. It floats and can develop into huge surface mats.

sea: An ocean (or region that is part of an ocean). Unlike lakes and streams, seawater — or ocean water — is salty.

seaweed: Large algae growing in the sea or on rocks below the high-water mark.

social: (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups. (noun) A gathering of people, for instance those who belong to a club or other organization, for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company.

sound wave: A wave that transmits sound. Sound waves have alternating swaths of high and low pressure.

species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

spectrogram: A visual (or graphical) representation of a spectrum. That spectrum can map sound waves or other types of electromagnetic radiation. A sound spectrogram graphs sound frequency (pitch) over time; and its amplitude (or volume) through the intensity of color.

sperm whale: A species of enormous whale with small eyes and a small jaw in a squarish head that takes up 40 percent of its body. Their bodies can span 13 to 18 meters (43 to 60 feet), with adult males being at the bigger end of that range. These are the deepest diving of marine mammals, reaching depths of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) or more. They can stay below the water for up to an hour at a time in search of food, mostly giant squids.

squid: A member of the cephalopod family (which also contains octopuses and cuttlefish). These predatory animals, which are not fish, contain eight arms, no bones, two tentacles that catch food and a defined head. The animal breathes through gills. It swims by expelling jets of water from beneath its head and then waving finlike tissue that is part of its mantle, a muscular organ. Like an octopus, it may mask its presence by releasing a cloud of “ink.”

tag: (in conservation science) To attach some rugged band or package of instruments onto an animal. Sometimes the tag is used to give each individual a unique identification number. Once attached to the leg, ear or other part of the body of a critter, it can effectively become the animal’s “name.” In some instances, a tag can collect information from the environment around the animal as well. This helps scientists understand both the environment and the animal’s role within it.

technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

tonal language: in linguistics) A language, such as several spoken in China, that uses differences in tone to distinguish the meaning of words that would otherwise sound similar.

unique: Something that is unlike anything else; the only one of its kind.

whale: A common, but fairly imprecise, term for a class of large mammals that lives in the ocean. This group includes dolphins and porpoises.