There are times when real life can be eerily close to Hollywood. Every time one now sees caged chimps, on cannot but think of ‘Rise of Planet of the Apes’. In fact, the last time I saw a chimp after the movie (in a zoo enclosure), I was just waiting for him to stand up on his two feet and mumble something at me. He did move his lips, but it was surely not human language. It most certainly must have been some sort of friendly little abuse that came with an expression of “What are you staring at?” but with idea of Bonobo Chat and RoboBonobo, the chimps might just be able to get the message conveyed next time!
Ken Schweller is the head programmer at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines and his latest idea helps us understand Bonobos better. Using symbols called lexigrams and touchpad screens at their disposal, the Bonobos at the institute already communicate with their human counterparts and the idea of Schweller is to create an app which will allow them to be in touch at all times. This also needs a special keypad device that will serve the purpose and will connect to the internet wirelessly. If successful, the app will let anyone from any corner of the globe communicate with the Bonobos.
And that is not where the project ends. There is also a plan to build RoboBonobo which will be controlled by the real Bonobos from their shelters and that will allow the Bonobos to play a few games with visitors or squirt them with water cannon just for fun. While the chat app seems fine, somehow the RoboBonobo seems like pushing the idea a bit. Not to play off of Hollywood and sound paranoid, but chimps are pretty intelligent species and one wonders how much time it would take for them to realize that maybe the RoboBonobo could unlock the cages from outside!
Of course, all security measures might be in place and this might be just our imagination running wild, but sooner or later a smart chimp with an electronic keypad that controls a robot on the outside will figure a few tricks out. Either way, the chat app seems a cause worthy of supporting…