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What are animals saying to each other? AI can help us eavesdrop

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Natural Intelligence.

From a bat's shrill speech to a peacock's mating call, environmental researcher Karen Bakker studied the sounds of nature. She wrote extensively on how AI can help translate these conversations.

This episode is dedicated to Karen Bakker. She passed away in August 2023, only a few months after giving her TED Talk. Her research and legacy continue to inspire.

About Karen Bakker

Karen Bakker was a Guggenheim Fellow and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her work focused on digital transformation, environmental governance and sustainability. She was the Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. There she worked on her Smart Earth Project– a collaborative of ecologists, environmentalists, digital technologists and computer scientists exploring how AI and biodigital technologies can be mobilized to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

A serial tech entrepreneur, Bakker was also the VP of strategy for Riipen, a social impact tech company, and she authored more than 100 academic publications and a dozen books. Her 2022 book, The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants, is a journey into the hidden realm of sound, exploring the surprising and wondrous world of acoustic communication in nature. Her latest work—Gaia's Web: How Digital Environmentalism Can Combat Climate Change, Restore Biodiversity, Cultivate Empathy, and Regenerate the Earth—was published posthumously in 2024.

She earned her PhD from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar.

This segment of the TED Radio Hour was produced by Fiona Geiran and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour. You can follow us on Facebook @TEDRadioHour and email us at TEDRadioHour@npr.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manoush Zomorodi is the host of TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, and her work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity.