Project #246 – Visionary Ideas Talk

Well, we didn’t win the Visionary Ideas Contest, but Mary the Chicken was pretty well behaved on stage and she made a lot of friends. Clark, Mary and I were photographed together as part of a potential book that will be made of all 8 talks. Then I was filmed giving the talk with Clark and Mary assisting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to obtain copies of at least one of those things for this website later.

UPDATE: No video from the Waffle Shop, yet. They had a few issues with syncing of the audio and video, so I wasn’t able to get a final copy. In lieu of that, below is the final edited text version of my talk. It’s nuts, but much better with a live mooing chicken.

We all know that the United States is stuck in a severe recession.  There might be good news here and there about the economy, but most of us are still feeling the worst of it.  It’s starting to look like the collective intelligence of human kind is tapped out. We are just running out of ideas. 
Now, what if I told you that there is a vast untapped source of intelligence on this planet?  What if I told you that we have at our fingertips a nearly 100% unutilized workforce numbering in the billions that will literally work for peanuts?  I’m talking about our animal brethren. 

Think of it.  We’d have huge, cheap workforce to help rebuild our economy.  America would once again have a manufacturing workforce that would be competitive, salary-wise, with the rest of the world.  Additionally, we’d have enough helpers to care for our aging population and help defray the rising costs of Medicare.

Plus, animals are a source of information that we are only just learning how to put to use.  Think about the vast amounts of engineering knowledge possessed by the average beaver or carpenter ant, and imagine what we could to if we could apply that energy and insight to our own crumbling infrastructure.

Imagine of how many human jobs that would generate just in the care, management and training of this new population of workers.  We would once again return to our status as the world’s workshop!

Now, the one way to build these new relationships is on a being-to-being level.  That is, we must learn to communicate with animals and get them to communicate back with us.  This trans-species conversation could spur on better human stewardship of the environment, more understanding for endangered species, and help teach pest animals to be more considerate.  Just think of it, instead of cluelessly trying to preserve certain rare animal species, we could just ask what they need or why they aren’t breeding.

But are animals capable of the higher order brain functions needed to communicate with humans?  Consider this: the computer on your desktop at home has about the same intelligence capacity as a frog.  It has a number of bits in its memory chips comparable to the number of neurons in the frog’s brain.  Your computer has the power to correct your spelling and grammar as well as look up words in dictionaries containing millions of entries. Not only that, your computer has the capacity to let you play games, do your taxes, and remind you to send your mother flowers for her birthday, among millions of other tasks it is capable of performing. We are not asking the average frog to do your taxes, we are asking it to have a simple conversation and comment on the weather and the quality of the pond water, something the average computer is capable of doing.

Certainly, we have had other friends in the animal kingdom who have already learned to converse with us, for instance Koko the gorilla or Alex the African gray parrot.  Additionally, it is a historical fact that Alexander Graham Bell taught his family dog how to talks, including teaching it how to say “How are you grandma?”  Now, that is an entire sentence uttered by a dog.
Now, if we capture the advances of the last century into understanding of how language works, as well as many advances in the technology for computer assisted language learning, we will have a training process that is less work-intensive and more effective than ever imagined.

Now, how is this done?  There are several layers of functionality to a language and we teach them according to their layer of complexity.  That is, any language must be learned first phonetically (sounds), then lexically (words), then morpho-syntactically (grammar), and, finally, pragmatically (intention and discourse structure).  By tracing along this pathway, starting with sounds and words and ending with conversation, we can teach nearly any animal to communicate with us from the humble grasshopper to the mighty elephant.  If they can’t make noise, we can also teach them Morse code or Braille as a way of communicating, replacing the phonetics step.

Of course, we practice what we teach.  My husband and I care for three Rhode Island Red chickens who are currently undergoing lessons basic lessons in phonology and lexicology.  They have brains the size of walnuts and yet the are keenly aware of the goings on in their tiny backyard.  They are very curious and therefore good training candidates.

We took a cue from Mr. Graham-Bell and his talking dog in order to train our chickens.  In order to prepare his dog for speech he first trained it to growl continuously before teaching it specific sounds.  We used peanuts to encourage the utterance of specific phonemes through operant conditioning.  We knew off hand that they could say ‘buk buk’, which gave us two important consonants,  Through a system of rewards we managed to get them to say ‘rrr’, ‘mmm’, ‘nnn’, and so forth until they were prepared to form words and then sentences.   From there, we will be training them to work as press operators in plastics production down at PNI Plastics in McKeesport where they have already been offered entry-level jobs.

We can apply these principles over and over again in order to build our new workforce.  Through this we can introduce a golden age of prosperity and environmental stewardship for our nation.  God bless America!

Also: Pictures! (I loved the one with Clark and Mary)

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