A digital Doctor Dolittle, for dolphins:
that’s a thing now


So, there are people who have built a realtime digital translator, of sorts, for dolphin-to-English. It seems rudimentary, just at present, but I gather that the people working on it have been excited by their progress to date, and they have bold plans to strike up a conversation with wild dolphins.

Apparently, the researchers are teaching dolphins certain sounds as symbols for phenomena, and then listening to hear whether and how the dolphins use those sounds in the context of their own audio communication with one another. The major breakthrough: a dolphin has been heard to use the “word” for “seaweed,” perhaps in some context where that seemed intentional. (Whether the dolphin understood that it was saying seaweed, may be another matter.)

What would dolphins tell us, if they could? Oh, I hope I live to learn that.


Ursula Le Guin has a delightful short story, spare and exquisite, about animal-human communications… and as I’ve just this minute discovered! you can read it online.

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

The Day Of The Triffids


I’ve just been watching The Day Of The Triffids, a 2009 British made-for-TV miniseries. It’s a remake (more or less) of a movie made in 1962, and both being adaptations of the novel by John Wyndham, a mid-century British author of science fiction. I don’t remember if I read the book before I saw the movie,or vice versa, but I do recall, as a boy, devouring many of Wyndham’s novels, including Day Of The Triffids, from my father’s book collection. Here’s the 1962 movie trailer:

Global apocalypse of one kind or another was a dominant theme in many of Wyndham’s novels: The Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken  Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Day Of The Triffids. Wyndham’s monstrous and improbable triffids are six-foot-tall venomous, stinging, ambulatory, blind but intelligent three-legged carnivorous plants that stalk their prey by sound. As the story begins, the manifestly-horrifying triffids have been domesticated (more or less) and are being bred and grown en masse in captivity, because they produce a pinkish vegetable oil whose qualities make it valuable to industry (as I recall, Wyndham wasn’t terribly specific about the uses of triffid oil). We need hardly be surprised when the triffids escape their captivity and begin roaming about the countryside, stinging and devouring humans to the brink of extinction.

The latest screen adaptation lovingly embroiders the original story, to align it with a 21st century zeitgeist: triffid oil, in production at industrial scale, becomes a relatively painless and copious substitute for fossil fuels, and particularly, for gasoline. As such, triffid-derived biofuel turns us back from the brink of global warming. It occurs to me to wonder: what Faustian bargain might humans accept, to safeguard our birthright of happy motoring?


More helpful digital machines, in new places


Another new gee whiz interface, a novelty in the setting for which it is designed. Helpful, charming digital machines: now bringing the online experience closer to fast food, a biome that I’m sure will be colonized with great success.


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