In an announcement that shocked the monkey world, singer Peter Gabriel is working with the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorsett, England, in an attempt to teach chimpanzees how to use videoconferencing software like Skype to communicate with each other.
(OK, before you go all ape-sh@t on me – yes, I know the difference between monkeys and chimpanzees.)
The Interspecies Internet project is a serious endeavor that Gabriel has been involved with for some time, along with dolphin researcher Diana Reiss, MIT professor and Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf, Google vice president and one of the fathers of the internet. The goal is to eventually see if the chimps can communicate with other species, including humans. (Isn’t Facebook annoying enough already?)
Gabriel has some experience in dealing with simians (keep your Phil Collins comments to yourself). In 2001, he participated in an experiment with bonobo apes at Georgia State University in Atlanta and taught at least one of them how to play something simple on the piano (Remember your promise about the Phil Collins comments).
And of course, there was a little song and video he recorded in 1982 called “Shock the Monkey.”
Based on those experiences, Gabriel is confident in this new project.
I am absolutely certain the monkeys will use the video cameras in Monkey World to communicate with each other. I am also interested in how they would use the internet to communicate.
Koko the gorilla proved that apes can communicate with humans via American Sign Language and a program called Apps for Apes is teaching apes and monkeys in various zoos how to use computers. Will they follow Peter’s lead and Skype each other? Dr Bridget Waller, director of the Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Portsmouth, has her doubts.
I think we’re already pretty good at communicating with primates when they’re in captivity…Whether videoconferencing will help that, I’m not entirely sure. Primates are complex creatures and they need to be stimulated when we keep them in captivity.
Stimulation? Maybe they should show the chimps “Shock the Monkey.”